Georg Brandes: Giants of bloodshed; military staffs foster war
From German Patriotism (1913)
Translated by Catherine D. Groth
Which great men do the Germans glorify? Goethe, Schiller, Richard Wagner, Carl Marx? — No. — Frederick the Great, Blücher, Moltke, Bismarck…hard, cold men of blood and iron — they who sacrificed thousands of lives. They are the objects of a gratitude verging on adoration. While they should logically be looked down upon, according to social and moral law, the people revere and praise them, and feel lifted, carried away by such giants of bloodshed.
Isaac Disraeli wrote, a hundred years ago, that when governments want war the most abusive slander is published to stir up the passion of the nation, to rouse it to vote war credits.
The real menace to peace does not lie in spoken or written words, however. It would seem to lie elsewhere — in the great Powers’ military forces, for instance. Each nation has a large staff of highly educated officers whose business it is to remain silent and obey, but who nevertheless exert influence and pressure on public opinion. An officer is a man whose business is war. An officer who hasn’t smelled powder is a man who hasn’t shown his mettle, and who, as the years pass, may be compared to the sailor who has never been to sea — an absurdity. The officer’s patriotism quite naturally has a warlike tinge; he is, besides, anxious to show what stuff he is made of; he longs for advancement, wants to win other laurels than those to be gained at manoeuvres.
The military staffs of European countries are perhaps a greater hindrance to maintaining peace than the assembled mass of war authors and journalists.