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Friedrich von Holstein

Born: 24-Apr-1837
Birthplace: Schwedt an der Oder, Pomerania, Germany
Died: 8-May-1909
Location of death: Berlin, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Politician

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Ran the German foreign office

German statesman, for more than thirty years head of the political department of the German Foreign Office. Holstein's importance began with the dismissal of Otto von Bismarck in 1890. The new chancellor, Caprivi, was ignorant of foreign affairs; and Holstein, as the repository of the Bismarckian tradition, became indispensable. This reluctance to emerge into publicity has been ascribed to the part he had played under Bismarck in the Arnim affair, which had made him powerful enemies; it was, however, possibly due to a shrinking from the responsibility of office. Yet the weakness of his position lay just in the fact that he was not ultimately responsible. He protested against the despatch of the "Kruger telegram", but protested in vain. On the other hand, where his ideas were acceptable, he was generally able to realize them. Thus it was almost entirely due to him that Germany acquired Kiao-chau and asserted her interests in China, and the acquisition of Samoa was also largely his work. If the skill and pertinacity with which Holstein carried through his plans in these matters was learned in the school of Bismarck, he had not acquired Bismarck's faculty for foreseeing their ulterior consequences. This is true of his Chinese policy, and true also of his part in the Morocco crisis. The emperor William II's journey to Tangier was undertaken on his advice, as a protest against the supposed attempt at the isolation of Germany; but of the later developments of German policy in the Morocco question he did not approve, on the ground that the result would merely be to strengthen the Anglo-French entente; and from the 12th of March 1906 onwards he took no active part in the matter. To the last he believed that the position of Germany would remain unsafe until an understanding had been arrived at with Great Britain, and it was this belief that determined his attitude towards the question of the fleet, "beside which", he wrote in February 1909, "all other questions are of lesser account." His views on this question were summarized in a memorandum of December 1907, of which Herr von Rath gives a summary. He objected to the program of the German Navy League on three main grounds: (1) the ill-feeling likely to be aroused in South Germany, (2) the inevitable dislocation of the finances through the huge additional charges involved, (3) the suspicion of Germany's motives in foreign countries, which would bind Great Britain still closer to France. As for the idea that Germany's power would be increased, this -- he wrote in reply to a letter from Admiral Galster -- was "a simple question of arithmetic"; for how would the sea power of Germany be relatively increased if for every new German ship Great Britain built two? Von Holstein retired on the resignation of Prince Bülow, and died on the 8th of May 1909.

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