Collected Essays about The Great Kaiser (c) 1981
Raymond Poincare – Christmas Cards – 1920
Of the many insidious and ingenious things the Kaiser Wilhelm has done over the years, perhaps the most insidious and ingenious are his Christmas cards. He took what had been a quaint English tradition, and turned it into a weapon for Germany. A subtle weapon, whose bite would not be felt for years.
His first Christmas as Kaiser he sent one to France, Britain, the United States, Italy, Austria, Russia and Japan. The following Christmas, nearly every other Nation in Europe received one. The year after, just about every nation in the world that had diplomatic relations with Germany received one.
And they always came with a letter addressed to the people of that nation, from the people of Germany. The ones to France were always similar in message. How the people of Germany wanted nothing but peace with their neighbors to the west. How France and Germany are brother countries, descended from Charlemagne. How our two nations could achieve a lasting peace and prosperity, if they worked together. It always ended with an offer of a defensive alliance with Germany, either bilateral or outright membership in the Central Powers, and always included an offer of a non-aggression treaty as a first step. “To build trust and goodwill between our peoples, to show our good intentions towards each other and to the world.” It was kind and heartfelt. It was also a relentless assault upon France’s willingness to fight Germany. The Kaiser was always consistent in his message. Christmas after Christmas, it made rejecting the German entreaties just a bit harder. Especially when it was noticed that no such offers of alliance were ever extended to Britain or Russia in their Christmas cards.
Let’s not pretend the Kaiser didn’t know what he was doing. He knew exactly what he was doing. Like no other ruler before him, the Kaiser understands soft power. The Kaiser always plans years ahead, doing things whose results may not be felt for a decade or more. And there is always more to everything he does than the obvious. He also paid newspapers to print the whole letter, especially in those countries he felt it would not see the light of day otherwise, or in those he felt his letter needed more exposure. In the minor nations, and especially in South America and Japan, this was never necessary. The former were happy for any positive attention by Europe, hoping for improved relations, and the latter considered it a great honor, both to be thought of as a fellow great nation by Germany, and to receive such a message from an “Emperor”.
The letters were always well written. They were always personalized to each country, and each year they were completely new. They often contained congratulations about some good news of the recipient country the past year. I have heard he had teams of writers spend days on each one, making sure each was exactly the perfect message, both writing the original German one, and making sure the translation was perfect.
In 1903 he stopped sending them to Russia, but did send one to the Polish people that year, and again in 1904. In hindsight, it is very obvious what that meant.