Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany by Isabel V. HullAbsolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany by Isabel V. Hull

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

byIsabel V. Hull

Paperback | January 12, 2006

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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.

Isabel V. Hull is John Stambaugh Professor of History at Cornell University. She is the author of Absolute Destruction and Sexuality, State and Civil Society in Germany, 1700–1815, both from Cornell.
Title:Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial GermanyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 9.37 × 6.63 × 0.37 inPublished:January 12, 2006Publisher:CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESSLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0801472938

ISBN - 13:9780801472930

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Table of Contents


Part I: Suppression Becomes Annihilation: Southwest Africa, 1904–1907
1. Waterberg
2. Pursuit and Annihilation
3. Death by Imprisonment

Part II: Military Culture
4. National Politics and Military Culture
5. Lessons of 1870–71: Institutions and Law
6. Standard Practices
7. Doctrines of Fear and Force
8. Stopping the Process

Part III: The First World War
9. Waging War, 1914–1916: Risk, Extremes, and Limits
10. Civilians as Objects of Military Necessity
11. The Armenian Genocide
12. Repetition and Self-Destructions

Conclusions and Implications


Editorial Reviews

"This brilliant and conceptually innovative book examines the organizational culture and military practices of the Prusso-German army between victory in 1870 and defeat in 1918. Isabel V. Hull subtly analyzes the cumulative internal pressures on the army to resort to the use of extreme violence in facing its military challenges. She finds that the weakness of external constraints (such as government and public opinion) which might have curtailed such violence distinguished the German army from its European counterparts. Building on its triumph in the Franco-Prussian War, the army insisted on total victory based on the annihilation of the enemy, thus subordinating both strategy and diplomacy to the military conduct of war. A comparative discussion of how British military brutality in the South African War was curbed by public opinion, and ultimately the government, demonstrates the argument in the colonial sphere. Hull's discussion of the Great War focuses on the harshness of occupation practices in Belgium and France as well as in eastern Europe and on the complicity of some German officers in the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. She also highlights the refusal by the military leadership to distinguish between the fate of the nation and that of the army. It was this extremism that proved the real legacy of the Imperial Army to Nazi Germany. Combining wide reading in the historical literature with intensive use of archives, Hull has provided the most compelling analysis so far of the distinguishing features of the Imperial German army over the span of its existence. Historians of Imperial Germany, colonialism, the First World War, and the role of the military everywhere are in her debt for a fine and thought-provoking book."—John Horne, Professor of Modern European History, Trinity College Dublin