Archive

research

Clio and me have been getting along pretty well lately, but you wouldn’t know it from this neglected blog. Much of my silence has had to do with the nature of my editing job. I edit a lot of interesting work that teaches me new things and occasionally leads me to related ideas of my own, but I’m not usually free to talk about those things. Either the material is not in print yet, or I’d betray the trust of authors with whom I have spoken in confidence about work in progress. Describing the things I’m learning about this side of academia and publishing would also make interesting blogging, but writing about them would mean injuring both confidentiality and collegiality, no matter how good a face I put on any given story. So I’m generally quiet here, unless I can comment on how the history I’m learning might be relevant in work outside the institute.

On the other hand, the small graduate course I taught this summer, War and Society in Modern Europe, gave me a chance to think more about my earlier research and how I might do something with it in the future. I’m planning to take the spring 2012 semester off from part-time teaching, so that I can do a little writing. It’s time to start thinking about the Groener project again. In particular, I want to move past the inevitably narrower set of specialized questions that have framed it to consider in what ways some of it might be relevant to a broader academic audience.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I should do some of that thinking on this blog. I began this blog after I had already completed my dissertation, and I have never much used it as a research blog. I’m wondering what the advantages and disadvantages of such might be. I am concerned mainly with thought, research, and communication; however, I don’t have to worry about a non-existent tenure-track position. The main advantage, it seems to me, is that it would afford a chance to discuss ideas in their nascency that I otherwise have little opportunity to talk about, unless I am teaching a related graduate course, which has only happened once so far. Sure, I work at a historical institute, but my (interesting) job there is to work with others on their ideas.

I’m thinking about this in the context of other changing habits. I have also been neglecting my other blog, Language for You, and there’s that whole twitter thing. Perhaps it’s time to conceptualize a single blog that would work for my current portfolio of jobs and projects?

If you are just looking for some quick information on German soldiers and French civilians in the war of 1870–71, see an older post on this blog, “Atrocities in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870–71.” Otherwise, please read on.

I decided to upload my MA thesis to Google Docs to make this information available to the general public. The file is huge, 34.9 MB, because I had to scan the original some time ago, having produced it on my 1987 Mac in 1994 and not having electronic copies of the illustrations or a way to make the pagination of the text come out the same as the original on my old ImageWriter. I tried to reduce its size with the usually magical PDF Shrink, but the result looked awful in this case.

Before I get to the thesis, though, let me list two relevant articles I wrote, which are better, in case that is what you are after. This might seem like a silly, self-agrandizing exercise to some, but since this blog frequently get hits from people using search engines like Google to learn about this war, I think getting this information together in one post could be helpful.

First, there is “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–1871: A Cultural Interpretation,” War in History 8.3 (2001): 271–93. (Reprinted in Warfare in Europe 1825–1914. Edited by Peter Wilson. The International Library of Essays on Military History, ed. Jeremy Black. Ashgate Publishing, 2006. 135–58.) Here’s the abstract. The advantage to this article is it is all in English, and it integrates my earlier findings into the total war debate discussed at a productive series of conferences launched in 1992 by the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. (See the titles that contain “total war” on this page, but ignore the links, which don’t seem to work outside the institute.) In terms of the actual subject, it devotes quite a bit of space to a close-up view of Bazeilles.

The other article I wrote on this topic is “Die deutschen Greueltaten im Krieg 1870/71 am Beispiel der Bayern,” in Kriegsgreuel: Die Entgrenzung der Gewalt in kriegerischen Konflikten vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Sönke Neitzel and Daniel Hohrath (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2008), 223–39. If you don’t read German, I’m sorry. Check out the link at the end of this paragraph and then move to the next one. If you do read German, this article lets you see the original language of the sources, instead of making you read my translations. It is also in an interesting edited collection on atrocities. The big difference between this and the article in English is that I do not spend much time on Bazeilles here, instead devoting much more attention to other interactions with civilians, both positive and negative. Also, I had to try to frame it in a way that fit the volume’s overall concept. For more information, see an older post on this blog, “Atrocities in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71,” which summarizes the highlights.

Personally, I think my articles on the Franco-Prussian War are much more readable than my old master’s thesis, and their arguments are certainly more mature, not least because they engage more recent historiography. Still, I own the copyright to this thesis, but not my articles, so why not share? Here: “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–71.” M.A. thesis, Universität Augsburg, 1994. One oddity: It is written in English, but all the quotes are in the language in which I found them, usually German. That will irritate some, but it will possibly help anyone who wants to see the original German quotes that I translated into English for the War in History piece.

Lastly, for the sake of completeness, here’s a short blog post that explains how I happened upon this topic: “Paradoxes.” It was my first post on this blog. I thought it would become a part of a series, but the blog has had less focus than that, as blogs often do.

Now if anyone wants to suggest an appropriate internet archive to upload my MA thesis to and can explain why that particular archive is a good bet, I’m all ears. I’d be especially interested in finding something that deals with either the military topic or this period in German history. For now, though, my Google Docs solution will have to do.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

An essay on the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) that I wrote last year appeared in print this fall in a book about war atrocities from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Here’s the reference, in case you read German: Mark R. Stoneman, “Die deutschen Greueltaten im Krieg 1870/71 am Beispiel der Bayern,” in Sönke Neitzel and Daniel Hohrath, eds., Kriegsgreuel: Die Entgrenzung der Gewalt in kriegerischen Konflikten vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2008), 223–39.

The essay focusses on German soldiers and French civilians using the example of the Bavarians. It examines why soldiers sometimes departed from generally accepted standards in Europe about sparing civilians the effects of war as much as possible.

The war began as a “cabinet war” that the German leadership hoped to win quickly through a series of decisive battles of annihilation. In this way the state, led by the king and his cabinet, would maintain control over the war effort and not face any undue influence from civilians, whether its own or those of the enemy. After destroying the Second Empire’s army at Sedan, however, France refused to capitulate. Its people toppled the empire and vowed to fight on. The German leadership had a “people’s war” on its hands that it took five more months to win. While the French and Germans fought most of this war with conventional means between armed forces organized by the state, the war also saw substantial civilian involvement that had the potential to lead to an ever deepening spiral of violence.

The most extensive contact between soldiers and civilians occurred as a result of the German military policy of living off the land, which made German forces more mobile. To maintain discipline, officers were supposed to take small details of soldiers to requisition what animals, fodder, and food their units required. Requisitioning resembled theft in that those whose property the German officers took had no choice in the matter, but it differed insofar as the German officers issued receipts for what they took. These would be paid off by whichever side lost. German forces were also quartered on civilian households. These circumstances enabled soldiers to pursue their own private initiatives. If their “hosts” would not give them what they needed, the soldiers often took it.

More famous, however, were reports of armed French civilians called francs-tireurs. While their number was not great enough to present a strategic threat, the German forces did have to devote some 120,000 soldiers to their lines of communication. Armed incidents led the invading soldiers to shoot suspected partisans summarily, burn down houses and even villages where such incidents occurred, and use hostages, most famously on locomotives. While some reactions had an ad hoc quality to them, the common thread was the notion of “military necessity.” The German forces found the actions regrettable but necessary, in order to prevent the war from lasting longer than necessary. The idea was to counter French “terror” with measures so harsh that the French would see the error of their ways and refrain from any further resistance.

References for these incidents and the historiography of the Franco-Prussian War are available in this new essay as well as the following related one, in which I devote a lot of space to the events in Bazailles, which the Bavarians infamously burned down during the Battle of Sedan: “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–1871: A Cultural Interpretation,” in: War in History 8.3 (2001): 271–93. Reprinted in Peter H. Wilson, ed., Warfare in Europe 1825–1914. The International Library of Essays on Military History, ed. Jeremy Black. Ashgate Publishing, 2006. 135–58.

My source base for this research was published personal narratives, that is, letters, diaries, and memoirs. Most of them came from Bavarian soldiers and officers, though I drew on other German narratives by way of comparison. It is in some ways surprising how freely the fighting men wrote about these events, but what they were describing was either acceptable in their minds or told in relation to what lines they believed the French had crossed.

One phenomenon I found little mention of was the hostage-taking. This might be because the Bavarian veterans felt they had crossed a line, although it is also worth noting that their units were not as heavily involved in maintaining lines of communication in the rear, which is where the hostage-taking occurred. Recently I learned more about this subject from Heidi Mehrkens’ new book, which includes a section on the German military using hostages on locomotives. Mehrkens’ book is also helpful, because it uses archival sources that confirm the impressions I gained about relations between soldiers and civilians from the published primary sources.

Update (Aug. 19, 2010): If you want to learn more, see MA Thesis on Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), which links to the thesis.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

Historical scholarship can be as much the result of accident as planning. How on earth did I come to write a dissertation on Wilhelm Groener? I thought I liked doing social history, not biography. If I studied the army, I was more apt to find common soldiers interesting, not a general who assumed operational control of the whole army at the end of the First World War and who people addressed as “Your Excellency.” I was also not particularly interested in military-technical questions. Yes, I found the questions about humanity in warfare that I had explored in my M.A. thesis compelling. But German war planning for the First World War? And the German general staff’s experience of the war? These were not my things either, or so I thought. Besides, were not many meters of library shelf-space filled with books on these problems?

I first looked at Wilhelm Groener in a research seminar whose theme was the German bourgeoisie in Imperial Germany. Historians were devoting much renewed attention to this social class in the 1990s, because earlier interpretations had blamed the German middle class for not being middle-class enough and not doing what any bourgeoisie supposedly should have done, which was to put Prussia’s powerful nobility in its place and establish a proper constitutional monarchy. Germany’s unfortunate authoritarian modern history was attributed to an abstract process of maldevelopment, a German special path or Sonderweg, along which the bourgeoisie had failed to do what it allegedly had done in Britain and France, that is, rise up in a bourgeois revolution that made everything normal. New research on the middle class was beginning to undermine this view. Far from aping the nobility, the bourgeoisie had developed a self-confident, vibrant class culture. Our task in the seminar was to examine this research and consider its implications for understanding the broader outline—or grand narrative—of modern German history.

I eventually decided to concentrate on the officer corps, because it played a key role in the narrative of German exceptionalism. The nobility had dominated the officer corps and made it an illiberal force in society more generally. According to this narrative, birth, not military know-how, had played a decisive role in military careers. Hence, not only had the military been illiberal, but its leaders had allegedly not kept up with the times. Parallel to this version of the officer corps, however, existed another in which the German general staff had been the preeminent professional military organization in the world. Which, if any, of these interpretations was right? Here was an opportunity to examine the military in a mainstream historiographical context. The German bourgeoisie was receiving a lot of attention in the historiography, but the military—so central to the German Sonderweg thesis—remained largely untouched by this research.

So I did a comparative research paper on August Keim, Erich Ludendorff, and Wilhelm Groener, all commoners and all general staffers in Imperial Germany. I chose these men because there were enough published primary sources in Washington, DC to make a research paper viable. I showed that these men all had adhered to the mainstream bourgeois values that the new historiography identified, and I demonstrated that no contradiction between a military and a bourgeois ethos had existed. These commoners had not been “feudalized” by their aristocratic comrades-in-arms.

Considering these issues without reference to the First World War was unthinkable, so I also explored Keim’s, Ludendorff’s, and Groener’s images of war. After all, the feudal interpretation of the officer corps included a charge of aristocratic anachronism. Unfortunately, I was unable to link their social backgrounds and images of war, except to point out that their images of war comported with contemporary developments. Nonetheless, the work proved fruitful enough to suggest the possibility of a dissertation on one of these officers, Wilhelm Groener. I could use his biography as a vehicle for analyzing the sociology and culture of the Imperial German officer corps.

Related Posts: Wilhelm Groener (1867-1939), 8/25/2007, and Paradoxes, 7/20/2007.

For people new to this subject, the classic account of the German officer corps is Gordon A. Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640–1945, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964). For an accessible introduction to research on the German bourgeoisie, see David Blackbourn and Richard J. Evans, eds., The German Bourgeoisie: Essays on the Social History of the German Middle Class from the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 1991). If you become deeply engaged in the subject, you might want to consult my dissertation.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on Wilhelm Groener, the Schlieffen Plan, and German war planning, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

Meet Wilhelm Groener, an unassuming Swabian of modest social provenance who rose to the number two position in the Imperial German army by the end of the First World War. Here he is in about 1920, soon after his retirement from the army in the young Weimar Republic.

Groener, the subject of my dissertation, informed Kaiser Wilhelm II in November 1918 that the army would not follow him back to Prussia to fight a civil war to quash the revolution. Confronted with this reality, Wilhelm II abdicated and fled to the Netherlands.

By rights Groener’s boss, Chief of the General Staff Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, should have delivered the bad news, but he was a Prussian officer and nobleman, imbibed imbued in the traditions of military service to his supreme war lord, the Prussian king and German emperor. Hindenburg did not have the nerve.

Groener was present at the death of another German regime too. He served as minister of defense from 1928 to 1932. Near the end of this tenure he was also acting minister of the interior in the Brüning cabinet. In this capacity he pushed to outlaw Hitler’s brown-shirts, the S.A., which gave right-wing extremists in the army a chance to withdraw their support of the defense minister and prevail upon President Hindenburg to withdraw his confidence from Groener, who then resigned. Soon the rest of the cabinet did too, and Hitler came to power less than a year later.

Groener witnessed and participated in some of modern Germany’s key political events, but that is not what I wrote about in my dissertation. Instead, I focussed on the relationship between his social background and military career, which was interesting precisely because he rose to such prominence in an organization alleged to have been the exclusive playground of the Prussian nobility.

At least that is how my research started.

Source of image: Groener’s page at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on Wilhelm Groener, the Schlieffen Plan, and German war planning, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.