Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany

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Cornell University Press, Jan 12, 2006 - History - 400 pages
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In a book that is at once a major contribution to modern European history and a cautionary tale for today, Isabel V. Hull argues that the routines and practices of the Imperial German Army, unchecked by effective civilian institutions, increasingly sought the absolute destruction of its enemies as the only guarantee of the nation's security. So deeply embedded were the assumptions and procedures of this distinctively German military culture that the Army, in its drive to annihilate the enemy military, did not shrink from the utter destruction of civilian property and lives. Carried to its extreme, the logic of "military necessity" found real security only in extremities of destruction, in the "silence of the graveyard."

Hull begins with a dramatic account, based on fresh archival work, of the German Army's slide from administrative murder to genocide in German Southwest Africa (1904-7). The author then moves back to 1870 and the war that inaugurated the Imperial era in German history, and analyzes the genesis and nature of this specifically German military culture and its operations in colonial warfare. In the First World War the routines perfected in the colonies were visited upon European populations. Hull focuses on one set of cases (Belgium and northern France) in which the transition to total destruction was checked (if barely) and on another (Armenia) in which "military necessity" caused Germany to accept its ally's genocidal policies even after these became militarily counterproductive. She then turns to the Endkampf (1918), the German General Staff's plan to achieve victory in the Great War even if the homeland were destroyed in the process-a seemingly insane campaign that completes the logic of this deeply institutionalized set of military routines and practices. Hull concludes by speculating on the role of this distinctive military culture in National Socialism's military and racial policies.

Absolute Destruction has serious implications for the nature of warmaking in any modern power. At its heart is a warning about the blindness of bureaucratic routines, especially when those bureaucracies command the instruments of mass death.


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User Review  - Shrike58 - LibraryThing

Written by a general historian of Wilhelmine Germany, this work examines the cultural foundations of the German army's tendency to adopt extreme solutions to military problems at the earliest possible ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Very interesting study of organizational behavior in the Germany army. Definitely worth a re-read. Foreshadows the extremes of the Nazis.


Suppression Becomes Annihilation Southwest Africa 19041907
Pursuit and Annihilation
Death by Imprisonment
Military Culture
National Politics and Military Culture
Lessons of 187071 Institutions and Law
Standard Practices
The First World War
Waging War 19141916 Risk Extremes and Limits
Civilians as Objects of Military Necessity
The Armenian Genocide
Repetition and SelfDestruction
Conclusions and Implications

Doctrines of Fear and Force
Stopping the Process

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About the author (2006)

Isabel V. Hull is John Stambaugh Professor of History at Cornell University. She is the author of Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700-1815 (also from Cornell) and The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1888-1918, and the coeditor of German Nationalism and the European Response, 1890-1945.

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