GERMANY: The Button

"We cannot have that thing sitting there, pointing like a dagger at England," explained a British officer.

"That thing" was Helgoland—the tiny, mile-long island, 28 miles north of Germany. In 1890, when Britain traded it to the Germans for Zanzibar and a chunk of continental Africa, it was considered a fine swap. "Like getting a whole suit of clothes for a single trouser button," crowed famed African Explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley. By 1914 the Kaiser had spent $80 million turning Helgoland into an "unsinkable battleship."

After victory in 1918, the British tore down the fortifications, but in spite of the protests...

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