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Old July 17th, 2012, 04:52 AM   #1

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Prussian Militarism and the Third Reich


On the 26 February 1947, representatives of the allied occupation authorities in Berlin signed a law abolishing the state of Prussia. from this moment onward, Prussia belonged to history.

The Prussian state, which from early days has been a bearer of militarism and reaction in germany, has de facto ceased to exist.
Guided by the interests of preservation of peace and security of peoples, and with the desire to assure further reconstruction of the political life of germany on a democratic basis, the control council enacts as follows:
ARTICAL I
The Prussian state together with its central government and all its agencies is abolished

so runs the first lines of Christopher Clark's book on the history of Prussia 'Iron Kingdom'. the allied council in abolishing Prussia had not only removed it from the map they had also passed judgment on it, blaming what they called it's militarism as being the root cause of what they saw as an aggressive Germany from its very beginnings. this is the view that many people at the time had of Prussia, a warmongering state that had been created and expanded through war and that its rigid discipline and military values instilled in its people had been what made it the aggressive expander citing examples as far back as Fredrick the Greats seizure of Silesia in 1740. having just this morning finished the book i was left feeling very bitter over what i felt was an undue judgment which was more caused by an arrogant and bigotry view of prussia then what the state itself was actually like.

what i wish to ask here is what are peoples views on the kingdom of Prussia and primarily do you feel it was really as militant as history has seemed to condemn it as. the Third Reich through Goebbels had made huge propaganda value of prussia claiming to infuse it's militaristic values with the new germany, it was through this that they tainted it for history as it is now associated automatically with the nazis. from my own understanding of it i feel the view of it being overly militaristic and that it was somehow the cause of 'aggressive german wars' is unfair and it deserves to be better remembered through history then that.

thoughts?
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Old July 17th, 2012, 04:57 AM   #2
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Frederick the Great did many great things for Prussia that werent military related. Prussia was a militant state but no more than others of it's time.
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Old July 17th, 2012, 09:40 AM   #3

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I'm evenly divided on the issue. Prussian militarism did have its dark side, which in part helped facilitate the Nazi regime.

Yet to see Hitler as a direct continuation of that tradition is a bit far-fetch too. Many representatives of the old Prussian tradition were staunchly against the Nazis, and even sought to overthrow them. Among the Kreisau circle were Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, both descendents of prominent Prussian generals.

I guess a postwar reexamination of the Prussian tradition, with a greater humanistic emphasis added to the tradition was needed.
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Old July 17th, 2012, 09:47 AM   #4

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Prussia (in its original form) had no natural barriers so was very open to attack by anyone. the trauma of the 30 years war impacted well on them as they at that time had no real army to speak of and got trampled over by everyone who was passing through. a large and well trained army was what they needed if they expected to survive. yet they were unique as a small power that many of its early rulers proved to be very ambitious and tried hard to work their way up, frederick the great being the one to take the biggest gamble of it with seized silesia with the highly disciplined army his father had left him.

the army was a major fabric of society and most men were required to do several weeks of training each year yet for their time that was hardly any different to other nations.
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Old July 17th, 2012, 09:53 AM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by irishcrusader95 View Post
Prussia (in its original form) had no natural barriers so was very open to attack by anyone. the trauma of the 30 years war impacted well on them as they at that time had no real army to speak of and got trampled over by everyone who was passing through. a large and well trained army was what they needed if they expected to survive. yet they were unique as a small power that many of its early rulers proved to be very ambitious and tried hard to work their way up, frederick the great being the one to take the biggest gamble of it with seized silesia with the highly disciplined army his father had left him.

the army was a major fabric of society and most men were required to do several weeks of training each year yet for their time that was hardly any different to other nations.
That's true and that served Prussia well when it was a small German state. But once Germany was united, that kind offset the balance of power in Europe and it was then the Prussian tradition became more of a nuissance than a real assest.
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Old July 17th, 2012, 09:56 AM   #6
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The Unification of Germany was done by Bismark for Prussia which shaped the social structure and Psyche of Germany. There was a large liberal tradition in western Germany. But it was to be marginalized.

Bismark also do not provide a good constitution the governace was left to too few arbitrarily selected people. The with the poor status of politicians it was all too easy for weak personalities to get important positions.

Prussia needed to be balanced by other parts of Germany, the narrow militarism of Prussia was too much without other influences.

Kaiser Wilhelm was weak personality , a naval enthusiast, a braggart and a bully, bellicose one moment indecisive the next. If his father had lived it could have been different.
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Old July 17th, 2012, 12:21 PM   #7
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Prussia is a fascinating oddity in European history. A country born from almost nothing and then suddenly the driving force between the central and most powerful nation in Europe. I see Nazism as a combination of strands of thought from across Germany, and Europe, Prussian militarism being just one ingredient which came together into such a disastrous mix.
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Old July 17th, 2012, 12:37 PM   #8

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The militarism is in fact the only thing the Germans get respect for in the second.
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Old July 17th, 2012, 02:08 PM   #9

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Hans Hellmut Kirst gives an interesting look on this issue in his novel Night of the Generals; how each of the three generals in the novel represent a different aspect of the Prussian tradition. There's the careerist von Seydlitz-Gabler, the humanist Kahlenberge, and the drill sergeant at large Tanz.

In a way it shows how multifaceted the Prussian tradition was, but also shows how this tradition took a turn for the worst, with only the humanist element making a vain stand against it.

Last edited by Belloc; July 17th, 2012 at 02:14 PM.
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Old July 17th, 2012, 04:27 PM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by pugsville View Post
The Unification of Germany was done by Bismark for Prussia which shaped the social structure and Psyche of Germany. There was a large liberal tradition in western Germany. But it was to be marginalized.

Bismark also do not provide a good constitution the governace was left to too few arbitrarily selected people. The with the poor status of politicians it was all too easy for weak personalities to get important positions.

Prussia needed to be balanced by other parts of Germany, the narrow militarism of Prussia was too much without other influences.

Kaiser Wilhelm was weak personality , a naval enthusiast, a braggart and a bully, bellicose one moment indecisive the next. If his father had lived it could have been different.
Not much. Remember, even if Frederick III lived longer, Wilhelm II was still in line for the Imperial Throne of Germany. That can not be avoided. In addition, Otto von Bismarck was still Chancellor during Frederick's reign. And in the two men you have very different characters.

In Frederick III, you have a liberal monarch, married to the daughter of Queen Victoria, Vicky. A patriot for German unification to become a continental version of Britain, had he been healthy he would have certainly tried to liberalize Germany...

On the other side is Otto Von Bismarck, a staunch Prussian Junker and political conservative. Unifying Germany was done for nationalistic purposes and to increase his own power. In fact, you'll notice if you look carefully that during the reign of Wilhelm I that the man who really pulled the strings was Bismarck. He distrusted all things liberal and enjoyed the power that he had under Wilhelm I. As Frederick III assumed the throne, already in poor health, Bismarck knew he needed some strong hand to guide policy, and also knew that HE was the only man in Germany then experienced enoug to do it well. The result, was that Frederick never liberalized Germany and Bismarck continued to rule.

This kept Germany on a very dangerous slide, because evetually a Kaiser would come along that wasn't weak willed (Wilhelm I) or ailing (Frederick III) and while Bismarck actually did a fairly decent job of maintaining general European peace once the German Empire was established, he was still a servant in an autocratic system. The only reason he lasted as long as he did was because the Emperors he served were unable to remove him from office...

And then the shoe fell. Frederick III died and his eldest son, Wilhelm II became Kaiser. Wilhelm II immediately clashed with Bismarck over various political matters, and having a greater personal will (mostly the creation of being kept in a system of schooling chosen by Bismarck through Wilhelm I) then his predecessors, Bismarck was forced to resign. And from there, European history began to move toward World War I.

Had Frederick III remained healthy, he would have also had to confront a man who was in theory the head of the German government who would reject every liberal agenda Frederick III had, and would do so with the backing of the Prussian ruling class and the more conservative elements of the rest of Germany, upon which Bismarck had built the German government in 1871. And ultimately, had Frederick III and Vicky pushed too hard, I have no doubt that Bismarck would ultimately inspire a militaristic coup, stating that Frederick had betrayed that which was Prussia and demand that Frederick step down in favor of Wihelm II... who Bismarck had tried to groom as the REAL successor to Wilhelm I, not knowing the problems he would create.
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