Why Were The Pre-1945 Germans The Way They Were?
CK ‘73 Reunion Update
We seem to have formed a committee of sorts, a Gang of Twelve led by our indomitable Lucy, that is doing the grunt work for our reunion in June. The class gift is well in hand, as well. Stay tuned to this newsletter and the website for more updates!
Germany before 1945 seemed to be… different… from any other state.
Before we go off and say, "it's the Germans that caused their own problems," we should think carefully about what made the Germans do what they did. I attended a convention before the WWI centennial kicked off, talking to one of the leading authorities on WWI about WWI. I had just finished my essay for The Meuse Argonne Companion (ABC-Clio 2011), and I was planning a Major Work on the US in WWI (that I never wrote). Exactly how we got to Germany's duality of faiths, keeping to the old Germanic myths while going to church, I cannot recall. However, I remember saying that the German lands seemed to have been "incompletely Christianized." My interlocutor nodded and replied, "incompletely Romanized."
What's that to do with anything?
The Northern Crusades in the Baltic and what became Prussia (1147-1410) were violent struggles to bring Christianity to those who didn't know it and lasted longer than those other Crusades against Islam that we learned about in grade school. Admittedly, the "Crusades" appellation is a 19th-century handle, but the concept was the same: bringing Christianity to the pagans. Morality aside, the one thing that the Roman Church brought to the table then as now is a stable and consistent social organization and set of laws. Churches are far more than just places to go on Sunday; they are community centers.
Also, for most European states, the Church controlled the civil courts and, thus, civil law, something no non-Christian faith did.
Small wonder central Europe resisted for so long. Small wonder, too, that Martin Luther of Saxony-Anhalt (1483-1546) in what was then the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation triggered the Reformation and the creation of Protestantism. Crusading might have allowed Luther to be a monk, but the long resistance based in part on the disputation of central authority made the disparate, disputatious states of the Empire a hotbed of revolt. Rebelling against the Roman Church, however, triggered, among other things, the many French Wars of Religion (1562-98) and the Thirty Year's War (1618-48).
The Thirty Year's War was when the Swedes, French, Spaniards, and Italians, were determined to fight it out right down to the last German.
It started when three guys were pitched out of a third-story window in Prague (they survived the seventy-foot drop) in 1619. This third defenestration in Prague started the Bohemian Revolt (the first, in 1419, killed seven and led to the Hussite Wars (1419-1434); the second in 1483 was of seven dead bodies and just made a mess). This caused Catholic and Protestant to mobilize on each other and led to thirty years of rampaging across Germany. The concept of "turnip winter" was born during this prolonged bloodletting, but it was more like a "turnip generation" for the Germans caught between the scavenging, pillaging armies. According to some authorities, the soldiers took what they wanted because the various princes who organized them and brought them to fight couldn't afford to pay them off. Eight million dead later—including six and a half million civilians—Europe signed all sorts of treaties, declaring that it would never happen again.
The Thirty Year's War was the last of Europe's wars triggered strictly by religion, but it was hardly the last of Europe's wars.
Along with Saxony and Bavaria, Prussia-Brandenburg went their own way as far as foreign policy was concerned, paying lip service and taxes to the tottering Empire while Europe kept hiring well-drilled Prussian soldiers for their armies. They were well-drilled because hiring out soldiers was a source of revenue for the cash-poor Hohenzollern monarchy. Everyone wanted some Prussians as a backbone or striking force or both. Of course, other states of the Empire with enough men to spare started doing the same, including the Hanovers, who took charge in England after the Stuart dynasty in 1714. Then came Napoleon...
Who was the unwitting author of this...
Many Germans looked at the themes of liberty of the French Revolution with some envy. They dreamed of removing the arbitrary rule of the ancien regime and replacing it with stability—the kind of stability Germans hadn't known for generations. During the War of Liberation (1813-14) against France, Prussia-Brandenburg called on all Germans to rise and throw off the French yoke. It worked. The Gold and Iron campaign of 1813 saw women and schoolchildren gathering precious metals to help pay for the armies. Men and boys joined the new Landwehr volunteer units popping up all over. The most famous of these were the Lutzow Free Corps units, made up of volunteers from all over the German-speaking lands. Eschewing the old Prussian blue or the many local alternatives, their uniforms were black, with red piping and bright brass buttons. The crowds loved them, and black, red, and gold have been the colors of German flags (except for the 1933-45 flags) ever since. In 1871, the Prussian strongmen took charge of a united German Empire. Then, in1918, the Weimar Republic was born, and then died in 1933.
And then came the Armageddon of 1945.
The German love of strongmen drove their selection of Germany's leading candidate for national leadership, Prussia-Brandenburg. Cash-poor because its poor soil could barely support subsistence agriculture, a monarchy, and commercial trade, Prussia had always used its army to raise money by hiring them out.
Eventually, Germany used the military for everything.
Hobby Model History
Without A Love Of My Own…
On 11 February:
660 BC: The grandson of the god Amaterasu, the Emperor Jimmu, founded a kingdom in central Japan, according to tradition. This began the current Yamato dynasty that, even if we discard the non-historical monarchs before the 6th century, is the oldest continuous reginal line in the world.
1990: The South African authorities released Nelson Mandela from Victor Verster Prison after 26 years of imprisonment. The fall of the Berlin Wall and PW Botha’s stroke may have had something to do with the release—they had sentenced him to life imprisonment—the general exhaustion over the years of sanctions and rioting was probably a bigger factor.
And today is NATIONAL INVENTORS’ DAY, it being the birthdate of Thomas Edison in 1847 in Milan, Ohio. It’s also Leó Szilárd’s birthday, in 1888 in Budapest, Hungary. Szilárd wrote the letter that Einstein signed, advising President Roosevelt that the Germans might be on the verge of exploiting atomic energy. He’s sometimes called the midwife of the Manhattan Project. And no, it’s not Irony Day…
And it’s my granddaughter Madeline’s birthday…not gonna say when that was, but she is the mother of one of my two great-grandsons. Happy day, Maddie!