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The Shadows of Total War E U R O P E , E AS T AS IA, AND THE U NI TE D STATE S, 1919–1939 The period between the two world wars of the twentieth century was one of the most exciting in the history of war. In anticipation of another conﬂict, military planners and civilian thinkers struggled after 1918 with the painful implications of World War I. Given its scope, the wholesale mobilization of civilian populations, and the targeting of civilians via blockades and strategic bombing, many observers regarded this titanic conﬂict as a “total war.” They also conluded that any future conﬂict would bear the same hallmarks; and they planned accordingly. The essays in this collection, the fourth in a series on the problem of total war, examine the interwar period. They explore the lingering consequences of World War I, the intellectual efforts to analyze this conﬂict’s military signiﬁcance, the attempts to plan for another general war, and several episodes in the 1930s that portended the war that erupted in 1939.
Roger Chickering is Professor of History at the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University. His publications include Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918 (Cambridge 1998) and Karl Lamprecht (1856–1915): A German Academic Life (1993). Stig F¨orster is Professor of History at the University of Bern in Switzerland. His publications include Der doppelte Militarismus: Die deutsche Heeresr¨ustungspolitik zwischen Status-quo-Sicherung und Aggression, 1890–1913 (1985) and Die m¨achtigen Diener der East India Company: Ursachen und Hintergr¨unde der britischen Expansionspolitik in S¨udasien, 1793–1819 (1992).
publications of the german historical institute washington, d.c. Edited by Christof Mauch with David Lazar The German Historical Institute is a center for advanced study and research whose purpose is to provide a permanent basis for scholarly cooperation among historians from the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States. The Institute conducts, promotes, and supports research into both American and German political, social, economic, and cultural history; into transatlantic migration, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and into the history of international relations, with special emphasis on the roles played by the United States and Germany. Recent books in the series Norbert Finzsch and Dietmar Schirmer, editors, Identity and Intolerance: Nationalism, Racism, and Xenophobia in Germany and the United States Susan Strasser, Charles McGovern, and Matthias Judt, editors, Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century Carole Fink, Philipp Gassert, and Detlef Junker, editors, 1968: The World Transformed Roger Chickering and Stig F¨orster, editors, Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front Manfred F. Boemeke, Gerald D. Feldman, and Elisabeth Glaser, eds., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment After 75 Years Manfred Berg and Martin H. Geyer, eds., Two Cultures of Rights: The Quest for Inclusion and Participation in Modern America and Germany Manfred F. Boemeke, Roger Chickering, and Stig F¨orster, eds., Anticipating Total War: The German and American Experiences, 1871–1914
The Shadows of Total War EUROPE, EAST ASIA, AND THE UNITED STATES, 1919–1939
ROGER CHICKERING Georgetown University
¨ STIG F ORSTER University of Bern, Switzerland
GERMAN HISTORICAL INSTITUTE Washington, D.C. and
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge , United Kingdom Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521812368 © The German Historical Institute 2003 This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published in print format 2003 - isbn-13 978-0-511-06460-9 eBook (NetLibrary) - isbn-10 0-511-06460-8 eBook (NetLibrary) - isbn-13 978-0-521-81236-8 hardback - isbn-10 0-521-81236-4 hardback
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Introduction Roger Chickering and Stig F¨orster
part one r e f l e c t i o n s o n t h e i n t e r wa r p e r i o d 1
The Politics of War and Peace in the 1920s and 1930s Gerhard L. Weinberg
War and Society in the 1920s and 1930s Hew Strachan
Plans, Weapons, Doctrines: The Strategic Cultures of Interwar Europe Dennis E. Showalter
part two l e g a c i e s o f t h e g r e at wa r 4
Religious Socialism, Peace, and Paciﬁsm: The Case of Paul Tillich Hartmut Lehmann
No More Peace: The Militarization of Politics James M. Diehl
The War’s Returns: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914–1939 Deborah Cohen
The Impact of Total War on the Practice of British Psychiatry Edgar Jones and Simon Wessely
part th re e v i s i o n s o f t h e n e x t wa r 8
Sore Loser: Ludendorff ’s Total War Roger Chickering
viii 9 10 11 12
Contents Strangelove, or How Ernst J¨unger Learned to Love Total War Thomas Rohkr¨amer
Shadows of Total War in French and British Military Journals, 1918–1939 Timo Baumann and Daniel Marc Segesser
Yesterday’s Battles and Future War: The German Ofﬁcial Military History, 1918–1939 Markus P¨ohlmann
“The Study of the Distant Past Is Futile”: American Reﬂections on New Military Frontiers Bernd Greiner
part f our p roj e c t i on s and p rac t i c e 13
“Not by Law but by Sentiment”: Great Britain and Imperial Defense, 1918–1939 Benedikt Stuchtey
“Blitzkrieg” or Total War? War Preparations in Nazi Germany Wilhelm Deist
The Condor Legion: An Instrument of Total War? Klaus A. Maier
Stalinism as Total Social War Hans-Heinrich Nolte
Total Colonial Warfare: Ethiopia Giulia Brogini K¨unzi
Japan’s Wartime Empire in China Louise Young
List of Contributors
Timo Baumann is a Research Fellow in the History Department at the University of Bern, Switzerland. Roger Chickering is Professor of History at Georgetown University. Deborah Cohen is Assistant Professor of History at American University, Washington, D.C. Wilhelm Deist is a retired historian living in Freiburg im Breisgau. James M. Diehl is Professor of History at Indiana University. Stig F¨orster is Professor of History at the University of Bern, Switzerland. Bernd Greiner is a researcher at the Institute for Social Research, Hamburg. Edgar Jones is Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychological Medicine at Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ School of Medicine, London. Giulia Brogini K¨unzi is a Research Fellow in the History Department at the University of Bern, Switzerland. Hartmut Lehmann is Director of the Max Planck Institute for History, G¨ottingen. Klaus A. Maier was a researcher at the Ofﬁce of Military History Research, Potsdam. Hans-Heinrich Nolte is Professor of History at the University of Hannover.
Markus P¨ohlmann is print and photograph researcher at the Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart. Thomas Rohkr¨amer teaches history at the University of Lancaster. Daniel Marc Segesser is a Research Fellow in the History Department at the University of Bern, Switzerland. Dennis E. Showalter is Professor of History at Colorado College. Hew Strachan is Professor of Modern History at the University of Glasgow. Benedikt Stuchtey is a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute, London. Gerhard L. Weinberg is a retired historian living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Simon Wessely is Professor of Psychological Medicine at Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ School of Medicine, London. Louise Young is Professor of History at New York University.
Introduction ¨ roger chickering and stig f orster
At the beginning of the twenty-ﬁrst century it appears as if the age of total war may be over. Military history, let alone “history” itself, has admittedly not come to an end.1 The so-called new world order, in which a single superpower remains, has failed to provide global peace or stability. Wars continue with unabated frequency. Nonetheless, the character of international conﬂict, at least in its organized form, seems to have moved away from the patterns that dominated the ﬁrst half of the twentieth century.2 During the recent war in Kosovo, NATO ofﬁcials routinely offered public regrets about the “collateral damage” that the alliance’s airplanes had inﬂicted inadvertently on civilians in the Balkans. The destruction of a single bus by NATO bombs resulted in an international outcry and consternation among Western leaders. By contrast, the same ofﬁcials proudly announced that one of their pilots had avoided a target after he had determined that it lay close to a church. Fifty-ﬁve years earlier, during World War II, political and military leaders would have found this kind of warfare difﬁcult to comprehend. They would not have been troubled by the destruction of a bus in the course of a bombing sortie. The wholesale killing of civilians was a common and essential part of their strategies, for the distinction between soldiers and civilians had ceased to matter much. Today, however, wars are evidently fought for more restricted aims with more limited, albeit sophisticated, means. Unconditional surrender no longer represents the conventional conclusion to warfare. Mass, conscripted armies are found today primarily in less developed countries, where they 1 Cf. Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York, 1992). 2 Martin van Creveld has suggested a different “retreat” from total war. He argues that organized warfare is being replaced by low-intensity wars waged by terrorists and resistance movements. See Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York, 1991); cf. Ulrich Br¨ockling, “Am Ende der grossen Kriegserz¨ahlungen? Zur Genealogie der ‘humanit¨aren Intervention,’” Arbeitskreis Milit¨argeschichte, Newsletter 11 (2000): 7–10.
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usually bring unhappy economic and political consequences. The strategies of modern armed forces are designed to reduce their own casualties – if possible (as in Kosovo) to eliminate them altogether. After Vietnam, as Hew Strachan has recently remarked, “both the public and politicians were re-educated to expect wars to be short, victorious, and comparatively bloodless.”3 The future of warfare seems to belong to highly trained, wellequipped professional soldiers, whose mission is, as the public handwringing over collateral damage in Kosovo suggested, to remove their business as far as possible from civilian affairs. Has the “age of total war” really passed? Has warfare returned to a “normal” state? Was total war but a momentary aberration in the long history of warfare? Did it emerge in speciﬁc historical circumstances during the nineteenth century, come to fruition in the early twentieth century, and then disappear? John Keegan has recently lent support to this view. He has restated an old argument that early human societies fought only limited wars – that they avoiding mass-killings and large-scale destruction. In this perspective, limited warfare appears to be the natural form of armed conﬂict among human groups. The radicalization of warfare, its extension to all the members of the participating groups, commenced only with the emergence of modern states and sophisticated armies.4 The paleo-anthropologist Lawrence Keeley has painted an altogether different picture.5 He concludes that prehistoric societies often fought wars in which destruction was limited only by the means at the disposal of the combatants. Mobilizing all able-bodied men – and sometimes women – these “primitive” groups set out to subjugate or annihilate one another. In this light, total war – waged to the limits of a society’s capabilities – has been the “normal” pattern, the basic historical form of intergroup conﬂict. Only when states could no longer afford the strains and costs of conﬂict in this pattern did the limitation of warfare begin. If Keeley is right, the total wars of the twentieth century represented no historical aberration. Limiting warfare depended on the ability of states and societies to control the use of military violence, to employ it with limited means for limited aims. One could then argue that historical circumstances in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought the breakdown of these control mechanisms and opened the road to total war. Warfare returned to its 3 Hew Strachan, “Essay and Reﬂection: On Total War and Modern War,” International History Review 22 (2000): 347. 4 John Keegan, A History of Warfare (London, 1993). 5 Lawrence Keeley, War Before Civilization (New York, 1996).
basic nature, albeit in much more destructive form, which corresponded to the expanded capacities of modern industrial societies. The principal question then relates to the causes of the disastrous disappearance of constraints on warfare in the modern era. This question has posed the underlying theme in a series of conferences of which this volume represents a part. “Total war” became a popular topos during the period between the two world wars of the twentieth century. It was coined during the ﬁrst of them, and it subsequently played an important role in deliberations everywhere about the future of warfare. Even as it entered the popular vocabulary, though, a compelling deﬁnition of the term eluded contemporaries; and it has continued to frustrate historians. Accordingly, one of the principal goals of the conference series has been to explore the deﬁnition and historical meaning of the concept of total war. The ﬁrst three conferences demonstrated the difﬁculties of the undertaking.6 Participants found it hard to agree on the dimensions of total war, the origins of the phenomenon, the conﬂicts that might lay claim to the label, and whether total war ever fully materialized. In fact, doubts have lingered over whether the concept of total war has occasioned more confusion than insight and ought best to be abandoned. One of the difﬁculties lies in the expanding purview of warfare in the modern epoch. The idea of total war implies the breakdown of the distinction between organized combat and the societies, economies, and political systems that support it. Analyzing this phenomenon in turn has broad methodological implications, which are captured in the proposition that “total war requires total history.”7 If the idea of total war has any utility for historians, it requires the investigation of warfare in its many historical dimensions, an effort that extends to the ﬁelds of military, political, social, economic, and cultural history. This realization has brought a signiﬁcant expansion in the scope of the conference series, as historians from other areas have joined the ranks of military historians in examining the history of warfare in the modern era. The series began with the hypothesis that a phenomenon called total war could claim its immediate origins in the American and French Revolutions. As the revolutionaries in both lands invoked the idea of a “people’s war” 6 Stig F¨orster and J¨org Nagler, eds., On the Road to Total War: The American Civil War and the German Wars of Uniﬁcation, 1861–1871 (New York, 1997); Manfred F. Boemeke, Roger Chickering, and Stig F¨orster, eds., Anticipating Total War: The American and German Experiences, 1871–1914 (New York, 1999); Roger Chickering and Stig F¨orster, eds., Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914–1918 (New York, 2000). 7 Roger Chickering, “Total War: The Use and Abuse of a Concept,” in Boemeke, Chickering, and F¨orster, eds., Anticipating, 27.
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as a response to the professional armies that they faced, they called on the support of the general public for their war effort. At the end of the eighteenth century, warfare increasingly involved entire societies. One might thus argue that the ideological foundations of total war were laid in these revolutions, once it became theoretically compelling and plausible to mobilize every citizen for war. Industrialization later in the nineteenth century offered the material means to put the ideology of people’s war into practice. Mass armies of volunteers and conscripts could be transported to the battleﬁelds and provided with weapons, munitions, equipment, and food. These requirements attached enormous signiﬁcance to the exertions of civilians on the home front. Non-combatants produced the essential material provisions for soldiers in the ﬁeld; the moral and political support of non-combatants was consequently hardly less vital to the prosecution of war than were the efforts of the soldiers. Civilians became directly implicated in the ﬁghting, hence legitimate targets of military action, as the conceptual distinction between them and soldiers began to erode. At the same time, the aims for which wars were being fought themselves lost their constraints. As belligerent societies began to cast one another as threats to their own survival, the destruction of the enemy’s basic social or political institutions seemed to offer appropriate redress. Finally, as mass mobilization for warfare reached its zenith in the industrial wars of the twentieth century, populations grew accustomed to mass slaughter. This experience reduced popular resistance to the employment of every means available to achieve victory. Given the hypothesis that total war grew out of the combined military implications of what Eric Hobsbawm has called the “dual revolution” of popular sovereignty and industrialization,8 it seemed appropriate to begin the conference series in the middle of the nineteenth century, with a comparison between the American Civil War and the German Wars of Uniﬁcation. These were the ﬁrst large-scale wars in which many of these new features of warfare could be observed. The participants in the ﬁrst conference could not agree, however, whether any of these mid-century wars might legitimately be called “total.” The America Civil War in particular was the object of an extended debate. While James McPherson argued that this conﬂict turned total in 1862, Mark Neely disagreed.9 On the other hand, no one claimed 8 Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, 1789–1848 (New York, 1962). 9 James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York 1988), 490; Mark E. Neely Jr., “Was the Civil War a Total War?” in F¨orster and Nagler, eds., On the Road, 29–52; James M. McPherson, “From Limited War to Total War in America,” in ibid., 295–310.
that the German Wars could remotely lay claim to this label, although some argued that the Franco-German War showed tendencies in this direction.10 In all events, the conference resulted in no consensus. Disagreements grew primarily out of the paradoxical characters of these wars, which exhibited both “modern” and “traditional” characteristics. The conference did make clear, however, that any attempt to deﬁne total war would have to accommodate several dimensions of analysis, although the blurring of distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, the extension of warfare to include civilians as well as soldiers, impressed many as the most basic. The next conference was devoted to the experiences of the United States and Imperial Germany in the era between the mid-century wars and the outbreak of World War I. This conference achieved more consensus. Although signs of the loosening of constraints on warfare could be detected in the writings of German and American observers, as well as in the practices of colonial warfare, it was clear that few contemporaries in either country foresaw the wars of the early twentieth century. While some military and civilian theorists in Germany envisaged a long, catastrophic war, even they failed to anticipate a war of such comprehensive impact that it might legitimately be called total.11 The conference laid bare so many alternative visions of future war that it became difﬁcult to contend that the road to total war led straight from the middle of the nineteenth century to the Great War. The third conference was the ﬁrst to confront a conﬂict that has conventionally enjoyed the designation “total war.” By virtually every index, World War I was the most extensive and comprehensive ever fought. Its sheer magnitude deﬁed the limits of a single conference and made necessary a focus on the principal powers that were engaged on the western front. Although disagreements surfaced once again, the conference did yield some general conclusions. Despite the ghastly extent of the slaughter at the front, leaders in all the belligerent countries persisted in conducting the war as “business as usual,” at least until 1916, which proved to be a turning point. As the terrible battles of this year failed to break the military deadlock on the western front, conceptual limits on war began to break down. Unrestricted submarine warfare, the introduction of new technologies, and the grim attempt to achieve the full mobilization of society, cost what it might, all suggested that warfare had undergone a signiﬁcant modulation. 10 Stig F¨orster, “The Prussian Triangle of Leadership in the Face of a People’s War: A Reassessment of the Conﬂict Between Bismarck and Moltke, 1870–71,” in ibid., 115–40; Robert Tombs, “The Wars Against Paris,” in ibid., 541–64. 11 Stig F¨orster, “Dreams and Nightmares: German Military Leadership and the Images of Future Warfare, 1871–1914,” in Boemeke, Chickering, and F¨orster, eds., Anticipating, 343–76.
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The Hindenburg Program in Germany and Lloyd George’s policy of conscription and full mobilization in Britain were the most salient markers of this process. By this time, the belligerent states had resolved to ﬁght to the bitter end, to subvert if necessary one another’s institutions by revolutionary means, and to disdain all thoughts of a compromise peace. Did the Great War in fact represent a total war? Contemporaries such as Erich Ludendorff and Ernst J¨unger denied that it did. After the war they charged that the German leadership had failed to implement total mobilization. German society had not, they argued, devoted itself unconditionally to the war effort. The conference demonstrated, however, that this charge could have been leveled as well at France, Britain, and the United States. Nor, judged by the victimization of civilians, did the Great War present an unambiguous picture. Britain’s naval blockade was admittedly directed against Germany’s civilian population, while the German U-boats were deployed to repay the British in kind. But, as Strachan emphasized, the static character of the front, which turned the Great War into a protracted siege, spared most civilians from the direct impact of military action.12 Still, civilian targets were bombed from the air on both sides. German atrocities against Belgian civilians at the beginning of the war and the subsequent deportation of Belgian labor to Germany were also pertinent in this respect. In the end, though, the argument of Ludendorff and J¨unger seemed compelling: although tendencies in this direction were detectable, total war did not materialize during the Great War. But should one even pose the problem in these terms? This basic methodological question has hung over all the conferences. It has to do with what one might call the ontological status of total war. Is total war something real, a potentiality awaiting its realization in history? This conception of the problem draws on Carl von Clausewitz’s idea of “absolute war,” although the military philosopher himself was convinced that for several practical reasons the potential of absolute war, which inhered in every act of violence, would not be fully realized in historical fact. Deﬁning total war in these “realist” terms has invited discussion of the speciﬁc indices or measures of “totality.” How unrestrained must military violence become to deserve the label “total”? How radical must war aims be? How total was World War I? The difﬁculties of answering this order of questions suggested the possibilities of posing the problem in different terms. “Total war,” in an alternative 12 Hew Strachan, “From Cabinet War to Total War: The Perspective of Military Doctrine, 1861–1918,” in Chickering and F¨orster, eds., Great War, Total War, 19–33; cf. Gerd Krumeich, “Kriegsfront – Heimatfront,” in Gerhard Hirschfeld et al., eds., Kriegserfahrungen: Studien zur Sozial- und Mentalit¨atsgeschichte des Ersten Weltkrieges (Essen, 1997), 12–19.
reading, might be better conceived as an “ideal type,” in the sense that Max Weber understood the term – as a heuristic device, an intellectual construction that lays claim itself to no independent historical reality but serves instead as a conceptual model, which allows the observer to abstract from empirical phenomena in order to analyze broader tendencies or categories of events. By this deﬁnition, “totality” in warfare has never been achieved historically; it can be only approximated. As an “ideal type,” however, total war draws the attention of historians to speciﬁc dimensions of warfare, and it provides categories of meaningful comparison among historical cases. If the conference series has failed to resolve issues like these, it has hardly ignored them. Roger Chickering has warned of the pitfalls that lurk in the teleologies of total war as a “master narrative.”13 The conferences have demonstrated that the “plot line” of this narrative did not lead directly or ineluctably from the French revolutionary armies to Hiroshima. Portraying historical developments in light of such narrative logic obscures a host of contingencies, accidents, alternatives, and counter-tendencies that have ﬁgured prominently in all the recent conferences. The concept of total war was contrived only during the interwar period, so anyone who wishes to use it to characterize earlier conﬂicts must be sensitive to charges of anachronism. Neither Lincoln nor Bismarck, Moltke nor even Ludendorff had conceived of total war before 1916. Employing the standards of one era to judge another is a dangerous exercise, which requires considerable caution. In this spirit, the conference series has suggested that productive structural comparisons require careful attention to the question why constraints on warfare that prevailed in one historical era broke down in another. The conferences marked out a number of analytical dimensions or axes along which any deﬁnition of total war must be framed, however the concept is understood. One has to do with war aims. Pursuing the destruction or complete subjugation of an enemy, let alone the genocidal annihilation of its population, was rare before the modern era. It occurred primarily on the peripheries of Europe, as in the Spanish Reconquista. More commonly, defeated powers needed only to accede to the victors’ limited demands in order to be left alone. Wars ended usually in some sort of negotiation. This state of affairs survived into the wars of Napoleon, who, at least when he fought other great powers, did not as a rule seek their destruction. During the American Civil War this pattern changed. The Confederacy admittedly fought for limited aims, insofar as it wished only to gain 13 Chickering, “Total War,” in Boemeke, Anticipating, 15–28.
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independence. As Jefferson Davis pleaded, “All we ask is to be left alone.”14 As the war dragged on, however, Lincoln raised the stakes, deﬁning the Union’s goal as nothing less than the revolutionary recasting of the South with the elimination of slavery, its basic social institution. “The character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation,” he declared. “The South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.”15 Thus, even if Lincoln were prepared to negotiate on details, the term “unconditional surrender” now well described the Union’s war effort. A similar tendency surfaced in the Franco-German War several years later. After L´eon Gambetta’s guerre a` outrance had caused enormous difﬁculties for the German armies as they sought to bring the war to an end, Moltke demanded the complete occupation and subjugation of France. The Prussian crown prince was horriﬁed by this call for “a war of extermination,” and Bismarck refused to agree to it.16 Both cases suggested that the radicalization of war aims was becoming a feature of war in the industrial era. During the Great War, the French and Germans envisaged their mutual dismemberment and the destruction of one another’s great-power status. That extreme war aims were seriously meant was demonstrated in the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk. During much of the proceedings at the Paris peace conference in 1919, the French called for radical measures against Germany, before the inﬂuence of the Anglo-Saxon powers moderated the terms of the treaty. In World War II, unlimited aims were an even more prominent feature. The Germans planned to destroy the Soviet Union and to enslave or eradicate the population of the conquered territories. At the Casablanca conference, Churchill and Roosevelt made unconditional surrender ofﬁcially the goal of their war against the Axis. The radicalization of war aims reﬂected the changing attitudes of belligerent states toward one another. Political and military leaders, as well as large segments of their peoples, tended to regard their enemies as threats to their existence. Such beliefs blocked the path to negotiations and directed wars against an enemy’s political system or its entire people. This trend was partly due as well to the enormous collective effort and sacriﬁce that mass mobilization demanded in industrial warfare. Limited war aims seemed incongruent with the exertions required. A second dimension of total war pertains to the methods of war. It is difficult to argue that wars were more humane in premodern times. The conventions that were negotiated early in the twentieth century at The Hague 14 Quoted in McPherson, Battle Cry, 310. 16 F¨orster, “Prussian Triangle,” 133.
15 Ibid., 558.
and in Geneva were thought to be necessary precisely because warfare had not historically observed international rules.17 Nonetheless, belligerents in both world wars of the twentieth century disregarded even the conventions that they themselves had negotiated. German submarine warfare constituted a ﬂagrant breach of international law. So did the aerial bombing, scorched-earth tactics, and the use (by the Japanese) of chemical and biological weapons in World War II. Some of the worst abuses befell prisoners of war. During World War I the treatment of POWs was generally consistent with internationally accepted rules, although prisoners from both sides were occasionally killed behind the front lines.18 In World War II the maltreatment of POWs was far more extensive and brutal. The Germans murdered most of the Red Army soldiers who fell into their hands, and the Japanese often behaved in similar fashion. This phenomenon suggested the radicalization of the methods of war, and it extended to measures undertaken against partisans, whether real or imagined. The spectacle began with the German atrocities in Belgium 1914 and reached a climax in the Partisanenbek¨ampfung of the SS and Wehrmacht in occupied Soviet territory during World War II. One might well argue that the genocide of the European Jews in the same war was itself an aspect of the radicalization of warfare. The Nazi leadership itself regarded its campaign against the Jews in this light. Signs of this radicalization could be seen during the American Civil War and the Franco-German War, albeit to less an extent. Aerial bombardment was not yet technologically feasible, but the shelling of Vicksburg, Strasbourg, and Paris suggested that it would have encountered few moral barriers. Sherman’s march through the South and Sheridan’s destruction of the Shenandoah Valley were like aerial bombardments by foot, although they usually spared the lives of civilians. In similar fashion, warfare against guerillas in the South and West during the American Civil War, like the German war against the franc-tireurs, foretold things to come. The treatment of POWs in the Civil War was often brutal, although the horrors of Andersonville were less the product of intent than incompetence.19 POWs from both sides in this war were randomly murdered behind the lines, especially when black soldiers fell into the hands of Confederate units. In the Franco-German War, by contrast, POWs were as a rule treated better.20 17 Jost D¨ulffer, Regeln gegen den Krieg? Die Haager Friedenskonferenzen 1899 und 1907 in der internationalen Politik (Frankfurt am Main, 1981). 18 See Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (London, 1998), 367–94. 19 Reid Mitchell, “‘Our Prison System, Supposing We Had Any’: The Confederate and Union Prison Systems,” in F¨orster and Nagler, eds., On the Road, 565–86. 20 Manfred Botzenhart, “French Prisoners of War in Germany, 1870–71,” in ibid., 587–95.
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In several cases the radicalization of the methods of warfare corresponded to the radicalization of war aims. During the Civil War the destructive raids of Sheridan and Sherman were geared to the principle of unconditional surrender; they were calculated to bring the horrors of war directly to the enemy’s civilian population. The German atrocities in Belgium in 1914 were likewise designed to force an enemy population into submission. So was Allied aerial bombing in World War II, and it, too, was an integral part of a strategy to force unconditional surrender. Unrestricted submarine warfare and the use of poison gas were more complex, for they grew out of technological developments in the means of warfare. Between 1861 and 1945 the destructive power of weapons increased immensely. This era was marked at the one end by the riﬂe and at the other by the atomic bomb. The results of technology were ambiguous, however, for it was no foregone conclusion that technological development would result in the kind of massive, comprehensive conﬂicts that are invoked by the term total war.21 If technological development be taken as the gauge of “modernity,” total war, as Strachan has recently written, “need not be modern; a modern war need not be total.”22 Many observers argued persuasively at the end of the nineteenth century that more destructive weapons would in fact shorten wars. A classical case was Bismarck’s insistence on shelling Paris in order to bring the Franco-German War to a rapid end, before it got out of control. Advocates of strategic airpower in the interwar period resorted to similar reasoning in order to justify their visions of war. The effect was nevertheless to lower the moral threshold to employing all available weapons against civilians as well as soldiers. Another important dimension of total war was the creation of mass armies. In the American Civil War and Franco-German War, the belligerent powers put hundreds of thousands of soldiers into the ﬁeld. In the two world wars, the contending armies counted in the tens of millions. All of these forces could be moved, equipped, and provisioned only by industrial means. Keeping mass armies under control and in ﬁghting spirit was also an organizational achievement. The sheer size of these forces made it difﬁcult to defeat them. In addition, the million-man armies enjoyed the passionate support of their societies, if only because families had fathers, sons, husbands, and other male relatives in the ﬁeld. Defeating armies thus increasingly implied defeating the societies that supported them. 21 Strachan, “From Cabinet War to Total War”; and Dennis E. Showalter, “Mass Warfare and the Impact of Technology,” both in Chickering and F¨orster, eds., Great War, Total War. 22 Strachan, “Essay and Reﬂection,” 351.
Any analysis of total war must emphasize the mobilization of the belligerent societies. This phenomenon was not unique to the twentieth century. Stone-age groups, as well as the Germanic tribes that invaded Roman territory, appear to have practiced it. However, the larger and more complex societies grew, the more difﬁcult became the effort to mobilize large portions of their human resources for war. In less-developed societies, mobilization was usually restricted by gender. Large-scale recruitment of women for war was rare. Young men under the command of elder men usually bore the brunt of the ﬁghting, although male children were also often recruited, as was common during the Thirty Years War. Particularly during the eighteenth century in Europe and large parts of Asia, warfare became primarily a matter of professional soldiery, as states sought a monopoly of organized force. In these circumstances, it became common to distinguish between the armed forces and civilian society. Unless it was subjected to “collateral damage” or enemy raids from the ﬁghting zones, civilian society was, as a rule, expected to supply and ﬁnance wars, not to ﬁght them. During the French Revolutionary Wars, however, the distinction between combatants and non-combatants broke down. In the words of Clausewitz, “Suddenly war again became the business of the people – a people of thirty millions, all of whom considered themselves to be citizens.”23 But the enthusiasm of the masses was apparently not sufﬁcient; it had to be organized. Hence the Jacobin regime introduced conscription for males between 18 and 25. All other citizens were also called on to join the war effort. Married men were to produce weapons, women to produce clothes and tents, children were to make bandages, and the elderly were to assemble in public places to rally morale.24 The idea of total mobilization of state and society for war was born. However, the history of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France thereafter demonstrated the practical difﬁculties of implementing this idea. Beyond popular resistance, the necessary institutions were difﬁcult to establish and sustain, with respect either to the army or the economy. These lessons were subsequently conﬁrmed, as capitalist economies proved particularly difﬁcult in principle to coordinate. For all his remarkable achievements, Gambetta learned as much when, in 1870–1, he tried to organize a lev´ee en masse to ﬁght the Germans after the defeat of the French 23 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J., 1976), 592. 24 Albert Soboul, Die Grosse Franz¨osische Revolution (Frankfurt am Main, 1973), 294–5.
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regular armies.25 In the American Civil War the Confederacy attempted to mobilize all its resources for the war effort, as women were called on to play an essential role. The degree of mobilization in the Confederacy far exceeded that in the more populous and industrialized North, but even in the South, mobilization never approached the degree of thoroughness achieved later by belligerents in the wars of the twentieth century.26 In fact, even during these great wars, mobilization remained well within limits. The German authorities tried ruthlessly during World War I to mobilize society and economy behind the war effort, particularly after 1916. At the same time, the British government sought to extend its control in a similar direction, while in the United States the Wilson administration pursued a policy of state control that clashed in signiﬁcant ways with American traditions. But full mobilization was never realized. In Germany the Hindenburg Program failed largely in its aims, and in fact undermined morale on the home front. With this lesson in mind, the Nazi regime hesitated to introduce full social and economic mobilization at home during World War II. Only in 1944–5, against a moral backdrop announced in Goebbels’ famous “total war speech,” did anything like full mobilization begin to take place. By then, however, Britain and the Soviet Union had already mobilized much more comprehensively. Perhaps the most challenging and problematic aspect of total war is its suggestion of total control. Total mobilization in advanced societies implied the need for total organization. Resistance was to be crushed.27 Civilian enthusiasm was to be sustained by propaganda. As the supply of volunteers diminished, the supply of military manpower had to be organized in conscription. Hence, total war implied centralized government control over virtually every phase of life. Such control has been impossible to achieve. The Jacobins tried to do so by means of terror, and they failed. During the American Civil War both sides used coercion as well as propaganda to rally their citizens. Censorship, arbitrary arrests, and conscription were all essential parts of the effort, but they had mixed results.28 Institutional control of society was both more prominent and effective in the world wars. 25 St´ephane Audoin-Rouzeau, “French Public Opinion and the Emergence of Total War,” in F¨orster and Nagler, eds., On the Road, 393–412. 26 Donna Rebecca D. King, “Women and War in the Confederacy,” in ibid., 413–48; Stanley L. Engerman and J. Matthew Gallman, “The Civil War Economy: A Modern View,” in ibid., 217–48. 27 See Francis L. Carsten, War Against War: British and German Radical Movements in the First World War (London 1992). 28 See Mark E. Neely Jr., The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York 1991); J¨org Nagler, “The Home Front in the American Civil War,” in F¨orster and Nagler, eds., On the Road, 329–56; Phillip S. Paludan, “‘The Better Angels of our Nature’: Lincoln, Propaganda, and Public Opinion in the North During the Civil War,” in ibid., 357–76.
Conscription became the rule, even in Britain after 1916. Censorship and propaganda were staples of these wars. During World War II, terror became standard practice in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Attempts to control the economy were also part of this story. Ludendorff ’s “war socialism” provided an early model, which was emulated to a degree in Albert Speer’s economy of total war. The Soviet Union established a command economy in the 1930s, and the results looked like an attempt to institutionalize a total-war economy in time of peace. In this respect at least, the transition to war was comparatively smooth in the Soviet Union. One is tempted to see in these developments an inherent paradox of total war. The attempt to establish total control has encouraged total chaos. The failure of Ludendorff ’s policy ultimately led to Germany’s collapse in 1918; and it followed a more fundamental breakdown of state and society in Russia the year before. Much of the rubble with which the Soviet Union and the two Germanies had to contend after 1945 was arguably the product of measures undertaken by the red and brown dictatorships during the war. Each of these dimensions of total war has its own history, although they are interconnected in important ways. Perhaps the most central aspect has been the erosion of the distinction between the military and civilian society. The growing, deliberate implication of civilians in war constituted in this light the principal feature of the age of total war. Without the direct support of civilian society, the massive industrial warfare that was the hallmark of this period would have been inconceivable. But the same truth turned civilians into targets of military violence. The true symbols of total war were burning villages and cities and the other countless civilian casualties of calculated military violence. The bloody road to total war led from the American South through Strasbourg and Paris, Belgium, Guernica, and Nanking, through Lidice, Oradour, and countless Greek, Serbian, and Soviet villages, to Babi Yar, Auschwitz, Dresden, and Hiroshima. The plight of civilians in modern war, one might conclude, is the central theme in the age of total war. This book examines the period between World War I and World War II. It resembles the second volume in the series insofar as it focuses on an interlude between major wars, when military experts and popular writers alike attempted to anticipate the next war in light of the last. The second volume documented the near-complete failure of these observers to draw accurate lessons from the past or to anticipate the operational impact of social and industrial change at the end of the nineteenth century. The conclusions of this volume are more tentative in this regard; and they must remain so until a ﬁnal volume in the series can turn to World War II.
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The theme of this volume differs from that of the second in several other respects. In the ﬁrst place, the interval between the major wars was shorter. The Paris peace settlement bequeathed a legacy of bitterness and international instability, which lent an aura of urgency to military planning from almost the moment the treaties were signed. In addition, the war that ended in 1918 set a powerful agenda for military planners in all the former belligerent countries, winners as well as losers. The shadow of the last war loomed large over thinking about the next one. The prospects were as frightening as they were general that the Great War had established basic patterns that no future European conﬂict could escape, that the next war would require the wholesale mobilization of economies and societies to feed the insatiable demands of land armies that could not defeat one another in battle. In some quarters, this conclusion led to political resignation. It suggested that the demographic and social costs of another war were too high to justify ﬁghting. In other quarters, particularly in the defeated countries, the same conclusion bred invention and receptivity to military reform, as it suggested that the means had to be found to ﬁght a different kind of war. In the eyes of some planners, the Great War appeared itself to offer these means, above all in the proper operational exploitation of armor and air power.29 The discourse on war in the 1920s and 1930s was governed by these imperatives. They surfaced in prolonged debates in both the military and civilian literature over directions of technological development, terms of military service, and the organization and training of armed forces. One other theme – an additional shadow of the Great War – ﬁgured centrally in these debates, and it occupies a privileged place in this volume. The term total war gestated during the interwar period, the child of intensive discussions about the challenges, consequences, and implications – both political and military – of civilian mobilization for war. This historical fact emphasizes the ideological freight that attached to the concept of total war from its birth, and it recommends still greater caution in employing this term as a tool of historical analysis.30 As a spate of memoirs from military and political leaders made clear in the 1920s and 1930s, its immediate point of reference was the Great War. Ludendorff and Lloyd George could agree that the outcome of the conﬂict had reﬂected ultimately the superior ability of the allies to exploit human and material resources, and that the Allies’ success had had as much to do with moral determination and organizational skill as with the extent of these resources. 29 See Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett, eds., Military Innovation in the Interwar Period (Cambridge, 1996). 30 Fabio Crivellari, “Der Wille zum Totalen Krieg,” Arbeitskreis Milit¨argeschichte, Newsletter 12 (2000): 10–14.
Agreement reigned further that the outcome of the next war would likewise depend on the effective moral and material organization of the home front. The public debates about strategic air power only underlined this truth, as they portrayed home fronts as at once the most crucial and the most vulnerable facet of any state’s capacity to make war. So central was home-front mobilization in discussions of future war that it emerged as the underpinning of theories of state in the interwar period. In the new Soviet Union, War Communism was the product of civil war, but it owed inspiration to the Hindenburg Plan in Germany, and its imprint was basic in the institutional development of the new Soviet state after the conclusion of the Civil War.31 In Italy, a similar experiment took place in the name of Fascism; here, too, it featured an attempt in peacetime to refashion politics and society to the organizational requirements of war. The propagandists of the Italian model included the neo-Hegelian scholar Giovanni Gentile, who invoked the word “totalitarian” to describe the Fascist experiment.32 Even as Mussolini deployed it in the struggle to consolidate the new regime, the idea of “totalitarian” rule attracted the interest of political theorists elsewhere. In Germany, another group of neo-Hegelians around the jurist Carl Schmitt fanned the ﬁerce ideological struggles of the Weimar era, as they laid claim to the word “total” and cast the lessons of mobilization during the Great War within the authoritarian theoretical framework of a “total state.” From here, the conceptual advance of the German right toward a theory of total war was brief.33 A ﬁfth and ﬁnal volume in this series will address the question whether Nazi Germany and the other participants in World War II put this theory into practice – and whether this conﬂict offers in the end a paradigmatic instance of total war. The chapters in this book explore the conceptual and practical preparations for the second great war of the twentieth century. The emphasis falls on two dimensions of these preparations. The ﬁrst is the enormous inﬂuence of the Great War in shaping deliberations about the next war. The second is the question whether those who planned the next war envisaged anything like World War II. The concept of total war provides an analytical bridge between these two themes. Employing the concept in this capacity hardly evades the methodological difﬁculties that have troubled the earlier volumes in the series; but it can claim some solid justiﬁcation, insofar as the contemporary discourse on war began itself to feature the term 31 Olando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891–1924 (New York, 1996), 613; see also the chapter by Heinz Heinrich Nolte in this volume. 32 See Abbot Gleason, Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War (New York 1995), 13–50. 33 See Hans-Ulrich Wehler, “‘Absoluter’ und ‘totaler’ Krieg: Von Clausewitz zu Ludendorff,” Politische Vierteljahresschrift 19 (1969): 220–48; see also Roger Chickering’s chapter in this volume.
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total war both in its analysis of the last Great War and its projections about the next. The ﬁrst group of chapters provides general reﬂections on the problems of war, politics, and international relations in the interwar period. Gerhard Weinberg emphasizes that the devastation wrought by the Great War impaired the ability of the Western powers to respond to the threat of another even more destructive conﬂict, even as the leaders of Japan, Italy, and Germany actively prepared for it. Strachan examines military doctrines of the interwar period. He emphasizes the general search for alternatives to mass armies of foot soldiers, whose immobility had turned the Great War into an operational nightmare. In these circumstances, the advocates of armor, air power, and elite, professional armies offered a credible vision of more mobile warfare in the future. However, the key to the next war, Strachan suggests, lay ultimately in efforts to marry these new formations to the military institutions – mass infantry armies and effective home-front mobilization – that had dominated the Great War. Dennis Showalter’s broad survey of “strategic cultures” in interwar Europe also addresses the attempts of military planners to devise a more palatable way to wage war in the future. He argues that these cultures were based on ﬁve strategic concepts, which he identiﬁes as “paralysis,” “management,” “mass,” “shock,” and “compensation.” His chapter then charts the differential appeal of these paradigms in European armed forces during the interwar period. While all these concepts were designed to keep the next war within limits, each in fact, Showalter concludes, “interacted with the other four, and combined in a total war out of civilization’s worst nightmares.” The next section addresses several ways in which the shadow of the Great War colored the contexts in which thinking about warfare took place, as the conﬂict’s lingering effects unsettled European politics and preoccupied leading thinkers. Hartmut Lehmann investigates the career of the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, whose experience of the Great War set an intellectual agenda that led ﬁrst to religious socialism and paciﬁsm. This was a difﬁcult position for a German theologian to hold even in the Weimar era, and the Nazi seizure of power forced him into American exile. Here he continued to ponder the problem of war, but as Lehmann shows, he retreated from his earlier utopian views to embrace the responsible use of force within an effective international order. James Diehl’s chapter documents the enduring impact of the Great War in another sphere. The militarization of domestic politics in several European countries, particularly in Germany, can be traced directly to the war, not the least because those who drove this process were in most cases veterans. Diehl writes of politics in
a “new, martial key,” for “domestic politics became a continuation of war by other means.” Deborah Cohen writes of another category of veterans, whose plight represented one of the most painful agendas that the Great War bequeathed. In a comparative analysis of policies for supporting disabled veterans in Great Britain and Germany, she arrives at a paradoxical conclusion. German policies, which provided generous support through a centralized public regime, created far more disaffection among their beneﬁciaries than did British policies, which were miserably funded and relied primarily on volunteerism and private philanthropy. That battered bodies did not alone deﬁne the disabled of the Great War is abundantly clear in the chapter by Edgar Jones and Simon Wessely. They note that some 65,000 British veterans were awarded pensions for neurasthenia and related conditions. The meager efforts of the Ministry of Pensions to deal with this challenge matched the failure of British psychiatrists and, to a lesser degree, neurologists to comprehend the intellectual and diagnostic implications of the phenomenon. Only the next total war, write Jones and Wessely, brought an effort to repair the problem, principally because the psychological traumas of World War II affected civilian participants to a much greater extent than they had in 1914–18. The next section of chapters explores several attempts to forecast the next war in light of the last. Roger Chickering seeks to situate Erich Ludendorff ’s famous book on total war in the context of the author’s troubled intellectual and political biography after the German defeat in 1918. Thomas Rohkr¨amer then analyzes the cloudy vicissitudes that Ernst J¨unger’s thinking about technology and war underwent before it arrived at a point not far from Ludendorff ’s. The other three chapters in this group survey the writings of military writers in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, as these professionals sought to assimilate the lessons of the last war in anticipation of the next one. Timo Baumann and Daniel Segesser analyze the British and French cases. They document a lively debate in both lands, which resulted in agreement that any future war would be a long ordeal and require the thoroughgoing mobilization of national resources. Baumann and Segesser also suggest, however, that the French and British military writers entertained different visions of the operational speciﬁcs of such a conﬂict – differences that were aggravated by the inability of the separate services in either country to agree about a common scenario. While the French anticipated a war in which a mass army would again bear the principal burden, the emphasis in the British literature fell on the strategic role of the air force. Markus P¨ohlmann examines the German ofﬁcial history of the Great War. He looks carefully at the political pressures that shaped
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the work, but he argues that a close reading of the entire opus reveals that it was by no means conﬁned to operational history. Instead, he writes, it contained many “glimpses of total war,” for its authors were sensitive to the global dimensions of the conﬂict and the broad impact of industrial war on the home front. Finally, Bernd Greiner examines military periodicals in the United States, particularly the Infantry Journal. Like Baumann and Segesser, he documents a vigorous controversy over the lessons to be drawn from the Great War. In the United States, however, the discussion was dominated throughout by anxieties about the military ﬁtness of soldiers drawn from a society, like the United States’, with a deep suspicion of military institutions and values. In the 1930s, Greiner suggests, these anxieties acquired broader relevance, as American military writers began to envisage a “total” war that would extend the ordeal of combat to civilian society itself. The ﬁnal segment of the volume investigates several attempts during the 1930s to institutionalize or otherwise to put new “total” visions of warfare into practice. Benedikt Stuchtey’s chapter examines the efforts of military and political leaders in the British Commonwealth to plan effectively for a global conﬂict. He argues that it was one thing to celebrate the rhetoric of imperial cooperation and common loyalties, but quite another to translate these sentiments into effective military force against the challenges posed simultaneously by Germany, Italy, and Japan. Wilhelm Deist’s chapter explores the institutional problems, not to say contradictions, that arose when the German leadership began to plan for a war that Ludendorff or J¨unger might recognize. Deist argues that the German military could never deﬁne a “strategic vision” of such a conﬂict, as he lays bare the interservice rivalries, competing military and economic pressures, and the conﬂicting political goals that the military and civilian leadership brought to the planning process. Klaus Maier then turns to the performance of the German Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War. He looks carefully at the circumstances in which the Germans decided to employ air power systematically against civilian targets, most notably in Guernica in April 1937. In his investigation of Soviet agricultural collectivization, Hans-Heinrich Nolte then argues that the Soviet experience offered a dramatic precedent for the waging of warfare against a large group of civilians who had been deﬁned as enemies. In this case, however, the Soviet government conducted “total social war” against a select category of its own people, the kulachestvo, as the distinction between military and civilian affairs lost all meaning. Giulia Brogini K¨unzi shows that these distinctions also lost meaning in the war that Fascist Italy undertook in East Africa in 1935–6. Despite the vast disparities of force that the two sides could deploy, she documents a number of features of the
Italo-Ethiopian War that did seem to portend the great war of the next decade. Among these were the Italians’ calculated use of massive military violence (including chemical weapons) against civilians, their invocation of racist stereotypes to justify this kind of warfare, and their careful managing of the war’s representation in the media. Louise Young’s chapter paints a similar picture of war’s pervasive cultural consequences in Asia. Under the rubric of “total empire,” she analyzes the impact of Japan’s war in China on the metropolitan culture and economy. The repercussions of colonial conquest, she argues, entailed the mobilization of the home front and marked in signiﬁcant ways the onset of total war years before Pearl Harbor. Together, the chapters in this book make clear the extent to which planning for war in the 1920s and 1930s took place in the twin “shadows of total war.” The Great War everywhere cast its imprint on thinking about the next war. Consensus thus reigned in most quarters that the next war would likewise require the wholesale mobilization of the home front, the subjection of civilians to military violence, and the remorseless prosecution of war until the full defeat of the enemy. The character of World War I had surprised those who had planned for it. As the ﬁnal installment in the series will demonstrate, this proposition was less true of World War II.
Reﬂections on the Interwar Period
The Politics of War and Peace in the 1920s and 1930s gerhard l. weinberg
Two factors must be kept in mind at all times when the 1920s and 1930s are under review: the dominating memory of the “Great War” – as what we call World War I had come to be called – and the reality of continued conﬂict in some portions of the world. In Europe, where most of the ﬁghting had taken place, there was hardly a family without a member who had been killed or wounded in the recent conﬂict; those individuals were now either conspicuously missing from the family circle or were carrying the physical scars of the ﬁghting. And the family members who had been at the front and survived were generally careful to keep their most awful experiences to themselves; what was the point of upsetting loved ones with accounts of terrors they could neither understand nor alter? The general nature of the ﬁghting and its horrors for participants were well enough known and needed no reciting. No one anywhere needed to be told that it had all been terrible. Photography was sufﬁciently advanced by this time to enable anyone interested to obtain some appreciation of the devastation – if they had not seen it in person. Furthermore, certain new developments in the conduct of warfare had aroused horror at the time, and these continued to haunt the memory of the past and reinforce fears for the future. The introduction of poison gas and of the bombing from the air of towns far distant from the actual ﬁghting, both originally German contributions to warfare, were feared as signs of ever more horrible features of ﬁghting if it ever took place again. The armistice of November 1918, however much commemorated, had not, however, brought peace to all portions of the globe. Civil war and attendant upheavals characterized the situation in Russia, China, and Ireland. People who were not directly affected by these conﬂicts could certainly hear about them on the radio, read about them in the newspapers, or, 23
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perhaps most frequently, see images in the newsreels that now increasingly accompanied feature ﬁlms in the movie theaters. Adding to the dangers people saw about them were aspects of a whole host of new countries that had emerged in Europe in the immediate aftermath of the war. Most of them were internally unstable and simultaneously often dissatisﬁed about their new borders; obviously they would need years to develop even moderately stable forms. Outside Europe, the colonial empires had begun to dissolve. The emergence of the British dominions as independent actors on the international scene was the politically most obvious harbinger of a world far different from the European-dominated globe before 1914. And if people took the trouble to think back to the ﬁghting on the western front, they would come to realize that both Britain and France had been obliged to draw on their respective colonial empires for soldiers to ﬁght in Europe as opposed to the prior pattern of sending some of their own soldiers from the home country to defend colonial possessions and perhaps add to them. Although often ignored, it can be argued that the most fateful development of the immediate postwar years in terms of its impact on the maintenance of the peace that had just been constructed was the refusal of two of its major authors to abide by the very provisions they had themselves insisted on including in it. The United States and Great Britain had pressured the French delegation at the peace conference into accepting guarantee treaties in place of a separation of the German territory on the left bank of the Rhine from Germany as a shield against any possible future German aggression. Having received this concession from the French, they had quickly gone back on their part of the bargain: the United States had refused to ratify such a guarantee treaty, and the British had utilized the American refusal to justify a similar procedure of their own. An exhausted France was thus left alone to uphold a settlement that did not include the safety provision the French delegation had thought essential; that under these circumstances French governments shifted uneasily between complaisance and deﬁance in subsequent years should hardly have surprised – as it did – those countries that were responsible for creating the situation in the ﬁrst place. There is an aspect of the interrelationship of the development of total war and the endless and agitated interwar discussion of the so-called war guilt issue that requires our attention. Precisely because no one could conceive of the possibility that anyone in any country had actually wanted what had happened to take place, there was both furious debate about who was responsible for causing the war and an increasing tendency toward the concept that no one had wanted it. Many came to argue, and some came to believe,
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that nations had slithered into it the way an individual might slip on a wet pavement and fall into the gutter.1 The converse of this thought was that if sufﬁcient care were taken, such an accident caused by miscalculation or misunderstanding could be prevented in the future. In this connection, the letter sent by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to German Chancellor Adolf Hitler as soon as he heard of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, is worth quoting: It has been alleged that, if His Majesty’s Government had made their position more clear in 1914, the great catastrophe would have been avoided. Whether or not there is any force in that allegation, His Majesty’s Government are resolved that on this occasion there shall be no such tragic misunderstanding. If the case should arise, they are resolved, and prepared, to employ without delay all the forces at their command, and it is impossible to foresee the end of hostilities once engaged. It would be a dangerous illusion to think that, if war once starts, it will come to an early end even if a success on any one of the several fronts on which it will be engaged should have been secured.2
Chamberlain thus tried to make sure that the Germans miscalculate neither the effect of an attack on Poland nor a quick victory on that front. Although the memory of the war made it inconceivable to most that anyone could possibly deliberately start another one, it must be noted that during the 1920s there was a substantial inclination to move into precisely that direction in two countries: Italy and Japan. In both there were elements arguing for a continuation of pre-1914 expansionist policies; in both cases the pursuit of traditional imperialist objectives looked attractive to some. Since whatever could be grabbed from Germany and Austria-Hungary had already been taken, this would mean a reversal of fronts: from now on one could end the independence of the few states left so in Africa and Southeast Asia, namely Abyssinia and Siam, as Ethiopia and Thailand were then called; try to impose one’s power on other independent countries, namely those of Southeast Europe and China; or attempt to steal the colonial possessions of one’s allies in the preceding war. In the case of both countries, the new wars into which they threw themselves, that against Abyssinia by Italy and that against China by Japan, should be seen and can only be understood as continuations of pre-1914 1 For a study quite explicitly directed against this thesis, see Fritz Fischer, Juli 1914: Wir sind nicht hineingeschlittert; das Staatsgeheimnis um die Riezler-Tageb¨ucher, eine Streitschrift (Reinbeck bei Hamburg, 1983). For a recent survey of the relevant literature, see John W. Langdon, July 1914: The Long Debate, 1918–1990 (New York, 1991). 2 Chamberlain to Hitler, Aug. 22, 1939, in Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939, 3d ser., vol. 7 (London, 1954), no. 145. It is most likely that Chamberlain’s reference to a continuation of hostilities, even if Germany quickly defeated Poland, had a major impact on the refusal of Italy to join Germany in 1939.
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expansionist policies, but in both cases with the utilization of at least some of the new weapons developed in large part during the war. Both Japan and Italy relied heavily on terrorizing enemy populations by attacks from the air, both employed poison gas, and Japan killed thousands of Chinese and other victims in the process of developing a variety of bacteriological weapons. It is of great importance for an understanding of the inability of the two countries to work effectively with Germany in World War II that neither ever understood that they had not only reversed alliances but had now allied themselves with a state that had fundamentally different objectives and was ﬁghting a basically new kind of war. In the 1920s the government of Germany for most of the time perceived diplomacy as a continuation of war by other means. Determined to reverse the verdict of 1918, the emphasis was on the dissolution of the system created by the treaties of 1919 and the restoration of Germany to its prewar status. Practically no one in leadership positions in the country recognized that the peace settlement had left Germany in a relatively stronger position than the one that it had occupied before the war.3 Neither the acceptance into the League of Nations with a permanent seat on the Council – a position Germany has not secured more than ﬁfty years after World War II – nor the early end of military inspection and of military occupation were ever understood for what they actually represented. Defeat in war had come in a manner few inside the country could accept, and defeat, a despised and misunderstood peace treaty, and the mess inherited by the inexperienced leaders of the new republic were all blamed on the latter rather than on those responsible for the war, the defeat, and the constitutional system that had barred political parties and their leaders from the experience and responsibilities of power. In the competition for leadership in Germany among those who hoped to go beyond any signs of acceptance of the postwar situation to an entirely new position for Germany, the advocate of the most extreme line was called to lead the country in 1933. Adolf Hitler had seen directly and personally what war was actually like, especially for those who participated at the front in combat themselves. It was in this context that he derided those of his rivals for power who wanted to return to the borders of 1914, a return that would be possible only if Germany went to war for them. Here was a clear sign of their utter stupidity: they were prepared to conduct wars for aims that, given the cost of modern wars in lives, were guaranteed to be hopelessly inadequate since they would merely return Germany to the situation of 1914 when she had been unable to feed her population from her own soil. Referring to them as mere 3 See Gerhard L. Weinberg, Germany, Hitler, and World War II (New York, 1995), chap. 1.
Politics of War and Peace in the 1920s and 1930s
Grenzpolitiker, border politicians, he designated himself as a Raumpolitiker, a politician of space. He would conquer vast spaces for German settlement; these in turn would enable Germans to raise children and control resources for further conquests, until Germany conquered the globe and that globe was inhabited or controlled exclusively by Germans. Only for such wars could the sacriﬁces modern war required be justiﬁed; and he assured his listeners in the 1920s that he would be willing to lead them to shed their blood in that type of conﬂict.4 It is not possible to understand what happened after 1933 unless one considers the Nazi revolution as a racial or demographic revolution with worldwide aims from its very beginnings and pays close attention to its aims even when these were not reached. A revolution halted in its tracks cannot be comprehended without attention to where those tracks were supposed to go in the eyes of those in charge: individuals who not surprisingly expected success, not failure, in their efforts, and who attuned their policies and actions as far as possible to the attainment of their goals. The racial measures inside Germany which were inaugurated in 1933 – marriage loans to encourage lots of the “right” kind of children and compulsory sterilization of those deemed likely to have the “wrong” kind of children, to mention only two – must be seen in this context. Rearmament measures that were also begun in 1933 pointed in the direction of new wars of the sort Hitler considered appropriate, with the focus on design and production of weapons systems attuned to the anticipated needs of the wars that were intended. The simplest way to see this is in the orders for armaments. Tanks were ordered for the wars against the Western Powers; it is too often forgotten that the conquest of the USSR was expected to be so easy that the ﬁrst tanks for war in the East were ordered after the invasion of the Soviet Union. The single-engine dive bomber was ordered with France in mind; the two-engine dive bomber was designed for service against England; and when these had been developed and ordered into production, the long-range intercontinental bombers, sometimes called “America bombers,” sometimes referred to as “New York bombers,” were ordered in 1937.5 Naval preparations followed a similar trajectory. Most of the warships ordered completed in 1933 and 1934 could be seen as rounding out a small contingency ﬂeet. The ﬁrst major warships to ﬁght England were ordered in 1935 in violation of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement signed that year and were therefore expected to surprise the British once completed and when they appeared in action. The super-battleships for war 4 Ibid., chap. 3. 5 Jochen Thies, Architekt der Weltherrschaft: Die “Endziele” Hitlers (D¨usseldorf, 1976), 136ff.
Gerhard L. Weinberg
with the United States were ordered designed in 1937, with construction begun in early 1939.6 Although we know today that the Germans did not employ poison gases during World War II, this had not been the intent. Not only gases of the kinds employed in the “Great War” were being stockpiled after trials in the Soviet Union with the cooperation of that country in the 1920s, but a series of nerve gases was also developed in the 1930s.7 The hope and expectation was that these gases would provide Germany with a massive advantage in the war against the Western Powers. The original work on long-range rockets, the project that eventuated into the A-4 or V-2 ballistic missile, was actually designed for the accurate delivery of poison gas.8 It all turned out differently from what the Germans anticipated during their preparations for the wars they expected to ﬁght as they worked on them during the 1930s, but it is the direction and nature of those preparations that must be considered. They expected to ﬁght wars with some weapons developed further from those employed in the most recent conﬂict together with some radically new ones. Certainly the direction in which their preparations pointed was one in which war would surely be even more destructive than recent experience might have led anyone else to expect. Furthermore, Hitler had repeatedly explained in his writings and speeches that conquered peoples were to be expelled or exterminated, not Germanized. One could not alter the inferior racial characteristics of nonGermans by insisting they learn the German language; education would simply make them more dangerous, not more German. The expansion of Germany, therefore, was to take a form in many ways different from that of prior wars in which conquered provinces or colonies might see substantial destruction and human losses, primarily during the course of the ﬁghting, but afterward, the prior population was expected to be controlled, not replaced. Why did so few understand or expect this at the time, and why are so few willing to recognize reality even today? Two factors may explain the failure of contemporaries to recognize and the refusal of so many in subsequent years to understand the worldwide aims of the Nazi government. In the ﬁrst place, as already mentioned, the idea that 6 Ibid., 128ff.; Jost D¨ulffer, Weimar, Hitler und die Marine: Reichspolitik und Flottenbau 1920 bis 1939 (D¨usseldorf, 1973). There is some evidence that the construction of the Panzerkreuzer, the so-called pocket battleships, was pushed by the navy with war against Britain in mind – these were to be commerce raiders on the open oceans. 7 Rolf-Dieter M¨uller, “Die deutschen Gaskriegsvorbereitungen 1919–1945: Mit Giftgas zur Weltmacht,” Milit¨argeschichtliche Mitteilungen 21, no. 1 (1980): 25–54. 8 Michael J. Neufeld, The Rocket and the Reich: Peenem¨unde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era (New York, 1995), chap. 1.
Politics of War and Peace in the 1920s and 1930s
anyone could, after the experience of the Great War, seriously contemplate the deliberate initiation of another vast conﬂict looked so preposterous that it was simply not taken into consideration as a plausible possibility. The efforts to appease Germany in the 1930s can only be understood in the context of an assumption that some sort of European settlement that involved peaceful adjustments – if necessary with colonial concessions in Africa thrown in – was a real possibility and would in any case be preferable to another war that was certain to be even more costly and destructive than the last one. The details of such a settlement replacing that of 1919 might be good, bad, or mediocre; but it would still be less dangerous for those involved than another major war. The second element of incomprehension then and now is the general cynicism which keeps people from considering the possibility that political leaders for the most part believe what they say and actually intend what they propose. It was assumed then – and is frequently assumed now – that political leaders neither believe nor intend what they say, or at least those things they say that seem preposterous. Here I should insert a piece of evidence from personal experience. Almost every time I refer to a document of 1927 describing Hitler’s aims as being worldwide, a copy editor asks whether this is not an error for 1937. Each time I have to explain that the document is indeed dated 1927 and that the original may be found in the National Archives.9 People project their own views onto others and forget that others act on their assumptions and beliefs, not on those held by later observers or by contemporaries with differing perceptions. Ironically, Hitler appears to have understood this common misperception. He quite deliberately counted on the reluctance of others to take his moves toward war seriously. Other powers would shrink from hostilities just as long as possible, thereby providing him with time for rearmament initially and concessions extorted by threats thereafter. But there were self-imposed limits on this process. One such limit was personal: Hitler did not expect to live long and repeatedly made explicit his preference for starting war at a younger and more vigorous age than at a later time. The earliest such reference with mention of a speciﬁc age that can be found in contemporary records dates from 1938, when he referred to preferring war at age 49 than when older.10 9 Weinberg, Germany, Hitler, and World War II, chap. 2, contains the full text of this document. 10 The key document on this is the telegram of Charles Carbon, the French ambassador to London, on a conversation with British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax on Sept. 17, 1938, in Documents diplomatiques franc¸ais 1932–1939, 2d ser., vol. 11 (Paris, 1977), no. 188. Although Lord Halifax had not been present at the Chamberlain-Hitler meeting, and although none of the reports on Chamberlain’s other discussions of the meeting contains a reference to Hitler’s mentioning his age,
Gerhard L. Weinberg
The 1938 situation will be examined further subsequently, but there is the other time factor, that inherent in the German armaments program. It was clear to Hitler that after an interval of a few years, Germany’s prospective enemies were likely to react by beginning to rearm themselves. Then their broader resource base would enable them to overtake Germany – and with more modern weapons since they would have standardized their production models later than Germany. Hitler argued that Germany would, therefore, have to utilize its head start in armaments before too long lest it lose that advantage. In 1937, Hitler placed that ﬁnal time limit into the years 1943–5.11 From these perspectives, it may be easier to understand why Hitler came to see the Munich agreement of 1938 as the biggest mistake of his career, regretted having drawn back from war in 1938, and made certain that there would be no repetition of such a development in 1939; it was peace, not war, that he feared.12 There was, it should be noted, one further misconception about Germany’s movement toward war. Hitler himself and most of those in his government actually believed the stab-in-the-back legend. Because they believed that Germany’s home front had collapsed under the strains of war, strains that internal enemies had taken advantage of, they were very hesitant about imposing excessively heavy burdens on the German home front both before and during World War II. Not only ideological preconceptions about the proper role of women but a general reluctance to risk a collapse of morale at home restrained the German government from imposing total mobilization on economy and people until the later stages of World War II. Germany’s World War II enemies, on the other hand, assumed that the supposedly efﬁcient, thorough, and well-organized Germans had fully mobilized their human and material resources for war already in the 1930s. From this they would draw the equally erroneous conclusion that the German war economy was severely strained in the ﬁrst years of World War II and could be badly damaged by blockade and bombing. They were therefore greatly surprised by the lack of effect from the bombing and blockade in the early stages of World War II and were astonished to see the increases in production of which the Third Reich proved capable once the turning tide at the fronts suggested to those in charge of Germany that greater effort and a higher level of sacriﬁces would be necessary after all. this is assuredly not the sort of thing either Chamberlain or Lord Halifax would have fabricated. The most likely explanation is that Chamberlain mentioned it to Lord Halifax – who was one of his few close friends – in a personal conversation along the lines: “Edward, you will not believe what that man said to me.” 11 This was one of the main themes of the so-called Hossbach Conference; see Gerhard L. Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of Hitler’s Germany: Starting World War II, 1937–1939 (Amherst, N.Y., 1993), 37. 12 Ibid., chaps. 12–14.
Politics of War and Peace in the 1920s and 1930s
What this meant in practice was that the Allies of World War II moved toward a more complete mobilization of their resources earlier than Germany once they had concluded that there was no alternative to ﬁghting. Until that time, however, their inclination had been in the opposite direction. They had substantially reduced their military forces during the 1920s, and under the impact of the world depression, both Great Britain and the United States initially reduced their military expenditures. By the early 1930s, both had brought their armies down approximately to the size prescribed for Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Rearmament began slowly and haltingly in both countries. The British looked back in horror at the experience of committing large land forces to the continent in the Great War and were quite determined not to do so again. They would instead build up an air force, both to defend against any new and expanded version of the raids they had suffered the last time and to bring such attacks home to the Germans. Those on the British political Left opposed all such measures. It is too often forgotten that in the last election in Britain before World War II, that of 1935, Chamberlain was attacked as a warmonger. It is from that perspective that all members of Parliament from the Labour and Liberal Parties voted against the ﬁrst peacetime conscription in British history when Chamberlain reversed course and called for the creation of a substantial army in May of 1939. In France, the later impact of the world depression brought ﬁscal constraints to the fore somewhat after the analogous situation in Britain and the United States, but then there was a far more substantial rearmament effort than has generally been recognized.13 The Soviet Union was, in the 1920s and 1930s, building the industrial basis for a modern military structure; but in the later 1930s Joseph Stalin was eviscerating the Red Army, Navy, and Air Force by systematic purges.14 From the perspective of the Germans, this only reinforced their concept of a state consisting of racial inferiors ruled by incompetents. In the eyes of the Western Powers, bolshevism was seen as an internal menace, not an external threat. If people in Britain thought that the commitment of a large army to the continent had been a mistake of the Great War that should not be repeated, the public in the United States became increasingly convinced in the 1920s and 1930s that their very entrance into the war had been an error. As they saw increasing dangers of conﬂict in Europe and East Asia in the 1930s, their reaction for the most part was to try to devise means by which a repetition 13 The most recent treatment is Eugenia C. Kiesling, Arming Against Hitler: France and the Limits of Military Planning (Lawrence, Kans., 1996). For further detail, see Ernest R. May, Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France (New York, 2000). 14 A ﬁne analysis is given in David M. Glantz, Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War (Lawrence, Kans., 1998).
Gerhard L. Weinberg
of the supposed mistake of 1917 could be avoided. Not only would they not participate again; they would try to insulate themselves by a series of neutrality laws designed to prevent a repetition of those developments that had, in their eyes, caused the country to enter the preceding war. It is entirely possible that if these laws had been in effect in 1914–17, they would indeed have had that result; the problem of course was that one cannot stay out of a war one has already been in. The challenge of the 1930s was fundamentally different, but most Americans then, and very many still today, failed to see that. Unable to understand then, as many cannot understand now, that the converse of belief in the stab-in-the-back was that the military role of the United States in making it possible for the Allies to hold in the West and move toward victory in 1918 then became a legend, Americans simply found it impossible to grasp that war with the United States was a central part of Hitler’s outlook from the 1920s on. There could be, in other words, no sense for the United States to plan for a contingency that most of its people thought impossible. That the Germans would act on their beliefs, not on the beliefs of Americans, seemed inconceivable then; and as the repeated references to the German declaration of war on the United States in December 1941 as an incomprehensible act show, is hard for Americans to understand now. From the German perspective, of course, a conquest of the globe necessarily implied war with the United States. Americans could not be expected to surrender their independence just because the Germans were so good looking. And since America’s military role the last time was believed negligible, such a war was not expected to be particularly difﬁcult; it was just that the right weapons systems had to be ordered. That process had been initiated in 1937, as mentioned above, while the vast quantities of oil needed to fuel those planes and ships were expected to become available to Germany as a result of the rapid and easy conquest of the Soviet Union between the defeat of the British and French and the war against the United States. That in this context of assumptions – crazy but widely shared by the authorities in Berlin – there should be less criticism of going to war with the United States and fewer warnings against such a step from those in the German military and political leadership than against any other war measure of Hitler has been, but really should not be, difﬁcult to comprehend.15 It was under these circumstances, and in view of the widely held American misconceptions, that only the growing danger at the end of the 1930s began to reverse the trend toward disarmament in the United States. 15 Weinberg, Germany, Hitler, and World War II, chap. 15.
Politics of War and Peace in the 1920s and 1930s
In 1937 there was the initiation of a naval construction program; at the end of 1938 President Franklin Roosevelt ordered a substantial air force buildup; and in 1940, under the impact of the German victory in the West, the United States initiated the raising of a large army. Once the attack by the Japanese followed by the German and Italian declarations of war on the United States had forced the country into hostilities, however, the public shifted its perceptions dramatically. Unlike Germany, but much more like Great Britain and the Soviet Union, the United States moved in the direction of a total war effort relatively quickly. It can certainly be argued that the war did not reach into the lives of its citizens to the extent true for the two other major Allies, but this was more the result of available resources and the minimal impacts of direct Axis attacks than of any reluctance in the government or the population at large to harness people and funds to the needs of war. The way in which the United States was precipitated into the conﬂict created an atmosphere in the country that was conducive to both the most extreme measures of mobilization and to an almost unlimited willingness to employ the weapons that would pour forth from the “arsenal of democracy.” The assumption of many in the interwar years that any new war was likely to be terrible was based on a fundamentally sound understanding of what had happened in the Great War. The evidence of experience showed that the social mechanics of the modern state enabled it to draw out of societies at war vast human and material resources and to throw them into all-consuming battle. The technological developments of the late nineteenth century and the innovations of the last prewar years had made war more destructive in a physical sense, and the further enhancements of weapons technology during the conﬂict as well as the new weapons introduced during hostilities had only accelerated the process. There had been, on the other hand – and in part precisely because of the experience of 1914–18 – some substantial attempts to contain and perhaps reverse the trend toward ever greater destructiveness. The Washington naval treaties of 1922 and treaties outlawing the use of poison gas and even war itself were steps in this direction. In retrospect it is easy to overlook these contrary trends that were overtaken by events, but they were a signiﬁcant aspect of international relations in the interwar years, attracted massive public attention at the time, and gave many the hope that another disaster like the most recent one could be avoided. All the measures taken to restructure international relations and to contain the horrors of any war, however, assumed a peaceful world, as did the self-imposed land disarmament of the Western powers.
Gerhard L. Weinberg
An unwillingness in the United States and Britain to uphold their commitment to France and a general reluctance to risk the lives and treasure of one’s citizens in defense of others – such as the Chinese and the Ethiopians – who might be attacked, opened up the possibility for Japan and Italy to resume prior expansionist policies and for Germany to embark on the new road toward world conquest. Only supreme exertions would sufﬁce to thwart these new challenges to the world’s peace. Almost by deﬁnition, the very nature of the challenge to the world order posed by the aggressors of World War II would oblige the Allies to respond with escalating vehemence and violence.
War and Society in the 1920s and 1930s hew strachan
This page intentionally left blank The Shadows of Total War E U R O P E , E AS T AS IA, AND THE U NI TE D STATE S, 19...
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18 octobre 1685
Révocation de l'Édit de Nantes
Le 18 octobre 1685, à Fontainebleau, le roi Louis XIV révoque l'Édit de tolérance signé à Nantes par son grand-père Henri IV en 1598.
Par ce nouvel édit, le Roi-Soleil signifie qu'il n'y a plus de religion autorisée en France en-dehors de la religion catholique. C'est un coup dur pour la minorité protestante, encore assez nombreuse malgré les brimades et les persécutions antérieures.
La minute d'Hérodote :
Richard Fremder raconte comment Louis XIV a été conduit à commettre la plus grosse erreur de son règne, en révoquant l'édit de tolérance de son grand-père :
Le champion du catholicisme
Après un début de règne glorieux, le roi Louis XIV veut apparaître en France et en Europe comme le champion du catholicisme. Sur les conseils de son entourage, il décide donc d'extirper l'hérésie protestante de son royaume. Il reproche aux « huguenots » leur sympathie pour l'Angleterre et les Provinces-Unies des Pays-Bas. Et surtout, comme la grande majorité des Français et des Européens de son temps, il admet mal que deux religions puissent cohabiter dans un même État.
Une Caisse des conversions tente sans grand succès de convertir les calvinistes les plus pauvres contre espèces sonnantes et trébuchantes.
Dans les provinces, les intendants recourent à des manières plus brutales comme d'enlever des enfants pour les baptiser en dépit de leurs parents. Certains imaginent aussi de loger des dragons de l'armée chez les adeptes de la RPR (« Religion Prétendue Réformée »). Ces « missionnaires bottés » se comportent comme en pays conquis, n'ayant pas scrupule à piller, violer et parfois tuer leurs hôtes. Par le fait de ces « dragonnades », les conversions forcées se multiplient.
Sur la foi de rapports optimistes, le Roi-Soleil en vient à croire que la religion réformée n'est plus pratiquée dans le royaume. Il considère donc que la tolérance instituée par Henri IV n'a plus lieu d'être.
Avec l'Édit de Fontainebleau, le roi interdit la pratique du culte protestant, ordonne la démolition des temples et des écoles, oblige à baptiser dans la foi catholique tous les enfants à naître, ordonne aux pasteurs de quitter la France mais interdit cependant aux simples fidèles d'en faire autant, sous peine de galères.
L'opinion catholique, y compris les plus illustres écrivains de l'époque (La Fontaine, La Bruyère, Mme de Sévigné...) applaudit à la mesure. Dans l'entourage du roi, il n'y a guère que Vauban qui s'y oppose avec une honnête et courageuse lucidité.
Un désastre politique, moral et économique
Très vite, le roi peut mesurer l'étendue de son erreur. Des foyers de résistance se forment. Les dragonnades doivent reprendre. Dans les Cévennes (Lozère et nord du Gard), la révolte des Camisards éclate en 1702.
Sans attendre la publication de l'édit de Fontainebleau et malgré l'interdiction qui leur est faite de s'enfuir, près de 300.000 « religionnaires » quittent la France pour des refuges tels que Berlin, Londres, Genève, Amsterdam ou même Le Cap, en Afrique du sud.
Ces exilés issus de la bourgeoisie laborieuse vont faire la fortune de leur pays d'accueil et leur départ va appauvrir la France en la privant de nombreux talents. Ils vont aussi nourrir à l'extérieur les ressentiments contre la France et son monarque.
Publié ou mis à jour le : 2018-03-03 19:24:41