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Bernstorff Reconsidered

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Elizabeth C Blake.

Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German Ambassador to the United States during the first three years of World War I, was regarded by many in the United States and Britain as the sum of all villainy. In the United States, his name was unfairly associated with the Black Tom explosion and the Zimmermann telegram. In Britain, his insidious influence on Woodrow Wilson and obsequious (and sometimes unauthorized) apologies for German submarine outrages is blamed for years of delay in America’s entry into the First World War, and consequent bloodshed and stalemate. After America’s entry into the war, the nation’s leading universities competed with one another in revoking Bernstorff’s honorary degrees; as an official of an organization supporting the League of Nations, he found difficulty in visiting Britain after the war, and his unpopularity in the Anglo-Saxon countries is one reason, but not the only reason, that the German delegation at Versailles was led by Count Ulrich Brockdorff-Rantzau, and not Bernstorff, the organizer and author of the German response to Allied proposals.

George Liebmann, a Senior Academic Visitor at Wolfson is the author of a chapter on Bernsrorff in his Diplomacy Between the Wars: Five Diplomats and the Shaping of the Modern World (I.B.Tauris, 2008). His talk will describe some of the lesser-known aspects of Bernstorff’s career, including his warnings about naval competition and unrestricted submarine warfare, his efforts to promote negotiations after the German defeat at the first battle of the Marne, the nature of his elaborate peace conference proposals, his influence as German Ambassador to Turkey, and his post-war career as a member of the Reichstag, organizer of a Democratic Club, German delegate to the Preparatory Disarmament Conference, President of the German League of Nations Union and Pro Palestina organization, and ultimately as a political exile from 1932 until his death.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term series.

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