Posted by: cousindampier | 12 November 2009

Jackboot – Frederick the Great, Leuthen and Rossbach

Two questions stuck in my mind as I read most of Jackboot:

1. What does this reveal about the German soldier?
2. What does this mean about the relationship between the state, soldier, and public?

Jackboot: The Story of the German Soldier

In some ways, these questions were easy to answer. The German soldier during the Nazi era was venerated as the ideal specimen of the Nordic race. Beyond the known “blond hair, blue eyes” poster image of the Nazi regime, it was the soldier which so much propaganda and psychology went into creating.

The propaganda and psychology, however, did not have to do much. First the Prussian, and then the German states were created on the back of the army. This itself is not surprising – the American republic had to be fought for as well – but the degree of militarization in the Prussian state set forth the broad path by which the German soldier would continue to shape the state at the expense of democratic or other cultural forces.

The brief outline is as such: the Prussian state was created by Frederick the Great on defeats of the French and Austrians at Rossbach and Leuthen. These battles were the culmination of Frederick’s effort to “raise Prussia to the status of a first-class power – far above her true level.”

Of the factors which led to German victory were: superior training, superior innovation, and superior leadership, which is common when an underdog, which Prussia was numerically, emerges victorious. While this is not surprising, it sets the context for much of Prussia/Germany’s battles for the next two centuries: outnumbered, but with a superior quality military. Because of that, Laffin says that Leuthen and Rossbach “helped to create Germanic unity and it saturated the German soul with martial spirit.”

Did Leuthen and Rossbach create a martial spirit?

– The Prussian military was radically created and victorious within a short period of time. Prussia was raised to a status of European power because of Frederick the Great, Leuthen, and Rossbach. The state was created through military victories and Frederick the Great’s army reforms.
– The organization of the Prussian military – the nobles (Junkers) had a total domination of the officer class, and were invested to keep the military highly thought of to ensure their own status. Officers from the lower classes did not widely emerge until World War II
– The relationship between the state and the solider was much the same. Though the army had many incidents of officer/enlisted conflict, as the enlisted soldier resented officer privilege (also done away with by WWII), the solider was the hero in Prussian society. Being disallowed to wear the uniform often resulted in suicide.
– Duels were common, meaning honor was venerated and conflicts of honor were resolved through violence. The practice did not cease until the early 20th Century.

Frederick did create a Prussia with an intense worship of the martial spirit. I can’t pinpoint a time where the status of the military in Prussian or German culture underwent a reformation until after World War II, when the army was defeated (after World War I, the government was blamed for betraying the Army). Prussia would not always win – soon after Frederick’s death, defeats at Valmy and then to Napoleon would devastate Prussia and re-create the military into the organization that would unite Prussia and the rest of the German states, and then fight both world wars.

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