Militarism in a Global Age

Militarism in a Global Age: Naval Ambitions in Germany and the United States before World War I

Dirk Bönker
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Militarism in a Global Age
    Book Description:

    At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States and Germany emerged as the two most rapidly developing industrial nation-states of the Atlantic world. The elites and intelligentsias of both countries staked out claims to dominance in the twentieth century. In Militarism in a Global Age, Dirk Bönker explores the far-reaching ambitions of naval officers before World War I as they advanced navalism, a particular brand of modern militarism that stressed the paramount importance of sea power as a historical determinant. Aspiring to make their own countries into self-reliant world powers in an age of global empire and commerce, officers viewed the causes of the industrial nation, global influence, elite rule, and naval power as inseparable. Characterized by both transnational exchanges and national competition, the new maritime militarism was technocratic in its impulses; its makers cast themselves as members of a professional elite that served the nation with its expert knowledge of maritime and global affairs.

    American and German navalist projects differed less in their principal features than in their eventual trajectories. Over time, the pursuits of these projects channeled the two naval elites in different directions as they developed contrasting outlooks on their bids for world power and maritime force. Combining comparative history with transnational and global history, Militarism in a Global Age challenges traditional, exceptionalist assumptions about militarism and national identity in Germany and the United States in its exploration of empire and geopolitics, warfare and military-operational imaginations, state formation and national governance, and expertise and professionalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6388-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Maritime Militarism in Two Modern Nation-States
    (pp. 1-20)

    “Navalism, or naval militarism, is the twin brother of militarism on land and bears its repulsive and virulent traits. It is at present, to a still higher degree than the militarism on land, not only the consequence but also the cause of international dangers of a world war.” Thus wrote the German socialist Karl Liebknecht in his famous indictment of militarism, Militarismus und Antimilitarismus, first published in 1907.¹ In The Three Men behind the Gun, a pamphlet published seven years later, the Reverend Charles E. Jefferson, a prominent U.S. pacifist, castigated the “militaristic movement” that had spread across the Western...

  6. Part I. Military Force, National Industry, and Global Politics:: Naval Strategies of World Power

    • Chapter 1 World Power in a Global Age
      (pp. 23-46)

      At the beginning of the twentieth century, American and German naval elites used the language of “world power” to describe their own nations’ changing places in the world. “Either by reason of our material wealth, force of circumstances, or manifest destiny, we have become a world power,” declared Rear-Admiral George Melville to an American public in 1903.¹ On the other side of the Atlantic, Alfred von Tirpitz, the German secretary of the navy, told the emperor (Kaiser in German) in 1899 that Germany was one of only “four world powers” that would shape the globe’s destiny in the next century.²...

    • Chapter 2 Big-Power Confrontations over Empire
      (pp. 47-72)

      In the German naval elite’s collective imagination, the United States figured as an exemplary world power. Admiral Diederichs, the chief of the German Admiralty Staff, noted admiringly in 1900 that America had “quietly” built so powerful a navy that it was now “well-entitled” to “have a powerful say in matters of global politics.” Two years later Admiral Tirpitz explained that America “moves forward in enormous strides (namely: politically)”; it would manage to keep abreast of the overall “development towards a few gigantic empires.”¹

      U.S. naval officers painted a similar picture of Germany. “With keen foresight” and the support of an...

    • Chapter 3 Maritime Force, Threat, and War
      (pp. 73-98)

      In his history of the war at sea, published in 1906, Vice-Admiral (ret.) Curt von Maltzahn, the former director of the German Naval War College, the Marineakademie, wrote that an “armed peace” characterized the “state community of naval powers” in the current age. “As war aims at the imposition of peace on our terms, so the armed peace desires to provide for the means of war in such strength and war preparedness that the enemy, that is the state with which we have come into a conflict of interest, will remain in peace on our conditions.”¹ Maltzahn was only one...

  7. Part II. The Cult of the Battle:: Approaches to Maritime Warfare

    • Chapter 4 War of Battle Fleets
      (pp. 101-124)

      No other navy invited comparison to the German navy as much as the U.S. navy, noted Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz in a special presentation to the emperor in March 1902. Both navies had “reached the same conclusions about strategy and tactics,” regardless of diverging attitudes toward “organization, training, and administration.” For that reason a “careful observation” promised to yield most “instructive suggestions.” The emperor agreed. “That is the key point,” the springende Punkt, he scribbled in the margins of Tirpitz’s presentation right next to the observations about German-American commonality in tactical and strategic matters.¹

      Much commented on by German and...

    • Chapter 5 Planning for Victory
      (pp. 125-148)

      The decisive battle between the German and U.S. battleship fleets took place off the coast of New England. A German battle force of twenty-two battleships, five battlecruisers, forty-four torpedo boats, and about fifty submarines had rapidly crossed the North Atlantic after the declaration of war. In its wake a fleet of transports carrying an invasion force of more than 150,000 troops had followed. A U.S. Atlantic Fleet consisting of sixteen battleships, two battlecruisers, thirty-two torpedo boats, and twelve submarines had moved to intercept the advancing German fleet. In the ensuing showdown, the Americans suffered catastrophic defeat, due to inferior numbers,...

    • Chapter 6 Commerce, Law, and the Limitation of War
      (pp. 149-172)

      After World War I, the German political theorist Carl Schmitt was quick to argue that maritime warfare had helped to pioneer so-called total war, a new practice of war among the great powers.¹ The conduct of such “total war” had dissolved the boundaries between combatants and noncombatants, soldiers and civilians: it was built around the potentially unlimited use of force across the civil-military divide. During the First World War, the Allied and German naval blockades had been the manifestations of this new type of war. “A hunger blockade,” noted Schmitt, “targets indiscriminately the entire population of the blockaded area, and,...

  8. Part III. The Quest for Power:: The Navy, Governance, and the Nation

    • Chapter 7 Naval Elites and the State
      (pp. 175-199)

      In 1904, the Republican assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, Charles H. Darling, appeared before the House Naval Affairs Committee to denounce a plan for a change in the organization of the Navy Department. This plan, Darling argued, “savors too much of militarism to be consistent with the spirit of our institutions, even in the administration of the Navy Department.” The officers who promoted this measure would “ape the monarchies of the Old World.”¹ Other high-ranking civilian policy makers in Progressive Era administrations agreed. John D. Long, the navy secretary from 1897 to 1902, decried the “tendency” among naval officers...

    • Chapter 8 Manufacturing Consent
      (pp. 200-223)

      In an important article on German-American naval competition before World War I, published in 1939, Alfred Vagts, a German émigré historian in the United States, insisted on the commonality of the two navies’ approaches to politics and propaganda. Both had recognized, claimed Vagts, “that they had to make and keep their peoples ‘navy minded’; hence the interest in the ‘navy leagues’, pressure groups useful against the sometimes hesitant parliamentarians or governments; hence the wide and constant use of the mass of newspapers.” To persuade the “great masses,” both navies had even felt the need to invent “virile and reckless” enemies...

    • Chapter 9 A Politics of Social Imperialism
      (pp. 224-248)

      In an oft-cited letter from December 1895, Alfred von Tirpitz wrote that Germany needed to create a powerful navy and promote its maritime interests “not the least so because in the new great national goal and the associated economic gain lies a strong palliative against educated and uneducated Social Democrats.”¹ In so doing, the future navy secretary offered a social-imperialist rationale for the pursuit of German global power and maritime force; he also directly borrowed language from an article published the previous year by Alfred Thayer Mahan. In “The Prospects of an Anglo-American Reunion,” which appeared in the North American...

  9. Part IV. A Militarism of Experts:: Naval Professionalism and the Making of Navalism

    • Chapter 10 Of Sciences, Sea Power, and Strategy
      (pp. 251-274)

      In his Science of the Army, published in 1872, the German historian and administrative scholar Lorenz von Stein proclaimed the transformation of the officer corps into a corporate body of experts. The corps had become “the holder and representative of the real military professional education and in the latter lies its true and higher justification.” Officers devoted their entire lives to military service and the science of war “in such a way, that both elements are as closely linked with each other as possible.” On a political-institutional level, the officer corps required a high degree of separation from outside interference...

    • Chapter 11 Between Leadership and Intraservice Conflict
      (pp. 275-300)

      In his memoirs, written in 1918, Alfred von Tirpitz stressed the harmonious relationship among the navy, nation, and parliament that had existed during his tenure as secretary of the navy before World War I. “Almost all differences between Reichstag and government” had vanished early on as the cause of the fleet had become a “natural property of the nation.” Tirpitz contrasted this approval with the opposition he had eventually encountered from the Empire’s top civilian governmental leadership. He also complained about the constant meddling in his affairs by the kaiser and his entourage. Yet according to his account, conflict among...

  10. Conclusion: Navalism and Its Trajectories
    (pp. 301-310)

    In his polemic The Navy: Defense or Portent? (1932), the eminent radical historian Charles Beard offered a scathing critique of the so-called naval expert. Beard traced the rise of this “new creature of modern civilization” back to the making of navalism in the United States and Imperial Germany before World War I. He related the formation of the “big-navy policy” directly to the activities of naval officers such as Tirpitz and Mahan, rejecting the idea that “capitalists and merchants” had been the prime movers. Beard painted a devastating picture of the “dark corner of navy specialism.” On the one hand,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 311-376)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 377-412)
  13. Index
    (pp. 413-422)