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Those ****ing Prussians

If you want to know what the British – the educated British – thought of the Germans in 1914 here’s your answer:

The chief importance of the Zabern incidents, of the Strassburg trials, and of the exhibition of reactionary and particularist passion which has followed them in Prussia, is not in themselves. It lies in their significance as symptoms of the obstacles which still impede the moral unity of Germany. They reveal the persistence of not only of a profound division between the conquered provinces and Prussia, but of such a division between the whole legal and constitutional conceptions of South Germany and those that prevail amongst the Prussian aristocracy. These divisions are not new. They go back to the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine and to the establishment of modern States and the introduction of modern ideas by NAPOLEON in the south…

But the feudal nobility, and especially the nobility beyond the Elbe, have always set their faces against it and striven to shut their eyes to the change… Their devotion to the Throne and to the country, their lofty sense of public duty, their zeal, and their professional attainments are undoubted. But many of them inherit also the narrowness and the arrogance of a military caste.

Is it accurate? I think so, primarily because it explains the Zabern Incident so well.

Was it the cause of the war? It was certainly a cause. It wouldn’t be the first time that an unpopular regime that found itself cornered attempted to prop itself by starting a war. Milosevic’s Yugoslavia springs to mind as another example.

What it doesn’t explain is how such a divided nation was able to keep going for so long.

The Times 29 January 1914 p9

The Times 29 January 1914 p9

14 comments to Those ****ing Prussians

  • Mr Ed

    Oh those (P)russians!

    ‘Ka Ka Kaiser Bill, He did nowt but ill, It was a shame how he carried on.
    Ka Ka Kaiser Bill, How many did he kill?’

  • Rich Rostrom

    The Zabern Incident had relatively little foreign impact. It was however a symptom of the attitude of the German (mostly Prussian) leadership class.

    That class was far from exclusively Prussian. Von Bulow (Chancellor 1900-1909) was a Holsteiner. Von Kiderlen-Waechter (Foreign Minister 1910-1912) was a Swabian.

    However – it should be noted that Bavaria retained its own army establishment until WW I.
    It would be interesting to see how separate the Bavarian Army was, and whether its culture was different. That would almost certainly affect the political culture of Bavaria.

  • Mr Ed

    The Bavarian Army had a certain Corporal in its ranks, who later went on the make the sequel to WW1 the roaring disaster that it was. The wartime command was Imperial, so I suppose it would be a bit like (and only a bit) wondering if the RCAF had a different culture to the RAF and if that might have made a difference.

    How did they hold together for so long? The pressure of war, and a two front war (and then chaos in the East) must have led to a pulling together and whatever the mutual loathings within the Reich, the head-boiling Imperial German attitude to non-Germans and generally despicable approach to civil co-operation and what von Mises called ‘liberalism’ was sufficient glue for them, even if supplies made from boiled Africans ran thin.

  • @Rich Rostrom

    I don’t know if this helps or not but the British Army tended to have a very different approach depending on who was facing them. If memory serves, they tended not to to bother the Saxons or Bavarians that much. Their real hatred was reserved for the Prussians. Unfortunately, the Prussians were very good.

  • backofanenvelope

    My experience with the Bavarians (twice yearly chats with BND in Munich) was that they regarded themselves as superior to the rest of Germany. Everyone except the Swabians were referred to as Prussians. And it wasn’t praise. They also thought Munich as the secret capital of Germany. The Swabians got their boxed ticked because they were next door.

  • Mr Ed

    I knew a north German HR Manager, married to an Englishman, who despite her air of immaculate professionalism, seemed to have a scathing disregard for Bavarians as her only ‘prejudice’. I suppose one has to be native to fully appreciate the nuances. The Bavarian and Swabian dialects remain, serving perhaps as local glues, and barriers to those outside?

    Munich is a wonderful city to visit, Italianate design with German efficiency.

  • Robert

    In the Malvern Gazette (Worcestershire)of 100 years ago this week, I came across the following passage, showing nothing but great friendliness toward one particlaur German, who had evidently become a pillar of the local community.

    “Mr F A Moerschell, proprietor of the Imperial Hotel, is about to retire from the active management of the hotel and take up his residence elsewhere, probably near London. It is not his intention to entirely sever his connection with the business or the local government of the town. The hotel will be conducted by a manager, and Mr Moerschell hopes to make periodical visits to Malvern and to retain his seat on the Urban Council, which he has occupied for the past 14 years. Mr Moerschell arrived in England over 40 years ago after having served through the Franco-German War, where he and his brother both obtained the coveted Iron Cross, corresponding to our VC.”

    There was much more in the same vein, describing his service on the local council etc.
    I wonder how Mr Moerschell was treated when was broke out later in 1914.

  • Mr Ed

    I know two families descended from German immigrants to the UK from Edwardian times (no, I’m not referring to the Saxe-Coburg Gothas etc.) and in those times, it seemed, from what family history I know, that Germans were integrating quite happily in the UK. There was reputedly a wave of hostility towards all things German during WWI (hence the Windsors and Mountbatten), and in Leicester some ‘Germanic’ streets were renamed as per Wikipedia:

    Several streets were named after Prince Albert, the Prince Consort’s family, but were renamed during the 1st World War; Saxe Coburg (now Saxby) Street was built between 1872 and 1881, Gotha (now Gotham) Street between 1877 and 1887 and Mecklenburg (now Severn) Street between 1875 and 1888.

    The traces of lost Anglo-German friendship? Christmas trees and Battenberg cake? What has fate Stollen from us?

  • Patrick Crozier

    Perhaps it’s time they changed their name back.

  • Mr Ed

    Well the heir apparent is the closest we’ll have had to a crazy Kaiser for a long time, what is it with Germanic royalty and headlessness?


  • Mr Ed

    And the Express has a rather brutal profile of a rather brutal Kaiser.


  • Snorri Godhi

    Comparing a map of electoral support for the NSDAP in July 1932, to a map of Catholicism in Germany, did a lot to improve my opinion of the Catholic Church.

  • Paul Marks

    Once the Prussian nobility were known for their independence – but the “Great Elector” (late 1600s) bought them off by giving them immunity from taxation in return for the de facto end of the old Prussian Parliament.

    In this the “Great Elector” was following the example of French Kings long before.

    However (unlike the French nobility) the Prussian nobility were gradually transformed into a state service cast – by a series of soldier-rulers in Prussia (reaching their peak with Frederick “the Great” in the late 1700s).

    Both material self interest (for the “estates of the Junkers East of the Elbe” were often poor – making state service not an unattractive option) and GERMAN PHILOSOPHY (especially sponsored by the rulers of Prussia) created this transformation.

    But (and here I am going to disagree with Patrick) a lot of the British educated classes (both “Liberal” and “Conservative”) were NOT hostile to this “Prussianism”.

    For centuries a certain proportion of the British educated classes were (to a greater or lesser extent) influenced by Prussianism themselves.

    One can still see evidence of the cult of Frederick the Great – for example with the Scots Harvard historian (N. Ferguson) claiming that King Frederick was a great “liberal” who helped shape the “modern world”.

    The ideas and practices of Frederick “the Great” did indeed help shape the Modern World (including Britain).

    Which is exactly why he was NOT a liberal (in the sense of being pro limited government).

    Even the religious tolerance of the Prussian rulers had a hidden dark side.

    After all it is easy to tolerate various forms of religion when you have no strong faith in any form of orthodox religion.

    When your real faith is not in God – but in THE STATE.

  • Mr Ed

    And these days, a politician purports to feel entitled to tell us what we should not celebrate.