Almost from the beginning of his time in Britain, Ambassador Walter Hines Page was struck by the growing militarism of European powers, especially Germany. As his first year as ambassador progressed, it became increasingly apparent that tensions on the Continent might lead to open warfare between the Great Powers. From London, Page perceived the great European powers were engaged in a never-ending cycle of watching and checkmating. In a memorandum dated August 1913, Page expressed fears that continued frustrations might lead the great powers to end the ongoing stalemate through armed conflict, “and a great European war would set the Old World, perhaps the whole world, back a long way; and thereafter, the present armed watching would recur; we should have gained nothing.”1 Page saw a role for the United States, being independent from European conflicts, as the future leader of the world’s nations and encouraged the Wilson Administration to strengthen Anglo-American relations in an effort to prevent a European war.
Col. Edward M. House
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
In Spring 1914, Colonel Edward M. House, a friend of Page and confidante of President Wilson, traveled to Europe in an attempt to keep European war from breaking out. House visited the United Kingdom, France, and Germany with the hope of facilitating a disarmament pact to avoid all-out war. House’s mission, however, met with little success. British diplomats expressed vague interest in a plan, but no action was taken. The French government at the time was far too concerned with internal matters.2 In Germany, House met with Kaiser Wilhelm II, who expressed opposition to any form of disarmament. House found that militarism suffused all branches of the German armed forces and German society. He later told friends, “The whole of Germany is charged with electricity. Everybody’s nerves are tense. It needs only a spark to set the whole thing off.”3 The spark would come soon after House returned to the United States, when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.
Burton Jesse Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1923), 272. ↩
Ross Gregory, Walter Hines Page: Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s (Lexington, KY: Published for the Organization of American Historians by University Press of Kentucky, 1970), 45–47. ↩
Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, 1:299. ↩