No one held this view with greater conviction than did Moltke himself. For him France was the hereditary foe, and had been so since the Rhineland crisis of 1831. The safety of Prussia over which he watched could never, in his view, be guaranteed until France was deprived of all power to do harm. The war of 1859 he saw as plain notice of aggression. " France", he then wrote, "has until now fought for others: she will now fight and conquer for herself." In 1866 the fighting with Austria was hardly ended before he was urging on Bismarck the desirabilityand feasibility-of attacking France at once while Prussian forces were still mobilised.2 A year later during the negotiations over the future of Luxemburg, he again urged war. The Duchy of Luxemburg was a member of the old German Confederation, ruled by the King of the Netherlands as Grand Duke. Napoleon saw in this left-over rump of old Germany a very reasonable compensation for French prestige, and Bismarck, since the King of the Netherlands had professed his desire not to see the Duchy a part of the new North German Confederation, was prepared at least to negotiate on this basis. But the city of Luxemburg was a federal fortress garrisoned by Prussian troops; so Moltke had to be asked whether its abandonment was compatible with the military security of the North German Confederation. Moltke protested vigorously. The negotiations became publicly known and a furore arose in the Reichstag and the nationalist Press. This, said Moltke, was a
splendid opportunity. War with France was inevitable within five years and during that time German military superiority over France would daily diminish. "The present occasion is good", he argued, "it has a nationalist character and we should take advantage of it (man benutze ihn also)."! Bismarck took a more statesmanlike view, and the matter ended amicably with the Prussians evacuating the fortress and the neutralisation of the Grand Duchy under the protection of the Powers. Moltke could not deny the political sanity of Bismarck's solution, nor the primacy of political considerations over military; but, he lamented, "he will cost us many lives in his time". 2
It was in the conviction that war with France was inevitable, that Moltke on assuming office in 1857 began to draw up his plans for the Aufmarsch to the west. For many years these were purely defensive. In 1858 the most likely eventuality seemed to be the invasion of Germany by an aggressive Napoleonic France, and to guard against this Moltke looked, as Prussian conservatives had looked since 1815, to a close alliance with Austria.3 But unlike other Prussian conservatives, Moltke realised that the leadership of this alliance must be Prussian. Only Prussia, by concentrating a substantial part of her forces on the Main, would be in a position to bring immediate help to the invaded states of South Germany; and, he concluded with satisfaction, "the question, as important as it is difficult, of the Command-in-Chief, will resolve itself". 4 But the left bank of the Rhine would have to be abandoned. It would take thirty-three days for Prussia to mobilise a force capable of opposing any resistance to the French, and nearly seven weeks before there was an adequate balance of forces. The only hope therefore lay in remaining on the defensive behind the Rhine and the Main-a position which lay conveniently on the flank of a French offensive either into the Rhineland or into South Germany. But such a defence, both tactically and strategically, could not be decisive unless an offensive followed; and how should such an offensive be conducted?