A School History of the Great War - Chapter 3
German MilitarismWhat is Militarism? - Militarism has been defined as a policy which maintains huge standing armies for purposes of aggression.” It should be noticed that the mere fact that a nation, through universal conscription, maintains a large standing army in times of peace does not convict it of militarism. Every one of the great European powers except England maintained such an army, and yet Germany was the only one that we can say had a militaristic government.
A more narrow definition of militarism is that form of government in which the military power is in control, and with the slightest excuse can and does override the civil authority. This had been the situation in Germany for many years before the outbreak of the Great War.
Let us take a glance at the development of this sort of government. After Napoleon conquered Prussia, early in the nineteenth century, one of the conditions of peace was that Prussia should reduce her army to not more than forty-two thousand men. In order that the country should not again be so easily conquered, the king of Prussia enrolled the permitted number of men for one year, then dismissed that group, and enrolled another of the same size, and so on. Thus, in the course of ten years, it would be possible for him to gather an army of four hundred thousand men who had had at least one year of military training.
The officers of the army were drawn almost entirely from among the land-owning nobility. The result was that there was gradually built up a large class of military officers on the one hand, and, on the other, a much larger class, the rank and file of the army. These men had become used, in the army, to obeying implicitly all the commands of the officers.
This led to several results. Since the officer class furnished also most of the officials for the civil administration of the country, the interests of the army came to be considered the same as the interests of the country as a whole. A seco1id result was that the governing class desired to continue a system which gave them so much power over the common people. We should perhaps consider as a third result the fact that the possession of such a splendid and efficient military machine tended to make its possessors arrogant and unyielding in their intercourse with other nations.
Competition in Armaments. After 1870 the German emperor was the commander of the whole German army, which was organized and trained on the Prussian model. The fact that Germany had such an efficient army caused other nations to be in constant fear of attack. Therefore her neighbors on the continent of Europe were led to organize similar armies and make other preparations for defense.
Moreover, Germany in recent years formed a number of ambitious projects of expansion and colonization which would probably bring her into conflict with other countries. In order to assure herself of success, Germany proceeded to enlarge and otherwise improve the organization and equipment of her army. This led France and Russia to enlarge their armies. So the competition went on.
Germany’s Navy. - For over a century Great Britain’s control of the seas had been almost undisputed. in order to carry out her projects of expansion, Germany required a fleet which, while perhaps not so large as that of Great Britain, would be large enough to make the result of a naval battle questionable. Huge money grants were obtained from the German people, and for a time more battleships were built by Germany than by England. England dared not permit the naval superiority to pass into Germany’s hands. The result was a competition in dreadnaught building quite as feverish as the competition in armies. The building and maintenance of these great fleets were a heavy burden upon the people of both countries. England made several offers to limit the competition by promising to build no ships in any year in which Germany would build none, but Germany in every case refused to agree to the plan.
Suggestions for Study. 1. Make a chart showing the comparative sizes of European armies in 1914. 2. In the same way compare the European navies in 1914. 3. What effect is produced upon a country by an aristocratic military class? ~. Compare the Germ ii military policy with that of the United States. . Will disarmament be one of the good results of this war?
References. The World Almanac; War Cyclopedia (C. P. I.), under the names of the several countries, and under “Navy”; German Militarism (C. P. I.).