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Imperialism | Colonial Policy

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Deutscher Kolonial-Atlas mit Jahrbuch (Atlas German Colonies, with Yearbook), edited by the German Colonial Society, 1918

Critical observations on the debate of colonial peace conditions

(p.37) Soon after the war began, when especially our smaller, practically undefended colonies fell prey to the enemy, many in Germany agreed that it would be useful to, if possible, combine the dispersed colonial property. When it comes to the African colonies, in case of the expected victorious end of the war this is easily achievable. So the keyword "Central Europe" was given a pendant, "Central Africa". If those who advocate this idea in general hold on to the demand to recover Germany's entire previous colonial possessions, they would be inclined, in exchange for other colonial property, especially on African soil, to give the possessions in the South Pacific and, under certain circumstances, even Süd-Westafrika. Certainly it has to be admitted that the defense of our Pacific possessions, spread over millions of square km, split up in thousands of islands and islets is all the more difficult, as already the distance between Europe and the South Pacific proved an obstacle to relations between motherland and colony. On the other hand it would be wrong, to look at the colonial question merely from the perspective of a potential war. For Germany the question must firstly be this : is this or that part of our former colonial possessions politically so valuable, that we have to hold on to it in any case ? In order to justify this question we only have to recall that Britain, for instance, in case of a war with Japan will hardly be able to hold on to her important trade entrepot of Hongkong; still Britain at no time will even think of giving up Hongkong, just because it could lose that place to Japan one day. If the colonial question would be seen exclusively under the criterion of a (p.38) war, Britain today hardly would own half of her colonial possessions; because in the years 60 of the last century many in England have advocated to give up Canada and other possessions, because it was believed that in case of a war with the USA they could not be held on toanyway.
That the war has to bring for us, as possible, a large and cohesive colonial empire on African soil, is a political and economic necessity. Economically, Central Africa would make us independent of the British yoke in many aspects (Prof. Wohltmann has calculated that an area of 3 million acres would suffice to answer our colonial needs.) Without doubt, if Central Africa is cultivated appropriately, the point in time will not be too far away, when it returns with interest that what is invested in capital anbd labour. A German Central Africa also would have the advantage that it would drive a wedge into the British plan, which during the war temporarily became a fact, to place the area between the Cape of Good Hope and Cairo under the British flag. It also would prevent to turn the Indian Ocean into a closed British sea, and it would offer the advantage, if, extended far enough to the northwest, to energetically counter the military and political intentions of France. Not to the least it Germany would gain a long coastline on the Atlantik Ocean and, in the form of fleet stations on West Africa's coast, give her the means at hand to in future better protect the German interests on sea along these important sea traffic routes. So, in the case that German trade interests in future were limited to the lands adjacent to the Indian and Atlantic Ocean, a German Central Africa would suffice all colonial demands. But as the German economy will pursue further goals after the war - we point at China, which only takes the first steps in her development - political reasons can not permit us to advocate to withdraw from the South Pacific. Practically this means that also the South Sea area has to provide us with outposts for trade and for our status at sea, which will be expressed for the Atlantic and Indian Ocean by a Central Africa as large as possible. The South Pacific is a traditional area of German activity ! Long before a German colonial policy was thought of, Hanseatic merchants of the kind of Godeffroy etc. have worked here not only exploitative, but also civilizatoric. To completely withdraw from these territories therefore would translate to a loss of prestige, which hardly can be compensated by the extension of German influence in other countries of the world. To these purely political considerations economical ones have to be added. During the war we realized the great importance of vegetable fats not only for the national economy, but for the individual. Especially in the area of vegetable fats, Africa can hardly deliver what already our present property 
in the South Pacific promised to produce. Neu-Guinea without the islands, for instance in 1914 provided over 3 1/2 million cocos palm trees, of which slightly less than a third was productive. In the German Pacific protectorates, over 41,000 acres were grown with c. 4 1/2 million palm trees. To these the valuable cultures of the natives have to be added, which under the influence of German administration have constantly increased. Someone who is well-acquainted with the South Pacific has calculated that within a few years our old Pacific possessions would be capable of producing 80,000 tons of copra. Germany's demand in artificial butter in 1912 amounted to about 120 million kg. Further especially the soap industry required additional large amounts of vegetable fats. As a conversion of the German grain production to oil seeds (rape seed, beets, linseed) seems out of the question, because the lack of bread grain forces us to cultivate grain, it is obvious that, after the war, the colonies are of greatest importance because of the vegetable fats. So to hold on to our colonial possessions in the South Pacific is one of the most critical questions for the nutrition of the German people. That the South Pacific in addition has delivered considerable amounts of cocoa (in 1913 over 1 million kg), in addition caoutchouc, sisal hemp etc., is incidentally mentioned. Finally we have to point at a chapter especially important for the German agriculture : the existence of phosphate deposits in the Marshall Islands group and the Palau Islands ! Germany's import of natural phosphates in 1912 amounted to 902,000 tons. In 1912 the German South Pacific already delivered 193,000 tons; in 1909 the figure had merely been 74,000 tons. The workable phosphate deposits are estimated at roughly 55,000,000 tons. If we held on to our previous possessions in the South Pacific, our agriculture would not only become independent of imports from foreign territories, but our super phosphate industry would continue to have a lucrative field of operation. 
The values in the German South Pacific may be measured by the fact, that a number of German enterprises, the nominal capital of which amounts to c. 28 1/2 million Mark, have calculated the economic value of their enterprises (p.39) at 117 million Mark. The entire value of the enterprises, the basic capital has been listed in the official report of 1912/13 as 101 3/4 million Mark, amounts to about 400 million Mark, not calculated the huge value of the ores and concessions, the production of minerals etc. As frequently leading colonial politicians have advocated to give up our colonial possessions in the South Pacific, opinions on Deutsch-Südwestafrika also, in this respect, have not been uniform. The fact that Deutsch-Südwestafrika geographically and economically rather belongs to South Africa than to Central Africa has caused many to reason that it would be of advantage to give it up in order to gain territory in tropical Central Africa in exchange. 
The value of this colony is not that easily documented as in the case of the South Pacific. Südwestafrika's value is not so much its economic importance, but its political importance. This has earlier been expressed in Britain, where eminent British colonial politicians have expressed that Britain could return Germany's tropical colonies, but not Südwestafrika, which come what may would have to be included in the Union of South Africa. From the German side it has to be stated Südwestafrika has to be held on to, as it is the only German colonial possession fit for German settlement on a larger scale. Even if it is uncertain if the German Reich after the war can give emigrants to the non-European world at all, we have to take into account that the entrepreneurial spirit, to a certain extent, will include settlement outside of Europe. The settlement of whites will always meet difficulties in tropical countries, of health and social reasons. Where, as in Deutsch-Südwestafrika, the climatic and economic basis for the emergence of a German people are given, it can only be in the interest of the German spirit in the world if within a short time a branch of Germanness flourishes here. Britain gained its status in the world not the least because she populated large stretches with men of English spirit and English language. If we were to give up the possibility of a German settlement colony in a Südwestafrika which is fit to be settled, in the coming peace, this meant to deprive ourselves of those possibilities in which the British world empire has become our teacher. 
Also, from a purely political perspective, giving up Südwestafrika would mean to give up a "trench" against the British world empire. After the Boer Republics have been conquered by Britain, we have great interest in preventing further British expansion in South Africa. If the southern Africa fit for settlement would completely be in British possession it would pose a permanent danger for all powers owning property in tropical Africa. South Africa's campaign in Deutsch-Ostafrika suffices to point out that it is essential to hold on to Deutsch-Südwestafrika as a bulwark populated by Germans, to protect the German colonial possessions in tropical Africa which always will have only a small German population. 
The war will redistribute the world, for decades, perhaps for centuries. If our entire colonial possessions have temporarily been lost to the enemy, this loss never may justify the defeatism which has temporarily taken hold of wide circles in Germany, even among those with patriotic spirit. If Bismarck's word that we have to defend our colonies off the gates of Metz has not proven true, it remains true that we regain our status in the world and thus also our colonial possessions on European soil. The times have forever passed when the fate of non-European countries and their defense could be indifferent to us. After we have become a world nation and a world economy nation, there is no country in the world, the condition of which would not be of decisive importance for our homeland and her population. It is not a vague power imperialism which drives us when we demand a larger 
German share in colonial possessions to be achieved in the peace negotiations. It is a demand of justice, that an aspiring youthful nation of almost 70 million is not excluded from the riches of this world. Long before this war began, the historian Dietrich Schäfer wrote : "So colonization has become synonymous with the settlement of the earth by man. Those peoples, which excelled in this matter before others, have become the leaders, world powers which had future, and still have. One does not overstate, if one says, that the importance of an individual nation is measured in its achievements in the field of colonization; this is the arena, where contests are held for power and duration. Only who is able to stand up here, will be able to maintain his place among the nations; who submits, has to be satisfied if he is regarded dignified enough, to be allocated a place in the treasure-box of history, the jewels of which serve to inspire and entertain those full of life." After the experiences made in this war this word has more validity than ever, even circles which were, before the war, principally against German colonial policy, despite their dislike of annexions, today regard it as natural that the war (p.40) will bring an extension of our colonial possessions. Social Democratic Member of Reichstag Dr. Paul Lensch, already quoted earlier, writes in the Hamburger Echo on the occasion of a speech by secretary of state Dr. Solf : "If he (Dr. Solf) desribes keeping up the present distribution of possessions in Africa as irreconcilable with a lasting peace, with a just peace, a peace of satisfaction, only ultra conservatives would oppose him, an ultra conservative who regards everything sacred which is grey of age. Furthermore the gigantic demand fot the utter exploitation of African productive forces, after the war, will be so great that mankind can no longer afford to leave such great territories as those owned by Belgium and Portugal, but also France, in Africa, and which reach 18 times the size of the motherland, uncultivated. 
This war is not fought about the enlargement of Germany for a number of 100 square km in the east or west, it will finally decide if in the future room is left in the world for German labour, if the homeland in future will provide work and bread for her children. German colonial property thus becomes an urgent necessity in the interest to secure our development potential. If Goethe has dying Faust say : "If I would open room for many millions, to live, not secure, but freely active", this word will also have validity for the German politician who finally will give to Germany her share in the development of the world, on which she has a legitimate claim based on her achievements and needs ! 


Source: Deutscher Kolonial-Atlas mit Jahrbuch, (Atlas German Colonies, with Yearbook), edited by P. Sprigade und M. Moisel, Surveys and retrospects by Dr. Karstedt. Berlin 1918, p.37ff.

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