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H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (January 2008) Thomas H. Wagner. _"Krieg oder Frieden: Unser Platz an der Sonne": Gustav Stresemann und die Außenpolitik des Kaiserreichs bis zum Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkriegs_. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2007. 237 pp. Bibliography, index. EUR 39.90 (cloth), ISBN 3-506-75674-5. Reviewed for H-German by Wolfram von Scheliha, Independent Scholar Dr. Stresemann and Mr. Hyde The question of whether Gustav Stresemann was a hypocrite was raised by Frederick T. Birchall in the New York Times after the second volume of the Stresemann papers had appeared. They included a letter the deceased German foreign minister had written to the former Crown Prince on September 7, 1925. On the eve of the Locarno agreement, Stresemann defended his conciliatory policy and explained that he had no other real option due to Germany's lack of military power. He also outlined three main political goals: to resolve the question of reparations, to protect German nationals living under a "foreign yoke," and to readjust Germany's eastern boarder by reclaiming Danzig, the Polish corridor, upper Silesia, and eventually Austria. It would be most important, Stresemann continued, to get rid of the French stranglers. In order to achieve these objectives, Germany had "to do some finessing" and avoid "large decisions." This material raised questions about the status of the Locarno policy of "Weimar's greatest statesman"--for which he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize. Was it a fake? Did Stresemann pursue hidden aggressive plans, or was the letter with its straight language only intended to reassure the nationalist and monarchist Right? Many historians have pointed out that Stresemann actually did have a "dark side," that he had been a staunch nationalist before and during World War I and that he had supported Germany's far-reaching expansionist plans at that time. But Stresemann's attitude toward foreign policy in the prewar era had not been examined in depth until Thomas Wagner gave his attention to it. His book is partly a biography of Stresemann's early years and partly a systematic study. Stresemann's first journalistic experiences during his time at school, his studies at the universities of Berlin and Leipzig, and his activities in student fraternities are described. Wagner also follows Stresemann's professional career as assistant to the Association of German Chocolate Makers in Dresden and later as representative of the Association of Saxon Industrialists, which became one of the most influential regional economic pressure groups under his aegis. He then explores Stresemann's entry into politics, first as member of Friedrich Naumann's National Social Association, and, from November 1902 onward, as member of Eugen Bassermann's National Liberal Reich Association. Additionally, Stresemann's involvement in the German Fleet Association and in the Pan-German League is considered by Wagner to be most influential on shaping his agenda in foreign politics. When he was elected to the Reichstag in 1907, his political star began to rise. He became known to a wider public in the course of power struggles within the Fleet Association when he argued in favor of an even more ambitious naval build-up than Admiral Tirpitz had proposed. In the first chapter, Wagner looks at what motivated Stresemann's nationalist and imperialist aims. He portrays him as a Social Darwinist who believed in "living" and "dying" nations and in the need for colonies to be economically exploited by the Germans. The strong fleet, for which Stresemann enthusiastically campaigned, was intended to protect merchant shipping. But he also proposed an economic entente of Germany and Britain. In a speech delivered to the Reichstag, he argued that close economic cooperation would cast positive effects on the overall political relations. Stresemann did not pursue this approach in the short term, but Wagner identifies in it the nucleus of his foreign policy in the Weimar era. In January 1912, Stresemann lost his seat in the Reichstag. That year also brought, as Wagner demonstrates, a fundamental change in Stresemann's notions of foreign policy, a change from the primacy of economic policy to the primacy of power politics. Stresemann now became a supporter of "formal imperialism" (p. 127). Having established this attitude, Wagner explores in another chapter how far Stresemann's views overlapped with those of the Pan-German League. Stresemann viewed Jewry in religious and cultural terms, not in biological-racist terms. But Wagner also stresses that Stresemann neither disputed antisemitism nor seemed to have been bothered by it. Another important issue of the Pan-Germans was the expectation of a "final battle between the German and the Slav peoples" (p. 148). Although references to this notion can be found in Stresemann's speeches, Wagner concludes that it was a concession to the _Zeitgeist_ rather than a "real intrusion of racist thinking" in his mind (p. 149). He also establishes that Stresemann did not share the Pan-Germans' proposal to modify the electoral law in order to curb social democracy and that his annexation plans were not based upon _völkisch_ thinking. Wagner therefore rejects the assumption that Stresemann was deeply entangled in Pan-German ideology and characterizes him as a "normal nationalist" (p. 154). The following chapters deal with Stresemann's journalistic work, his allegiances in the struggle over how German foreign press policy should be institutionalized, and his activities in the German-Canadian Economic Association, the German-Austrian-Hungarian Economic Association, the German Society for World Trade, and the German-American Economic Association. Finally, Wagner examines Stresemann's positions on the way to the "Great Disaster." In 1913-14, he was still promoting a further development of German-Russian trade relations, but ultimately he supported and even fueled the collision course with the tsar's empire over the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire. A note for a speech of April 1914 that Wagner included in the title of his book aptly sums up how Stresemann gave the pursuit of a "place in the sun" a higher priority than keeping peace. In addition to the published sources, Wagner examined documents from thirteen archives, which present numerous new findings, whether "sensational" or not. This vast material enables him to substantiate his arguments convincingly, although occasionally his judgments seem too rigid. The study is structured well; each chapter is concluded by a short abstract which readers will find helpful. But one misses an extensive discussion of the evidence found about the continuities and discontinuities in Streseman's foreign policy up to the Weimar era. After all, Stresemann's views about German foreign policy in the prewar years are only interesting in the light of his later responsibilities as party leader, Reich Chancellor and foreign minister. Such a perspective probably would not have answered the questions raised by Stresemann's letter to the Crown Prince about the underlying intentions of his foreign policy in the Weimar era. But it probably would have provided some interesting nuances to make Wagner's book an even more valuable contribution to our understanding of Stresemann than it already is. Notes . Frederick T. Birchall, "Was Stresemann a Hypocrite? A Review of All the Evidence," _New York Times_, November 27, 1932, xx3. . Gustav Stresemann, _Vermächtnis. Der Nachlass in drei Bänden_, ed. Henry Bernhard (Berlin: Ullstein, 1932), 553. . Jonathan R. C. Wright, _Gustav Stresemann: Weimar's Greatest Statesman_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). . Thomas Lorenz's review in H-Soz-u-Kult, April 6, 2007, at http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/rezensionen/2007-2-015.pdf . Copyright (c) 2008 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. 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