German Government Rocked by Anti-Militarism Protests

germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/
germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 94th installment in the series. 

December 4, 1913: German Government Rocked by Anti-Militarism Protests

In the early years of the 20th century, a visitor to Germany might marvel at the appearance of a calm, orderly society based on conservative values like education, hard work, duty, and respect for authority. But appearances can be deceiving: Germany’s rigid social structures concealed a deep, widening rift between the industrial working class on one side, and the aristocracy and middle class on the other.

Angry about low wages and long hours, German workers increasingly fell under the sway of socialism, a modified version of Marxism calling for the proletariat to take control of the means of production through organized labor and legislation. This goal became more plausible after the government lifted its ban on socialist political activity in 1890. With support from trade unions, the reinvigorated Social Democratic Party won huge electoral gains—but found its ambitions frustrated by Germany’s authoritarian government.

One of the fiercest controversies concerned the military’s dominant position in German society. As part of a self-proclaimed internationalist movement, socialists decried the European arms race as a dangerous waste of money, while at home the SDP reviled the aristocratic military elite as a natural ally of big business and an entrenched opponent of democratic reform. The army could also be used to put down strikes and protests, further limiting the power of organized labor.

The controversy finally boiled over in the autumn of 1913 following a seemingly minor incident in Alsace, a province with a mixed population of French and German speakers annexed from France in 1871. On October 28, Günter Freiherr von Forstner, a 19-year-old Prussian second lieutenant stationed in the town of Zabern (Saverne), made disparaging comments about the local Alsatian population and seemed to encourage his men to brutalize civilians. After local newspapers reported Forstner’s comments, his superiors refused to take serious disciplinary action, triggering protests by townsfolk.

On November 28, 1913, a large number of protesters surrounded the barracks in Zabern, alarming the garrison commander, who then authorized his troops to disperse the crowd by force. That’s when things really started to unravel, as hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested without cause, including several local notables, and the town was placed under unofficial martial law. All in all it was a clear case of the military acting with total disregard for civilian rights (as depicted in the cartoon published in the satirical magazine Simplicissimus in November 1913, above).

As these events thrust Zabern into the national spotlight, there was still a chance for the central government to defuse the situation. But in typical fashion Kaiser Wilhelm II—trained in the Prussian military and no one’s idea of a statesman—did exactly the wrong thing. On November 30, the German emperor met with Prussian War Minister Erich von Falkenhayn to hear the military’s side of the story, but completely ignored civilian representatives. The same day the SDP organized the first of a wave of protests in Mülhausen (Mulhouse), a big town in Alsace, which soon spread to the rest of the country. 

Things were about to get even worse, as Forstner—apparently none the wiser for having caused a national crisis, and none too bright to begin with—took center stage again. While drilling with troops on December 2, 1913, the second lieutenant heard some townsfolk mocking his fancy uniform, lost his temper, and struck a partially disabled apprentice cobbler named Karl Blank with his sword. Naturally this provoked a fresh public outcry, but once again Forstner’s superiors refused to take real disciplinary action, further escalating the conflict. 

The Zabern Affair was now a full-blown political crisis for the government, as traditional allies like the Center Party and Conservative Party distanced themselves to express their disgust over its incompetent handling of the situation. On November 30, the SDP’s newspaper Vorwarts (Forwards) called for the Reichstag to assert itself:

“If the Reichstag stands for the terror of the sword in Zabern, and the guilty are not called to account in the most unconditional manner, and guarantees given to prevent the repetition of similar military excesses, then the government by constitution and law will have capitulated altogether before the arbitrariness of our Militarism!”

On December 3, 1913, Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg finally addressed the Reichstag on the Zabern Affair—but instead of asserting civilian authority, the weak-willed head of government just offered lame excuses for the military. True, Forstner had referred to Alsatians with the insulting term “wackes,” but Bethmann Hollweg said this merely meant “screwball” and wasn’t an ethnic slur (it was); anyway the military had now banned the use of the word “screwball” so it wouldn’t happen again. The chancellor conceded that Forstner’s behavior has been improper, but dismissed it as an “unpleasant but certainly not … world-shaking” event, and completely dodged the real issue—the illegal arrests and imposition of martial law in Zabern.

The Reichstag wasn’t buying it: On December 4, 1913, the deputies voted 293 to 54 that the government’s handling of the affair was “not the view of the Reichstag.” This was a humiliating blow to Bethmann Hollweg, equivalent to a vote of “no confidence,” which could have triggered the fall of the government. One observer said the chancellor looked physically ill, maybe even at risk of a nervous breakdown. However the Center and Conservative Parties refused to join the SDP in demanding his resignation, since this might open up the possibility of a power struggle between the military, backed by the Kaiser, and the socialist opposition – and then who knew what would happen.

December 7 delivered another blow to the government’s prestige, as mass protests organized by the SDP gripped 17 cities around Germany. But the Zabern Affair was already starting to subside: on December 5, 1913, the Kaiser (with his usual impeccable timing) relented and ordered Forstner’s unit moved to a remote village away from the public eye, as the Alsatians had demanded all along. Thus an opportunity for reform had been missed, meaning the conflict between soldiers and socialists would only grow more intense during the maelstrom to come. 

See the previous installment or all entries

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER