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The Inverted Mirror

The Inverted Mirror: Mythologizing the Enemy in France and Germany, 1898-1914

Michael E. Nolan
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 154
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  • Book Info
    The Inverted Mirror
    Book Description:

    It is hard to imagine nowadays that, for many years, France and Germany considered each other as "arch enemies." And yet, for well over a century, these two countries waged verbal and ultimately violent wars against each other. This study explores a particularly virulent phase during which each of these two nations projected certain assumptions about national character onto the other - distorted images, motivated by antipathy, fear, and envy, which contributed to the growing hostility between the two countries in the years before the First World War. Most remarkably, as the author discovered, the qualities each country ascribed to its chief adversary appeared to be exaggerated or negative versions of precisely those qualities that it perceived to be lacking or inadequate in itself. Moreover, banishingundesirabletraits and projecting them onto another people was also an essential step in the consolidation of national identity. As such, it established a pattern that has become all too familiar to students of nationalism and xenophobia in recent decades. This study shows that antagonism between states is not a fact of nature but socially constructed.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-660-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Throughout history the enemy has been a ubiquitous figure, though his manifestations have changed from time to time. It is usually easy to identify him, even in peacetime. He lies beyond civilization, perhaps outside of humankind itself. He usually lacks the qualities we embrace. His most ordinary acts are fraught with sinister intentions. Thus, he is a focus of fear and loathing, and we project onto him our unacceptable feelings and anxieties. The evil of which he is capable is always far worse than any we might commit. As adults we remember him as the nameless terror of childhood, the...

  6. Chapter One Franco-German Relations, 1898–1914: A Sketch
    (pp. 9-22)

    The diplomatic history of France and Germany between 1871 and 1914 was not one of unrelieved hostility. Relations between France and Germany were relatively quiescent in the 1890s. The Boulanger Affair of the late 1880s, in which a revanchist general seemed to be rallying the French for war against Germany, had seen a renewed increase of tension between the two countries. However, for almost a decade thereafter, relations between the French and German governments became more cordial, if not quite friendly. The chill and hostility of the 1870s and 1880s began to fade, and the prospect of a new war...

  7. Chapter Two Hereditary Enemies? The Once and Future War
    (pp. 23-46)

    The last decades of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth were a period of unusual quiescence in relations between the major European powers. The last major war involving a European great power was that between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1877–1878. However, it was not an age of peace. The most extreme acts of violence were committed against non-Europeans, particularly as the race for colonies heated up after 1880. Colonial conflict also served as competition by proxy, with the unpleasant consequences borne by people who everyone agreed were inferior and who were situated conveniently overseas,...

  8. Chapter Three Production and Reproduction: Economy, Fertility, and Consumption
    (pp. 47-68)

    The years following the turn of the century were ones of extraordinarily rapid economic and social change in France and Germany. Many in both countries viewed this as an exhilarating time of new opportunities with the possibility of improvement for the broad mass of the people. However, the negative aspects of this new world were difficult to overlook. In particular, certain problems associated with industrial growth and urban expansion, such as tuberculosis, venereal disease, alcoholism, overcrowded housing, and an increase in the number of children born to unwed mothers, contributed to a growing fear among the educated classes that society...

  9. Chapter Four The Elusive Alsatian
    (pp. 69-86)

    The province of Alsace and much of Lorraine, annexed by Germany in the aftermath of the war of 1870–1871, formed the single most divisive issue between the two countries in the decades before World War I. They were one of the root causes, as well as an ever-present reminder, of the Franco-German enmity after 1871. As Georges Ducrocq, a French travel writer of Alsatian origin, described the problem in 1910, the loss of the provinces had left “a poorly healed wound” in the collective French psyche.¹ The French at that time considered this annexation to be an unbearable blow...

  10. Chapter Five Shades of Opinion: The Political Spectrum
    (pp. 87-107)

    Modern politics is the realm of symbolismpar excellence, and France and Germany in the years before World War I were no exceptions to this rule. In the realm of mass electoral politics, parties found themselves forced to resort to symbolic manipulation in order to get their message across to the electorate. Foreign policy was not usually a high priority for parliamentary politicians, except in times of crisis that were not conducive to reflection and carefully considered decision-making. Unfortunately, much of the period under examination was dominated by a succession of just such crises in international politics, many of them...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 108-116)

    The outbreak of war in 1914 opened a new era in Franco-German relations. The enormous suffering brought about by the war seemed to guarantee that the enmity between France and Germany would indeed become hereditary. The mobilization of virtually the entire population for total war in both countries was accompanied by frenzied propaganda that portrayed the adversary in the worst possible light. Nevertheless, the common catastrophe sowed the seeds of future reconciliation even as it seemed that the soil was forever poisoned.

    As historians have noted, at the beginning of the war the Germans, faced with an array of adversaries,...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 117-136)
  13. Index
    (pp. 137-142)