One of the most widely publicized reason, offered in explanation of our opposition to the regime of the late Adolf Hitler was its severe policy directed at Jews and other enemies of the regime. By some curious irony, however, many of the same Americans who were so quick to attack the Nazi racial doctrines have been the worst offenders in spreading abroad a fantastic myth of singular German wickedness.
Furthermore, "militarism," "aggressiveness," and a marked preference for "authoritarian" over democracy have well-nigh universally been regarded as "typically German" national traits.
This dark image of a sinister, aggressive, predatory, and militarily regimented Germany only became prevalent in the present century. The English historian, Frederic William Maitland, has described the once characteristic attitude toward the Germans:
"... it was usual and plausible to paint the German as an unpractical, dreamy, sentimental being, looking out with mild blue eyes into a cloud of music and metaphysics and tobacco smoke.1"
The French writer, Madame de Stael, romantically portrayed for the Napoleonic world of the early nineteenth century a Germany utterly unlike the grotesque image later drawn by the Allied propagandists of two World Wars. Madame de Stael's Germans were a nation of "Poets and Thinkers," a race of kindly, impractical, other-worldly dreamers without national prejudices and, strangely, in the light of later propaganda, "disinclined to war."2
...Germans were generally regarded as methodical and energetic people" indeed as "models of progress," while "in their devotion to music, education, science, and technology they aroused the admiration and emulation of Americans."4
Possibly even more difficult to grasp, for those whose thinking has been shaped by the propaganda of recent years, is the fact that throughout the nineteenth century France rather than Germany was cast in the role of international bully and villain.5 Had not Louis XIV and Bonaparte repeatedly made a battleground of Europe? Could anyone forget that French arms had rolled at high tide across the entire continent of Europe, threatening to engulf even the vast empire of the Russian Tsars? Or could anyone forget that it had required the combined resources of Austria, Britain, Russia, and Prussia, assisted by the fortuitous intervention of nature in the form of the Russian winter, to shatter the might of the Corsican conqueror?
A writer inclined to present France in an unfavorable light relative to Germany would find, in the story of the French invasions of Germany since 1300, a veritable propaganda arsenal. Though there were at least seventeen major French invasions of German territory in the period between 1300 and 1600, the period of French intervention that is genuinely appalling is that from 1635 to 1815. The French, after Richelieu earlier had kept the Thirty Years' War going through diplomacy, ravished Germany continuously from 1635 to 1648. They also invaded German territory seven times during the concluding phase of their war with Spain which ended in 1659. A few years later during the War of Devolution and again during their encounter with the Dutch in 1672, the French violated German territory on at least four occasions. Then, between 1678 and 1686, the French, through their reunion policy, committed at least ten major acts of aggression against Germany. The War of the League of Augsburg in 1688 actually began as a French "preventive war" against the German states with the unprovoked devastation of the Palatinate, as well as the destruction of Heidelberg, Worms, and Speyer. Further French invasions of Germany followed in 1702, 1733, and 1740. Again during the Seven Years War (1756-63) French aggression against German territory was repeated. Finally, during the periods of the French Revolution and Napoleon, Germany was repeatedly bled white by French invasions and coalition wars. One might reasonably conclude then that an estimate of thirty French invasions of German territory since the Middle Ages is a conservative understatement.
It has been estimated by a careful scholar that there were "about twenty-six hundred important battles involving European states" in the 460 years between 1480 and 1940. Of these, France participated in forty-seven percent, "Germany (Prussia)" in twenty-five percent, and England and Russia in twenty-two percent each.6 The Prussian record can hardly be described as uniquely warlike on the basis of such evidence! It might also be added that geographic factors, like Britain's insular position and Russia's remoteness from the mainstream of European history during the period, doubtless helped considerably to reduce their percentage of involvement.
Professor Quincy Wright offers this further statistical evidence for the same period, that is, 1480-1940:Of the 278 wars involving European states during this period, the percentage of participation by the principal states was: England, 28; France, 26; Spain, 23; Russia, 22; Austria, 19; Turkey, 15; Poland, 11; Sweden, 9; Netherlands, 8; Germany (Prussia), 8; Italy (Savoy-Sardinia), 9; and Denmark, 7.7In the circumstances, one is compelled to assent to Dr. Wright's conclusion that "attribution of a persistently warlike character to certain states ... seems not to have been based upon a comparison of any objective criteria of warlikeness."8
The distinguished sociologist and historian, Pitirim A. Sorokin, in his monumental study, Social and Cultural Dynamics,9 assembled data proving that historically, of all the nations of Europe, Germany had the lowest percentage of years with war. Spain, Poland, Lithuania, Greece, England, France, Russia, Holland, Austria, and Italy all exceeded Germany in this respect. Sorokin's conclusions are very much like those of Quincy Wright above. He writes that "the magnitude of 'militarism' or 'war effort' or 'war burden' shifts from country to country in the course of time. Furthermore ... there are no consistently peaceful and consistently militant countries."10
The eminent British military and naval historian, Captain Russell Grenfell, computed the record of numerical involvement in wars by the major European powers in the crucial century between Waterloo and Sarajevo as follows"11Military involvement Country Wars
In the face of such evidence, it seems incredible that any really thoughtful person could still adhere to the old popular superstition concerning German "aggressiveness" and "militarism."
The numerous French invasions of Germany from the time of Louis XIV. to that of Napoleon had sufficiently developed the need of a closer consolidation of the German States and national interests.
So Alexander Hamilton made use of the history and condition of Germany as one of his strongest arguments in favor of our national government. He says in the Federalist No. 19: "The history of Germany is a history of Foreign of foreign intrusions and foreign intrigues; of requisitions of men and money disregarded or partially aborted, or attended with slaughter and desolation..."
- The Life of Prince Otto Von Bismark by Frank Preston Stearns (pages 49-50)
Myths (and the propaganda that makes use of them) are built upon the twisting of some truths, and the ignoring of others...