Sunday, 16 February 2014

German War Guilt

Der Spiegel gives space to a lengthy piece examining how revisionist and counter-revisionist German historians interpret the causes of the Great War. It's a complex argument and has more to do with the causes of the holocaust; did the Germans learn the techniques of the Gulag and the execution pits from the Soviets? Would the Nazis have come to power if Russia hadn't had a Soviet revolution? It's all to do with War Guilt. 

Max Hastings of course includes all the possible factors in Catastrophe, a highly readable popular history of the start of the war. And concludes that Germany was primarily responsible. And this is the conventional view; the condemnation of Germany at Versailles was just, if the reparations were not. The German novelist Alfred Döblin captures the views of ordinary Germans in 1918, and does more to explain the causes of Hitler's rise than a tonne of academic histories. Hastings I think has missed a trick. He covers German 'beastliness' in Belgium but fails to develop its consequences; likewise, Der Spiegel's German historians who theorize that Hitler learned the machinery of repression from the Soviets have missed a trick in looking east rather than west.

Sometimes it's the minutiae that give useful insight. The design of British tanks that uniquely always includes a small boiler to allow the crew to brew-up. And John Lodwick, SOE and a much neglected novelist, writes of his experiences as an on-off prisoner of the Germans and their camp layout that inevitably included in addition to barracks, latrines and canteen a pig-killing pit. The Heer in the second, as in the first, war was made up of men who could handle horses, were happy outdoors and who could slaughter and butcher pigs with unconcern. 

If the British learned successful counter-terrorism techniques from Malaya, a small country far away, is it so extraordinary to suggest that Germany learned occupation from Belgium, the only western European country she occupied in the Great War? Were the lessons learned in Belgium applied later in France, Denmark, Norway, Greece and the rest? Army manuals are written by soldiers with relevant experience, not journalists. Blueprints for internment camp layout and administration must have come from Germans who had run them in Belgium, not journalists who had seen them in Russia. Plans for well-organised civilian round ups and internment were learned from the mass-round-ups of Belgians, not Kulaks. 

I have a folio of lithographs drawn by a Belgian artist in 1918, after his release from the German concentration camps. Each time I look through them, I see the model for Hitler's Reich. Here's a sample.



Rush-is-Right said...

There's an interesting couple of broadcasts from the BBC (yes I know... spit) on the subject of German war guilt. You can hear the first one at this link.

It seems that the invention of scepticism as to the atrocities committed by the invading huns was entirely a post-war invention, a fiction invented by a Labour MP.

Anonymous said...

WW1 was the beginning of the end for the British Empire.
How idiotic of a nation under the illusion it could take on the Unified Germany when it could'nt
sort out Ireland in it's backyard.
As for atrocities The Dutch,the Belgians,the French and the British had perfected those well before the Germans got in on the act Before the Germans built their first concentration camp the Soviets (UK ALLY WW2)HAD OVER 225 in full swing and not to be forgoten when it comes to atrocities the USA(UK ALLY WW1&2) with its atomic attack on Japanese cities must rank as No1
in the history of Crimes against Humanity


Anonymous said...


Open the door. That's right, the one behind the mirror you are facing. They are in that little plastic container. You know where they are don't you?

The doctor was right you know.

Good luck. I dislike people suffering unnecessarily


Jon bovi said...

Only a poor delusions list could equate a military weapon designed solely to end war with prisoner camps designed to murder civilians for their race, religion, colour or politics.

I'm sorry your lot started the great wrs. Twice.
But they did.

G. Tingey said...

One of the few true things Adolf said:
Who now remembers the Armenians?"

Referring to Enver Pasha's extermination drive in the Ottoman EMpire.
A perfect model to follow.

cuffleyburgers said...

I don't see how there can be any doubt that the Germans started the first world war and committed the first atrocities, in Belgium.

According to Niall Ferguson reparations were actually set too low, lower than the Germans were expecting when they sued for peace and that the western powers then failed to collect the reparations, even though France occupied the Ruhr (in line with the provisions of the treaty), one of the events that led with the dark inevitability of a greek tragedy to the EU.

Britain might in retrospect have done better to stay out of it, but I don't see how anybody could have taken that decision at the time since it would have been in direct contradiction of British policy as it had been for years, decades or even centuries.

The great German inflation was caused by German economic and monetary policy and a deliberate attempt to inflate away the internal part of their war debt, not by the reparations imposed by the allies (most of which they never paid).