"A war in South Africa would be one of the most serious wars that could possibly be waged. [.] It would be a long war, a bitter war and a costly war." This prognosis, made half a year before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) by Joseph Chamberlain, then British Colonial Minister, was prophetic. The war indeed became the longest and most expensive war, and incurred the most casualties, that the British fought in the century between 1815 and 1914.
The British War Machine mobilised 450,000 men, only one-fifth of which were engaged in battle, which demonstrates the incredible logistic challenge that the British were confronted with in fighting a war far from home. Approximately 22,000 British soldiers and 30,000 Boers lost their lives. The overall cost of the war added up to 230 million pounds, which equalled almost 15 per cent of Great Britain's GDP in 1902. The war itself was fought in two stages; first the fight of the British army against the Boers, and then the guerrilla warfare of the South African population against the British occupiers beginning in 1900. This resulted in the British setting up the first concentration camps, where they imprisoned around 120,000 civilians between 1901 and 1902, including women and children. These concentration camps became a subject of much discussion in Europe because Emily Hobhouse, member of a charity organisation who visited several camps in spring 1901, published her eye witness account of them in the form of a letter-diary.
It was not only these concentration camps that caused controversy in Europe. There were cries of protestation from the very beginning of the war due to the fact that the British were waging a war against mostly white, Christian people with European roots. This prompted hundreds of young lads from Ireland to Russia to make their way to South Africa to assist the Boers in their fight for freedom.
One main factor of agitation was the press, which had become a powerful vehicle of political discourse since the mid-nineteenth century. Steffen Bender, researcher at the University of Tübingen, has, for the first time, analysed the perception of the Anglo-Boer war in the German speaking world. His overall results do not come as a surprise, but it is the book's detailed approach that provides an in-depth, interesting insight into the German perception of the Anglo-Boer war. By analysing over 30 newspapers and journals, which include those from the German speaking part of Austria as well as the German Reich, he paints a picture which is impressive by this empirical base as well as by the fine distinctions of the motives under the surface of the wide-spread pro-Boer and Anglophobic attitude in Germany and Austria.
The outbreak of the war led to general discussion on the Boer race, which was, of course, Boer-friendly in its outlook. While conservative newspapers focused on the alleged Germanic roots of the Boers and romanticised their rural lifestyle in contrast with modern industrialised British society, more liberal papers were concerned that the Boers were not as advanced as the British, and therefore would not be able to withstand their war machine. In this discourse anti-Semitic motives played a significant role, as the British motive for war was attributed, in the vast majority of German newspapers, not so much to political but to economic reasons. In July 1901, for instance, the Berlin Neue Preußische Zeitung wrote that it was time to bring an end to this dangerous international conspiracy, which was working for the interests of Jewish businesses.
However, although the German press expressed heartfelt sympathy for the Boers, they stopped short of encouraging German military intervention, bar a small minority of radical newspapers. All the same, even conservative papers criticised the Kaiser when he travelled to England twice during the war. Unlike the majority of his people Wilhelm II pursued a pro-British attitude during this time and occasionally, for example in Dresden in February 1900, came down strong on the demonstrations against the war. When Paul Krüger, President of the Boer Republic, visited Europe, Wilhelm II refused to meet him; a cold gesture in comparison to France, where Krüger and his delegation met the President and was greeted by cheering crowds in Paris. Bender asserts that Wilhelm's pro-Anglo stance was due to family ties, however this is questionable, as the Kaiser's attitude towards colonised races is also likely to have been a motive. Although a tiny minority of semi-official newspapers like the Kölnische Zeitung or the Münchener Neueste Nachrichten shared the Kaiser's opinion, there was really only one argument on which the Kaiser and the majority of the press agreed: That the Anglo-Boer War had highlighted just how weak the British military was in reality. Nevertheless, when the Brits stopped three German trade ships off the African coast and forced them to different destinations because they thought that they were carrying voluntary freedom fighters, the press accused them of using "terrorist methods" and Germany significantly increased spending on their own military fleet.
The controversy in the German press reached its peak when Chamberlain tried to legitimise the war by pointing out that Great Britain finds "precedents for anything that we may do in the action of those nations who now criticise our 'barbarity' and 'cruelty', but whose examples in Poland in the Caucasus, in Algeria, in Tongking, in Bosnia, in the Franco-German War, we have never even approached." Due to public pressure, Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow felt obliged to give a sharp reply, which he did, not without hesitating for several days and informing the British Foreign Ministry in advance to soften the blow. Nonetheless, his diplomatic endeavours proved fruitless. In February 1902, German Ambassador to Great Britain Paul von Metternich claimed, "I wouldn't give two pence on Anglo-German relations."
This fine study charts the fragility of German-Anglo relations in the years before World War I. with clarity. Furthermore, the German-Austrian coverage of the Anglo-Boer War makes one curious to find out how the press in other countries, for instance in Ireland or France, perceived them. Bender's book is a unique port of entrance, making way for further studies in this field.