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

Out of Print's Retro Star Wars T-Shirts Pay Homage to an '80s Reading Campaign

Out of Print
Out of Print

If only Luke had known that he could use a book to channel The Force, it might have saved him a whole lot of hassle. Online retailer Out of Print has united two nerdy camps—readers and Star Wars lovers—with its latest collection of retro-inspired T-shirts.

One shirt features Yoda with the text, “Read and The Force is with you.” A Princess Leia tee says, “Read: It’s our only hope,” while one of Darth Vader says, “Read: Use the power of The Force.”

A Star Wars t-shirt
Out of Print

If the graphics look familiar, it’s because they’re from the American Library Association’s Star Wars-themed READ campaign, which first emerged in 1983 with a poster of Yoda holding a book.

“Star Wars is a vehicle to help support and excite young readers,” Todd Lawton, Out of Print’s co-founder, told StarWars.com. “That’s perfectly in line with our mission and we feel that the world’s a better place if people are reading more books. So when you see a character like Yoda or Darth Vader presented in a way that’s supporting this love of reading and the importance of reading, we want to show that and celebrate that as well.”

An Out of Print T-shirt featuring Darth Vader
Out of Print

The shirts are priced at $28 or $30 apiece, depending on whether it’s a classic unisex T-shirt or relaxed fit tee. Kids’ shirts are also available for $20 each.

Out of Print is also selling a Little Golden Books collection of Star Wars hardcovers, including A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and an anthology with seven books in one. For more literary-inspired apparel, totes, accessories, and more, check out the company's website.

New Game of Thrones Theory Predicts That the Night King Won't Be at the Battle of Winterfell

HBO
HBO

Game of Thrones is gearing up for the biggest battle the show has ever seen: At Winterfell, Gendry is forging weapons made of dragonglass, Brienne is training soldiers, and Jon is going through an existential crisis. No one knows who will live or die (or if anyone will live at all).

The White Walkers are very close to Winterfell, but where is their leader? At the end of season 8's second episode, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," we saw the frontline of White Walkers leading the wights toward Winterfell, but the Night King was nowhere to be seen. We know that the Night King is soaring through the air on Viserion somewhere, but what if his plan doesn't include making an appearance at the battle at all?

As Mashable reported, fans on Reddit have already started predicting that the Night King won't show up for the fight. They believe that he will use the battle as a distraction and that, while his army is attacking Winterfell, he'll fly to King's Landing instead.

The basic argument here is that the Night King is not stupid. He knows that it would be easy for Daenerys's two remaining dragons to fly up to the recently resurrected Viserion and breathe fire on him to kill him. So why not attack another, unguarded target?

"If you have a super weapon that you can't use against a particular target, then you find a different target," one Redditor explained.

So while everyone is expecting him to show up at Winterfell, the Night King could instead be flying to King's Landing in order to kill everyone there and create yet another army of the dead in the south—an army that whoever survives the battle in the north will ultimately have to conquer.

There are a couple of scenes in previous seasons that add some credence to this theory: In season 4, Bran had a series of visions which all came true—except the one where he sees a destroyed throne room and the shadow of a dragon pass over. This could have been the Night King on Viserion, instead of Daenerys and her dragons (as was previously believed). In season 2, Daenerys also had a vision where the throne room was destroyed and covered in snow.

While it does seem like a reasonable theory, we won't know for sure until next week, when audiences will finally witness what is being touted as the biggest battle in Game of Throneshistory.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER