“1939 – The War That Had Many Fathers,” by Gerd Schultze-Rhonhof.
Schultze-Rhonhof continues with an examination of the factors that a) led to the Great War, b) came due to the Peace Treaty at Versailles. These factors were key in the run-up to the Second World War. I will not go through these in detail; it has been well documented elsewhere a) that – unlike the propaganda of the time – Germany and Austria were not the only instigators of the war, and b) Versailles was instrumental in generating a volatile political climate in post-war Germany.
Actions of the British and French especially were instrumental in bringing on the conflict; at the same time, the Kaiser offered proposals that could avoid the coming calamity. Of course, the Kaiser also took actions – by design or by blunder – that helped to move events toward war.
What I find of interest is the author’s focus on the propaganda used in the democracies to motivate the populations toward war. In this, he provides a real-world example of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s work, for example from “Democracy: The god That Failed.” Contrasting monarchical wars with democratic wars:
In contrast, democratic wars tend to be total wars. In blurring the distinction between the rulers and the ruled, a democratic republic strengthens the identification of the public with a particular state. …democratic republicanism inevitably leads to nationalism, i.e., the emotional identification of the public with large, anonymous groups of people…. Interstate wars are thus transformed into national wars. (Page 36-37)
Today, this is readily apparent in the language used by common citizens: “our war,” “our troops,” “we sent them to fight.” Such language would be foreign to the population under a traditional monarch.
Hoppe, citing Michael Howard:
Once the state ceased to be regarded as ‘property’ of dynastic princes, and became instead the instrument of powerful forces dedicated to such abstract concepts as Liberty, or Nationality, or Revolution, which enabled large numbers of the population to see in that state the embodiment of some absolute Good for which no price was too high, no sacrifice too great to pay; then the “temperate and indecisive contests” of the rococo age appeared as absurd anachronisms. (Page 37)
Further, citing J.F.C. Fuller:
The influence of the spirit of nationality, that is of democracy, on wars was profound… [it] emotionalized war and consequently brutalized it…. National armies fight nations, royal armies fight their like, the first obey a mob – always demented, the second a king – generally sane…. (Page 38n)
How does Hoppe’s work apply? In order to mobilize an entire nation into war – not just for the objective of gaining volunteers and legitimizing conscription, but also for a complete takeover of the home economy – a frenzy must be created.
From “Monarchy and War,” by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn – taken from the volume edited by Hoppe, “The Myth of National Defense”: in a democracy, as recruits are taken from a general population – a population that believes it has some say in its political dealings:
…the people itself has to be indoctrinated, in other words, made to hate the enemy collectively. For this purpose governments invoke in modern times the support of the mass media, which will inform the people about the evil of the enemy – with little or no regard for the truth.
In World War I, the Western Allies, being more democratic, were also more skilled in organizing collective hatreds. (Page 97)
Further, from the volume edited by Hoppe: “Is a Democracy More Peaceful than Other Forms of Government?” by Gerard Radnitzky, writing on the toolbox of tricks and deceit of a bellicose president:
Rule #1: First, get control over the media: they are indispensable as means of propaganda. A democratic president has to sell a “war,” embarking on the mass marketing of the war that he has in mind. (Page 177)
Turning the enemy into something not human, into a population bent on world conquest, via relentless propaganda, is a method first significantly deployed in the west in the run-up to the Great War.
Schultze-Rhonhof explores this propaganda and the effect it had on generating a war climate in Britain, France, and the US; the effects of this climate were also felt when it came time for the peace conference after the war, held in Paris with the German signing at Versailles:
…the peace negotiations which now follow stand under still another burden (lit. “mortgage”). The governments and the media in England, France, and the USA had run a public relations campaign to convince their voters and soldiers of the point of the war and to urge them to endure – when the war became hard. The arguments with which the masses in France, Great Britain, and America “learn” that they stand for justice and goodness against injustice and bad men are of quite different sorts. (Page 79)
The Germans were portrayed as not human: for example, stories of babies’ arms or hands being cut off, nuns being raped, and the like. Such stories are followed by increasing, and similar propaganda that…bring British, French, and Americans into a rage against the German “Huns” and “Teutons.”
After the war, such reports were investigated, and found to be false. Further, in a book written four years after the war by Francesco Nitti, Prime Minister of Italy in 1919-1920:
We had to win, to win at all costs…. In order to win, it is necessary before all else to hate, and to hate we must impute to the enemy all that is hateful…. At that time, one portrayed the Germans as cultural barbarians, as the root of all that is evil in mankind. There was no cruelty which one did not attribute to them, and if they shot no defenseless women to death, they did chop off children’s hands. Above all, the legend of the chopped-off hands of children was exploited during the war as irrefutable proof of the Germans’ Hun-like nature…. (Page 79-80)
A brief statement on this “atrocity propaganda” from Wikipedia:
Atrocity propaganda, which aimed to mobilise hatred of the German enemy by spreading details of their atrocities, real or alleged, was used extensively by Britain in the First World War. It reached its peak in 1915, with much of the atrocities related to Germany's invasion of Belgium. Newspaper accounts of "Terrible Vengeance" first used the word "Hun" to describe the Germans in view of atrocities in Belgium. A continuous stream of stories ensued, painting the Germans as destructive barbarians, and many of the atrocities being reported were entirely fictitious.
The practice continues to be employed even today – it works well; one of the more infamous examples can be found here.
The British, having cut the communication cable between Germany and America, ensured only one version of the story would be told. Further, Lord Northcliffe, the previously mentioned editor of several London daily newspapers (where he ensured that nothing bad would be written about the French and nothing good about the Germans), extended his reach into America as well. Through a foundation in the USA named after him, he operated 4500 “publicity agents,” to influence the story told in America regarding the Germans. (Page 81)
The religious calling was made complete in the US when Wilson invoked one of the deadliest phrases unleashed in man’s history, when he said “The world must be made safe for democracy.”
It is a regular feature of war since this time that the enemy must be demonized. This is absolutely required under democracies in order to get the support of the population – support not required in wars between kings and nobles.
Through film the propaganda is also spread:
The film “The Prussian Cur,” for example, shows a scene in which German soldiers crucify a captured Canadian to a courtyard door. (Page 82)
The best that can be said of this event is that details are either conflicting or historical impossibilities. At worst, it was complete fiction.
Finally, a prayer by Rev. William Sunday, offered in Congress on 10 January 1918, including:
…Thou knowest, O Lord, that we are in a life-and-death struggle with one of the most infamous, vile, greedy, avaricious, bloodthirsty, sensual, and vicious nations that has ever disgraced the pages of history. (Page 82)
The rage resulting from the propaganda used to motivate the population in a democracy to total war cannot be immediately calmed when it comes time for the peace. In Paris, in 1919, the blood-lust that the politicians created could not now be ignored in revenge – and in much of the population, revenge was expected. Versailles, if it was nothing else, was a treaty greatly influenced by the considerations of the political climate at home – a climate beneficial to entering the war, but with long-lasting consequences when it came time for a reasonably just peace.
From “Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World,” by Margaret MacMillan:
Public opinion, that new and troubling element, was no help. There was a widespread feeling that someone must pay for such a dreadful war; but there was an equally strong longing for peace. (Page 162)
It rapidly became clear that the electorate preferred talk of hanging the Kaiser. (Page 163)
Lloyd George, prime minister of the United Kingdom during the war, at one point during the negotiations had some of his colleagues act out roles of the various parties in regards to the treaty discussions. Henry Wilson, playing the role of a French woman,
…the significant factor, he said, in shaping French opinion. He painted a moving picture of “the losses of so many of their husbands, sons and men folk, the unbearable anxiety and long separations, the financial losses, and the desperate struggle and overwork to keep their homes going.” Of course they wanted revenge and restitution from Germany, and they wanted assurance that Germany could never hurt them again. (Page 196)
For centuries, a monarch – not having to generate a mob of opinion in order to support his war – did not have to show results to the same mob after the victory. With the democracies, this was no longer possible.
This all played out in the treaty negotiations between the Allies and the Germans – although to use the term “negotiations” is a complete stretch. I do not intend to go into the details of the treaty. This has been covered well elsewhere, and there is little that the author offers that is new in this volume. The fundamental issue is not the terms – onerous as these are – but the double-cross that the German people feel: the language of the treaty – not negotiated language but an ultimatum imposed under the blackmail of a food blockade – is diametrically opposed to Wilson’s Fourteen Points. The burdens placed on the Germans were far more restrictive than those placed on any previous loser in conflict.
Many involved in the treaty negotiations at the time (1919 – 1920) expressed concern (from Schultze-Rhonhof, Pages 104 – 105):
From the first German post-war Chancellor: “From such a peace must…new slaughter come.”
US Foreign Secretary Lansing: “We will have a peace treaty, but it will bring no lasting peace.”
British Prime Minister Lloyd George: “I can hardly envision a greater cause for a future war.”
Dutch Envoy Swinderen: “The peace terms of Versailles contain all the seeds for a just and lengthy war.”
English delegate Kneeshow: “Were we the defeated people and had such conditions imposed upon us, we would…have begun in our schools and homes to prepare our children for a retaliatory war.”
MacMillan offers similar comments (Page 467 – 468):
Herbert Hoover, summarizing a conversation he had with Jan Smuts and J.M. Keynes: “We agreed that the consequences of many parts of the proposed Treaty would ultimately bring destruction.”
Also from Lansing, left on the sidelines by Wilson while Wilson took charge of the negotiations: “The terms of the peace appear immeasurably harsh and humiliating, while many of them are incapable of performance.”
From the British delegation, Nicolson: “We came to Paris confident that the new order was about to be established; we left convinced that the new order had merely fouled the old.”
In France most criticisms were that the treaty with the Germans was too weak….
The Germans, unfortunately having taken Wilson’s Fourteen Points to heart, were left with the ultimatum. The delegation hopelessly offered detailed counterproposals (again, from MacMillan):
Henry Wilson, no friend of the Germans, wrote in his diary: “The Boches have done exactly what I forecast – they have driven a coach and four through our Terms, and then have submitted a complete set of their own, based on the 14 points, which are much more coherent than ours.” (Page 468)
The deputy prime minister, Bonar Law, found the German objections “in many particulars very difficult to answer.” Lloyd George agreed. The Germans were in effect saying to the Allies: “You have a set of principles which, when they suit you, you apply, but which, when they suit us, you put by.” (Page 468 – 469)
President Wilson could not let the double-talk go easily, however, and rightly pointed out to actors like Lloyd George that they were involved in each step, and only now – when the time has come to put the treaty before the Germans – complain that the terms are too harsh.
As has been written many times by many historians, Versailles was a major contributing factor to political discontent in German, and with this discontent came the flowering of National Socialism – one more example of political discontent in a democracy resulting in atrocities far greater than seen under virtually any previous European monarchy.
And at the root was the propaganda required to bring the population in the democracies to war.