Letter:When German threat loomed

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The Independent Online
Sir: I agree with Kevin Brownlow (letter, 22 June) that Britain was concerned about German expansionism before 1914, but we should not confuse this with popular hatred of Germans.

In any case, concern about German ambition did not go so far back as the Franco-Prussian War. Lord Salisbury held to the view that "France is, and always will remain, Britain's greatest danger" throughout his three premierships, which ended in 1901, and the Director of Military Intelligence was of the view in 1897 that Britain was "most likely to go to war with France and Russia".

What caused a change in British perception of Germany from Continental cousin-nation and traditional ally against France to potential threat was not the Prussian humiliation of France in 1871, but rather the desire of Kaiser Wilhelm II to build a German navy to rival the Royal Navy. However, this ambition did not become a matter of popular concern in Britain until the Navy Scare of 1909.

Before le Queux's 1906 book there was Erskine Childers' Riddle of the Sands in 1903. In this first book warning of a German naval danger is a hero, Davies, full of admiration for Germany. "They've licked the French and the Austrians and are the greatest military power in Europe. What I'm concerned with is their sea power ... it's going strong and that emperor of theirs is running it for all it's worth. He's a splendid chap, and anyone can see he's right."

Concern about Germany only turned into hatred with the First World War.