What Shall We Do with Germany? Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Bernadotte Everly Schmitt was a Pulitzer Prize–winning professor at the University of Chicago when he gave this speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Schmitt had been an advocate of assigning Germany responsibility for World War I and had written a strong denouncement of Germany's militaristic culture. In the years after World War I, historians debated whether Germany was solely responsible for the war or whether other nations had been equally culpable. Revisionist historians blamed international empire-building and militarism, as well as a deeply flawed tangle of alliances, for starting the war. Schmitt was best known for his firm belief in Germany's guilt, and when World War II broke out, he considered this proof of a deep-seated cultural propensity among the Germans to militarism, barbarity, and totalitarianism. In this speech, Schmitt urges an overwhelming military defeat of Germany along with drastic restrictions on its ability to make war in the future. Only by making Germany pay dearly for starting two world wars would its culture of militarism be changed, he believed.

Summary Overview

Bernadotte Everly Schmitt was a Pulitzer Prize–winning professor at the University of Chicago when he gave this speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Schmitt had been an advocate of assigning Germany responsibility for World War I and had written a strong denouncement of Germany's militaristic culture. In the years after World War I, historians debated whether Germany was solely responsible for the war or whether other nations had been equally culpable. Revisionist historians blamed international empire-building and militarism, as well as a deeply flawed tangle of alliances, for starting the war. Schmitt was best known for his firm belief in Germany's guilt, and when World War II broke out, he considered this proof of a deep-seated cultural propensity among the Germans to militarism, barbarity, and totalitarianism. In this speech, Schmitt urges an overwhelming military defeat of Germany along with drastic restrictions on its ability to make war in the future. Only by making Germany pay dearly for starting two world wars would its culture of militarism be changed, he believed.

Defining Moment

World War I ended in November 1918, with an estimated 37 million casualties. The winning Allied Powers, primarily England, France, Italy, and the United States, agreed that Germany was the primary cause of the war. The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, contained Article 231, which left no doubt: “The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments… have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.” As part of the treaty, Germany lost all of its overseas possessions and 13 percent of its prewar European territory. Germany's military force was drastically reduced, reparation payments were introduced, and Germany's industrial heartland was occupied by Allied troops.

Scholars quickly began debating the reasons for World War I, however, and in the 1920s and 1930s, a significant number of leading historians found causes other than German aggression for the international conflict. German foreign policy advanced a more complex picture of the events that led to war. Some historians blamed imperialism and capitalism. Others argued that incompetent politicians and diplomats failed to prevent it. Most historians moved away from the idea that Germany was solely to blame for the war and instead blamed powerful international forces like complex alliances, nationalism, imperialism, and militarism, for pushing Europe into war. American historians such as Harry Elmer Barnes and Sidney Fay led this school of thought.

Barnes and Fay, both of Smith College, published books in 1926 and 1928, respectively, that argued that guilt for the war was shared among nations. In 1930, Schmitt responded with The Coming of War, 1914, which argues his belief that Germany was uniquely culturally disposed to a totalitarian and militaristic mindset and bore primary responsibility for the war. Schmitt won the 1930 George Louis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association and the 1931 Pulitzer Prize in History. As Adolf Hitler rose rapidly to power in Nazi Germany, Schmitt's theories of German aggression became more popular, and Schmitt called for the United States to intervene in the war in Europe, even vocally opposing the president of the University of Chicago, where he taught.

Most historians since the war have accepted that there was a uniquely militaristic culture in pre-1914 Germany that destabilized international relations and led to war, but a more nuanced view is taken of the responsibilities of other nations. Many European governments were willing to go to war and so share some of the blame. The outbreak of World War II, however, can be attributed directly to the failure of the Treaty of Versailles to limit Germany's capacity to wage war or to change the culture in Germany that supported it. Schmitt and others saw both wars as stages in an ongoing German militarism that was deeply rooted in German culture and history.

Author Biography

Bernadotte Everly Schmitt was born May 19, 1886, in Strasburg, Virginia. His father taught at the University of Tennessee, where Schmitt enrolled and graduated early at age eighteen. He attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, studying Anglo-German relations at Merton College. In 1906, he traveled briefly in Germany, and his observations of the militaristic culture there influenced much of his future work. After graduating from Oxford, Schmitt completed a doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, graduating in 1910. He then taught at Western Reserve University in Ohio. He left academia briefly in 1918 to serve in the armed forces. Schmitt taught European history at the University of Chicago from 1924 to 1946. During that time he also cofounded the Journal of Modern History, for which he served as editor from 1929 to 1946.

In 1916, Schmitt published his first major work, in which he concluded that Germany was responsible for war in 1914. This was later followed by 1930's The Coming of the War, 1914, which won him the Pulitzer Prize and the George Louis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association. Schmitt was also a Guggenheim fellow in 1927. During World War II, Schmitt worked in the Office of Strategic Services, where his expertise in European diplomacy was needed, and he was an adviser to the UN secretary-general at the 1945 San Francisco Conference, at which the United Nations Charter was signed. He retired after the war, but was voted president of the American Historical Association in 1960. Schmitt died on March 22, 1969.

Historical Document

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The subject of my first address in this room 17 years ago was the question of responsibility for the war of 1914. If any of you here today were present on that occasion, you will remember that I maintained, against the popular view of the moment, that Germany was primarily responsible for the war of 1914. I have never changed that opinion. Today I have to speak on what we shall do with Germany after she has a second time in 25 years precipitated a world war into which the United States has been dragged much against its will.

In ordinary times Americans have a friendly feeling towards Germany. A large number of American citizens are of German ancestry and have proved very substantial and loyal citizens. After the last war we received cordially large numbers of Germans who came to this country to escape the consequences of the last war. Americans traveling in Europe found Germany a very comfortable place to visit. Next to England it was probably the most popular country for Americans to visit. Traveling conveniences were excellent and more individuals probably spoke English than spoke English in any other continental country. My own feeling during the Twenties was that Germans were more popular with Americans than any other European people.

The advent of Hitler in 1933 did not sensibly change that attitude because most Americans thought Hitler an extraordinary phenomenon—as indeed he was—who did not represent Germany. And some Americans looked upon Hitler as a bulwark against Bolshevism. Down to 1939 Germany still occupied a popular place in the minds of most Americans and even today there is a considerable support for the belief that if only we could get rid of Hitler and his gang, it would be possible to make a reasonable and decent peace with Germany.

Now it is that view which I propose to debate today, a view with which I am not in sympathy. My proposition is that Germans are not like British and French and Americans but are a peculiar people who have to be dealt with not by conventional processes but by extraordinary methods.

I made my first visit to Germany in 1906 and I admit that I liked the efficiency of the country, where the trains ran on time and individuals were extremely helpful to a young man whose German left much to be desired. I enjoyed my summer in Germany. But I came away with grave doubts in my mind. I was greatly impressed by the obsequiousness of Germans to the State, by their passion for regimentation, by their worship of the Army, by their very bad manners to each other, and, when possible, to foreigners, and by their cockiness and vaulting ambitions.

And so in the next few years as I had opportunity I studied German history. I spent the better part of one summer reading large numbers of political books and pamphlets written by Germans on various aspects of international politics. Long before July 1, 1914 I had come to the conclusion that the greatest menace to the peace of the world was Germany. Therefore, before diplomatic documents were published in the second half of 1914 there was no doubt in my mind that Germany was responsible for the war which broke out then.

I make this personal statement because I wish to assure you that the views which I shall express about Germany are not produced by this war. They are not, I think, the product of emotion. They were bred in me a generation ago, before the first World War. The events of that war and the events which followed it have only confirmed me in my opinion, so that what I say to you is very sincerely held.

The Germans are in my opinion a different type of people from ourselves or the British or the French. I spoke a moment ago of their fondness for regimentation and their obsequiousness to the State. I would carry that further and say that there is no tradition of self-government in Germany. In 1918 when the old regime was overthrown, largely at the behest of President Wilson and Germans were faced with governing themselves instead of being governed from on high, large numbers of them were aghast. They never took kindly to the job of governing themselves. It was a responsibility which they did not relish and I have never forgotten the story told me by a friend who went to Berlin in 1933 shortly after the advent of Hitler. He went to the hotel which he had patronized tor many years and had speech with the porter. He found the porter in a very amiable frame of mind and the hotel porter explained that at last they were free—which was rather hard for my American friend to understand. The porter explained in all solemnity that they were now free of the wretched business of governing themselves because Hitler would do it for them. One swallow does not make a summer, but I myself have encountered other instances of that same state of mind; therefore I wish to emphasize that there is no tradition of self-government in Germany.

In the second place the militaristic tradition is extremely strong. When I was in college I belonged to a cadet battalion and I liked to march around as much as any young man did, but when I got to Germany and saw the idolatry with which the Germans regarded their Army—and the Army was omnipresent—I began to realize that there was another side to the picture, and I am sure that before the last war the Army was the most popular institution in Germany, and that one reason for Hitler's popularity was that he restored the Army and made it possible for all Germans to serve in it. It is surely significant that the most important hero in German history was the arch militarist Frederick the Great. It should also be remembered that in 1914, according to the evidence of innumerable people who were in Germany, the outbreak of war was greeted with the utmost enthusiasm. That was not true so far as I am aware in any other capital in 1914. A second point then is that the Germans have long been a militaristic people and are still militaristic.

The third point: We have heard a good deal about the German doctrine of a Herrenvolk, master or ruling race. There is nothing new about that. For more than 100 years the Germans have been told by their most distinguished writers and preachers and citizens that they are a superior people, that theirs is the mission to rule Europe and ultimately the world. I know that they have been taught that because I have read a lot of tracts and treatises putting forth that point of view. You will find excellent summaries of that kind of teaching and preaching in a book published in England a year or so ago “What Germany Thinks,” edited by W. W. Coole, a book which has not had much circulation in this country, although it has also an American publisher. And 25 years ago two American professors, Wallace Notestein and Elmer Stoll edited for the Committee on Public Information of the last war a volume entitled “Conquest and Kultur.” That is not easy to find, although most libraries will be able to dig up an old copy for you. But in either of those books you will find ample confirmation of what I am saying, that for more than 100 years the Germans have been taught by their intellectual and spiritual leaders that they are a superior people whose mission it is to rule the world.

And lastly, we have been made only too painfully aware in the last few years of the sadistic trait in the German character. The actions of the Gestapo and of the German Army in the regions they have conquered and subdued is probably without parallel in the history of the last thousand years. Now that, too, is a trait which was manifest to some extent during the other war, although Hitler has allowed it to go very much further than the Kaiser did. That, too, can be traced far back into German history. One of the most shameful incidents of Germany is the admonition of Martin Luther to the German nobles in 1524 and 1525 to kill ruthlessly their peasants who were revolting to get better conditions. This sadistic trait then is not something produced under Hitler's inspiration, but is of very long development in Germany.

We have, then, a people with four traits which are extremely repulsive to us and to Englishmen and to Frenchmen, and I like to think to all civilized people. For 14 years, 1919 to 1933, Germany experienced the Weimar Republic and there are those who think that the Weimar Republic came to grief because the Allies of the last war treated Germany too harshly, who blame Hitler and the present war on the Treaty of Versailles. That is, I think, a very superficial view. The so-called revolution of November 9, 1918, which at the request of President Wilson, sent the Kaiser packing and set up a republic, was a revolution on the surface. The old officials and the old Army and the old forces continued to rule Germany. The Kaiser left; that was all. If ever the old French proverb, “The more a thing changes, the more it remains the same” was true, it was true of the Weimar Republic. Superficially Germany had had a revolution, and as I walked the streets of Berlin in 1921 and years afterwards, as I often did, I realized that there were fewer soldiers about and the police weren't quite so brutal, and that on the surface things had changed. But at the bottom the old forces were in control as events were to show.

The Weimar Republic was never popular with the majority of Germans. At the beginning the Socialists and the Democrats and the Catholics, the Center Party, united to support the Republic, but within a short time after it had got going, the Catholics abandoned it and threw in their lot with the Nationalists who hated the Republic, and the Democratic Party quickly disintegrated,* so that only the Socialists were left as genuine supporters of the Republic. And the Socialists split into Socialists and Communists, and the Communists hated the Republic quite as much as the. Nationalists. I am convinced that after a short time the Republic was disliked by the majority of Germans.

The third point in that connection is that I personally do not think the Treaty of Versailles was a bad treaty. I think it was one of the best peace treaties ever concluded in Europe. If you think it bad, all right; but if you do, remember that between 1920 and 1932, before Hitler took office, most of the objectionable features of the Treaty of Versailles had been done away with by the Allies themselves, and whenever the Allies made concessions to Germany, the Germans asked for more. The notion that the Republic would have fared better if the Allies had treated it more generously seems belied by the march of events.

In 1930, as a gesture of reconciliation, the Allies evacuated the Rhineland five years in advance of the date prescribed by the Treaty of Versailles. What was the result? The German people who had hitherto been afraid to express themselves very clearly about the Nazis, because they remembered that the Allied troops were on the Rhine, proceeded to elect 107 Nazis to the Reichstag, as opposed to the 12 they had elected in 1928. And furthermore, although the German government had agreed to the so-called Young Plan in 1930 as the final settlement of reparations, no sooner were the Allied troops withdrawn from the Rhine than the German government announced in substance that it was not going to pay any more reparations, and it did not.

I could illustrate that same tendency from many other facts. The more we conceded to the Germans, the more they demanded. And furthermore, as regards the Weimar Republic, I was conscious in my travels in Germany of a considerable, deep-seated desire for revenge, and the Germans blamed us more than anybody else for their final defeat.

When I was writing my book about the origins of the last war, I had the opportunity to spend a day with Kaiser Wilhelm II at House Doom, and when we got throughdiscussing the origins of the war of 1914 we turned to the war itself. At one point he shook his fist in my face and said, “You (meaning the United States) are responsible for my being here.” I am sure a large number of Germans also felt that. The former ambassador of the United States, my friend and former colleague, William E. Dodd, used to say the same thing, that during the four years he spent in Germany he was conscious that the Germans were itching for revenge. They didn't often talk about it in thepresence of Americans, but the feeling was there.

Then we pass on to Hitler. Many people point out that in the one election held under the Hitler regime only 40% of the German people voted for the Nazis. That is true.

But at that time, in March, 1933, Hitler had not done anything. He had merely made promises; in the course of the next few years Hitler put millions of Germans to work making armaments; he restored the Array and let the Germans wear uniforms, all of which pleased them very much. He tore up the Treaty of Versailles in many particulars: occupation of the Rhineland, occupation of Austria, occupation of Czechosolvakia. It was those achievements which made Hitler the most popular leader that Germany has ever had. I admit that I have not been in Germany since1935, but all the evidence that I have seen for the period from 1935, the testimony of newspaper men and the evidence of others indicates that as the years went on and Hitler by his policy of bluff succeeded in doing more than William II had ever succeeded in doing by going to war,Hitler sold himself to the great mass of the German people.

Undoubtedly there remained a certain opposition, a number of intellectuals, those who could not escape from Germany, a certain number of older people, and some of the Socialists, those who had not gone over to the Nazis. I know of no way of proving that, because there are no Gallup polls in Germany and they probably wouldn't mean anything if there were. I have no way of proving statistically that the majority of the German people had accepted Hitler. I can only say that the people who were there from 1935 to 1939 were pretty well agreed on that point. Therein fore, if that is the case, what reason have we to suppose that we could, if Hitler and his gang were got rid of, make a peace that would be at all in accord with our ideas?

Undoubtedly at the present time there is a lot of opposition to Hitler. There is no doubt of it whatsoever, even if you discount many of the stories as put out by Nazi propaganda. There is no reason why there shouldn't be alot of opposition to Hitler. Hitler promised the Germans a short, snappy, profitable war. May I point out in passing that the German wars have been profitable? That is one reason why the German people are so militaristic. In 1870 Germany collected from France a billion dollars; the cost of the war to Germany was three quarters of a billion. After the last war Germany borrowed (from the United States, chiefly, but to some extent from England and France) large sums of money for rehabilitation. She borrowed more than twice the amount that she paid in reparations, and then she defaulted on what she had borrowed. So that from a financial point of view war has been rather profitable to Germany.

Now Germany has had four years of war and in the last few months she has been getting death and destruction in her cities as she has never had it before in her history. It would be very surprising if a large number of Germans are not turning against Hitler at the present time, and I have no doubt that more and more Germans will turn against Hitler as we blast more and more of their cities to smithereens, but I am afraid it is the kind of deathbed repentance that Germany put on in 1918.

Down to the middle of July, 1918, when the German Armies were winning in France, after they had imposed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in Russia, there was no break in German morale. Maybe a handful here and there, but by and large the nation stood firmly behind the Kaiser and Ludendorff, because they thought the Germans were defeating the British and French before the Americans got into action. It was after the middle of July, 1918 when the added pressure of the American armies enabled Foch to assume the offensive that the German morale began to crack and people began to say unkind things about the Kaiser. And so it is with Hitler.

In 1940, when the German Army without any excuse invaded Denmark and Norway and Belgium, did the Germans protest? In 1941 when Germany invaded Russia without any just cause, did they protest? No. Because they thought Germany would win the war. I think that in dealing with the Germans we have to talk an entirely different language from what we would use with reasonable people.

Now what shall we do with them? First I shall mention a few things which in my opinion we ought not to do. So far we in this room and the American people in general have suffered very little from the war. We had a good lunch today. We are warm and we are comfortable. But President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill and General Marshall all tell us that the real war is only just beginning. I see no reason why we should not believe them. In other words, the United States faces an indefinite period of time in which we are going to become (it is only a personal guess) hungry and cold and probably dirty as the supplies of soap disappear, and we are going to face unbelievable casualties. A year from now I don't know what we may be thinking and feeling. But as the horrors of the war tighten about us, many of us are going to weaken. It would be perfectly inhuman if some of us did not weaken, and if the German generals say, “We have got rid of Hitler. We are now ready to make a reasonable peace,” or if the financial interests of Germany say, “We have had enough,” some people in this country are going to be willing to listen and say, “Why continue fighting if we can make a negotiated peace?”

The answer to that in my mind is a very simple one. Hitler, the German generals, German business, all want the same thing. There is no real difference in the program adumbrated by Hitler in Mein Kampf and the statements of the Pan-Germans written in the 1890's. All that Hitler has done is to take the old program of the Pan-Germans for dominating Europe and put certain modern twists to it and carry it out much more effectively than William II and his myrmidons were able to do, and the greatest possible error we could indulge in would be to think that by getting rid of Hitler we would have got rid of Pan-Germanism.

The German generals and Hitler work hand in hand. The only difference between them is that each wants to run the Army. It would be equally dangerous to make a peace with German big business because it was they who in the twenties and down to 1933 financed Hitler and made it possible for him to achieve power.

That, then, is the last thing we should do. Otherwise, we simply make it possible for the Germans to get their breath and in another 25 years to start a third war.

Secondly, when we have beaten Germany, I think we should not divide it up into its component parts. Manypeople say—and correctly, I think—that the root of the German evil is Prussianism. If you split Germany into Prussia, Bavaria, the Rhineland, etc., you will deprive Prussianism of focal centers, they say. The difficulty with that argument is that in the course of the last 70 years since Prussia obtained control of Germany, Bavaria and the Rhineland have been to a very large extent impregnated with Prussianism. The hotbed of the Nazi movement is Bavaria and Hitler keeps his headquarters at Munich and holds his Party Congresses at Nuremburg because Bavaria is even more Nazi apparently than Prussia. You don't gain anything so far as eradication of Prussianism is concerned, in my opinion, by splitting Germany into several states. Some say, “Join Bavaria and Austria because they are both Catholic.” Apart from this the Bavarians and the Austrians have never had much in common and I see no reason to think they would have any more in common in the future. Furthermore, the desire of Germans to live together in a single state, it seems to me, is a legitimate one. The program which I propose will deprive Germany of what we regard as her illegitimate pleasures. Why not let her remain united, which, after all, represents self-determination and national unity as we ourselves understand it? I think we would only encourage Germany to go to war to reunite if we broke her up into component parts.

Thirdly, I am opposed to our trying to impose any particular regime on Germany. In 1918 President Wilson said to the Germans, “If you get rid of the Hohenzollerns, we can negotiate with you more easily,” and the Germans obeyed. They always like to obey someone who will tell them what to do. They sent William to Holland and established a Republic. One of the reasons for the unpopularity of the Republic was that it was imposed from without. I think it would be much better to defeat the Germans and then let them decide for themselves what kind of regime they want. Our job will be to see that that regime minds its own business and does not start another war.

In 1870 when France was beaten by the Germans and the Second Empire collapsed, Bismarck was very careful not to dictate to the French what form of government they should have. He let them choose their own on the sound theory that Frenchmen would be much better satisfied with the government of their own selection than with any government suggested or imposed by the Germans.

So I hope that at the end of this war we will not say that the Germans must establish a republic or restore the monarchy or set up any particular kind of regime. If, as I have said, they have no bent for self-government, and if, as the Kaiser said to me, the Germans are an eastern people, not a western people (by which he meant that they needed a dictatorship) then we had better let the Germans have a dictatorship. Our job is to see that the dictators don't disturb us. And for the same reason I am opposed to our trying to re-educate the German people. God knows, they need to be re-educated, but I am disturbed when I read about a conference at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, a conference of professional educators who apparently are drawing up an elaborate scheme for the inculcation of democratic ideas in the Germans. Let's put the thing in reverse. Suppose the Nazis beat us, conquered the United States, and established their gauleiters here and then tried to set up a system of education. Would we respond kindly to their educational ideas? I am sure we would not. The Germans will have the same feeling about any kind of educational program which we may recommend to them. My opinion on that matter is that we should set our own house in order, establish in our respective countries, all the United Nations, an economic and social organization and an educational system which will be justified on their own merits and which the Germans on study will find good and adopt for themselves. But let us not make the mistake of sending teachers into Germany to try to propagate democratic ideas among the people to whom more than ever at the end of this war democratic ideas will be anathema. Hitler has told the Germans that the democracies are no good. The democracies, we believe, will have beaten the Germans. The Germans won't think any more kindly of the democracies for having beaten them, but will be all the more inflamed against them.

So much, then, for what in my opinion we should not do; but much more important is what we ought to do.

The first item is to impose overwhelming military defeat. In October, 1918, when the negotiations for the armistice were under way, President Wilson left to Marshal Foch the decision whether an armistice should be granted or whether the Allied armies should go on fighting Germany. General Pershing, the American commander, said the war should go on. The Germans had not been beaten severely enough. But no other general agreed with him. Petain, the French commander, Haig, the British commander, the Belgian and the Italians were all for an armistice if Germany would sign one sufficiently severe. Foch said, “I am not justified in shedding another human life if the Germans will sign the terms of the armistice which we propose,” and so against the advice of General Pershing but with the approval of the British, French and other allied generals, an armistice was granted to Germany.

The result of that was that Germany was not invaded. She did not feel the effect of the kind of war which went on in northern France from 1914 to 1918. The German people never experienced war at home as the other peoples had, and the German Army was allowed actually to march home with its side arms, and in many cases was treated as a conquering host rather than a defeated one.

We now know that this must not happen again, that this time we must make the Germans know that they have been beaten so that another Ludendorff or another Hitler cannot emerge 20 years from now and allege that the Army had not been beaten but had been stabbed in the back by this or that disloyal element. German soil had not been invaded by a foreign Army for more than 100 years in 1918, except or a brief incursion of the Russians in East Prussia which asted a couple of weeks. In this war the Allied ground forces have not yet got into Germany. I assume that they will ultimately get into Germany, and long before they do probably most of Germany's cities will be pulverized from the air, but I think it most important that the Allied Armies should march into Germany so that the Germans will be under no doubt whatsoever this time that they have been beaten, and that the lesson will be taken to heart.

In the next place, we must disarm Germany completely. We did not do that in 1919. Under the Treaty of Versailles we allowed Germany 100,000 troops. We allowed her a Navy. We forbade her to make airplanes and gases and tanks, but we didn't provide any machinery for making sure that she didn't make those things, and we left her with the factories with which to make them. I think there is now general agreement that Germany must be deprived of the means of making weapons of war. Of course many of our modern weapons are assembled machines—the tank, the airplane, probably most of the weapons with which fighting is carried on. I don't know whether we can prevent the Germans altogether from making in a thousand different parts of the country the parts which go into an airplane. But some things we certainly can prevent. It would seem that we can destroy the great arsenals like Krupp which cast the field artillery and the naval guns, and which make the armor that goes on tanks and battleships. We can also dismantle a large number of plants and transport them to Poland or France or perhaps even to Italy, to replace the plants which the Germans have destroyed. We can also, if we have the courage and the stick-to-it-iveness—and this is what is going to put us to the test—for an indefinite period of time control Germany's foreign trade so that she cannot import weapons and munitions or the materials for making them. Nobody can say whether Britain, France, Russia and the United States will have the courage to impose that kind of an embargo on Germany for an indefinite period, but we can do it if we are determined to keep Germany disarmed.

The next thing we must impose on Germany is the surrender of what she has stolen. Much of it has gone beyond irretrievability. We cannot recover the food which Germany has taken from the occupied countries, or the clothing, but the Germans have dismantled large numbers of factories. They can certainly be compelled to restore those factories. The Germans by quasi-legal processes have possessed themselves of the stocks and bonds of all the business of the countries occupied. We can disallow those transactions. We can force the Germans to hand back all the works of art which they have stolen. We can take from their libraries books enough to replace the libraries which their bombs destroyed in Belgium and France and England, and some writer I was reading the other day even went so far as to suggest that since Poland and Belgium and Holland will be short not only of houses, but of beds and kitchen utensils because of the German destruction, we should require Germany to surrender beds and kitchen utensils for the restocking of Polish and Dutch and other houses. That is a proposition which I think makes sense.

Lastly we have to punish the criminals responsible for the treatment of the conquered peoples. The Allied governments are pledged to that. They are pledged to punish all officers responsible for atrocities. How far down that will reach I have no idea. What impresses me is that the Gestapo number several million, and while perhaps individual policemen have no alternative but to execute the orders which are issued to them, nevertheless the members of the Gestapo who carry out these atrocities and barbarous orders have to be held responsible for what they do.

We read that the German Army is shooting innocent civilians in Naples; we can find out who ordered that. Such villains ought to be punished. My suspicion is that a very large number of Germans have been involved in one way or another with the atrocities throughout occupied Europe. If we don't get there too soon, the emancipated people will certainly account for a large number of Germans, but if our armies reach Germany before the Norwegians and the Poles and the Czechs and the French and the rest have a chance at the Germans, there will be a certain tendency to say that we must maintain order and bring only the leading criminals to justice. I hope that counsel does not prevail. In other words, the program which I am advocating is a stern one and a drastic one.

There are those who say that we must make it easy for Germany after the war to recover from the war and fit herself for decent society. Considering the German record of the past ft seems most unlikely that any liberal or generous treatment on our part will meet with corresponding reaction from the Germans. The German past tells us one thing: The Germans respond only to force, they interpret generosity as weakness. If, feeling that we wish to let bygones be bygones, we relax, they will interpret that just as they did the comparatively easy terms of 1918, as a respite to prepare for another war. We have to occupy the country from one end to the other, not merely the Rhineland as we did in 1918. We have to dig up almost literally the weapons which will be concealed. We may have to use our own troops to dismantle the factories which the Germans have stolen, but we can if we have the will to do it, collect in that fashion from Germany, and we can make life very miserable for Germany, with the hope that, finding - that the Allies are stern and cannot be hoodwinked as they were repeatedly after 1919, the Germans will ask themselves whether this militaristic philosophy which they have swallowed hook, line and sinker for 100 years, which has led them into two wars, both of which they have lost, is worth the candle.

France used to be a somewhat militaristic and aggressive nation, not nearly so much so as the Germans, but still enough to cause a good many wars in Europe. In 1814 and again in 1815 France was invaded. In 1815 she paid indemnity. In 1870 she was invaded again. In 1871 she paid indemnity. The French, being a realistic and clever people, gradually came to see that war was a bad business, and in the course of the Nineteenth Century the evolution of French sentiment in the direction of pacifism was very marked. I submit that we should punish the Germans for having let loose two world wars in 25 years, make them see that war does not pay, and say to them in substance: “When you have experienced a change of heart and when you have convinced us that you have seen the error of your ways and are willing to work not for the domination of Europe, but on a 50–50 basis and on a basis of peace, then we shall be very glad to work with you, but not until then. It is up to you to show us.

Having been the victims twice in 25 years, we cannot afford to take a third chance.


adumbrate: to produce a faint image or resemblance; to foreshadow or prefigure

anathema: a person or thing detested or loathed

gauleiters: the leader or chief official of a political district under Nazi control

Gestapo: the German state secret police during the Nazi regime, organized in 1933 and known for its brutal methods

Hohenzollerns: a member of the royal family that ruled in Romania from 1866 to 1947, in Prussia from 1701 to 1918, and in the German Empire from 1871 to 1918

obsequiousness: servility, deferential compliance

smithereens: small pieces; bits

Weimar Republic: the German Republic (1919–1933), founded in the city of Weimar

Document Analysis

This speech begins with Schmitt's explanation that his opinions on German responsibility for World War I are long-standing and certainly inform his opinions in 1943. He had never changed his opinion that Germany was responsible for the previous war, but now turns his attention to how to deal with the Germans' responsibility for the current war.

Schmitt believes that there were many reasons for Americans to think fondly of Germany in “ordinary times,” such as between the wars. There were cultural ties—many Americans are of German descent. Many Germans had come to the United States between the wars and were loyal citizens. Germany was an easy place to for Americans to visit. It was comfortable and easy to navigate, even for those who spoke limited German. Schmitt explains that Americans moved away from a view of strict German accountability for World War I because “during the Twenties… Germans were more popular with Americans than any other European people.” When Hitler rose to power, many saw him as an aberration and waited for the German people to realize that he was dangerous and deal with him internally. Even in 1943, with nearly two years of bloody war behind them, some Americans believed that “if only we could get rid of Hitler and his gang, it would be possible to make a reasonable and decent peace with Germany.”

Schmitt draws upon his many decades of experience with Germany to paint a picture of a culture deeply enmeshed in militarism. He first visited in 1906 and was both impressed and frightened by Germans' nationalism and ambition. Schmitt asked his listeners to accept that his conclusions about Germany were based on study and scholarship, formed even before World War I, rather than on prejudice. His conclusions were that Germany was fundamentally different from the rest of Europe and that its reverence for militarism, authoritarian governance, and ideas of ethnic superiority, along with its lack of a strong tradition of self-government, combined to make it culturally dedicated to war-mongering. Schmitt also identified a certain “sadistic trait” in Germans, which he traces back to the sixteenth century. Taken together, these were traits “extremely repulsive to us… to all civilized people.”

Schmitt dismisses the idea that the strict terms of the Treaty of Versailles were to blame for the rise of Hitler and instead blames the Allies for failing to bring the war directly to the German people. He believes that the Allies should not entertain the idea of a negotiated peace but rather press for full military defeat, complete with an invasion and disarmament of Germany. Reparations must be made, and criminals punished. Germany must be made to understand that it was defeated, and its military completely destroyed. He argues that once conquered, Germany should not be divided up and should be allowed to choose its own form of government, but that government must be closely monitored. He concludes, “We should punish the Germans for having let loose two world wars in 25 years, make them see that war does not pay.”

Essential Themes

The primary theme of this speech is Schmitt's belief, shared by many Americans, that a unique cultural element in Germany existed before World War I and carried through into World War II. It was this culture of militarism that had to be defeated if the Allies were going to be able not only to win the war, but to ensure that it did not happen again. Schmitt argued that a complete military defeat of Germany was essential to wipe out the Germans' deeply held reverence for war. War needed to be brought to the German people, who had thus far benefitted from war. Schmitt saw the treatment of Germany after World War I as too lax, easing terms quickly and allowing Germany to take out loans that were never repaid. In all, Germany benefitted from that war too, he argued. The only way to ensure that Germany did not wage war again was to so thoroughly destroy its capacity to make war that the culture would change completely, and eventually it could become a full participant in the free world.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Beevor, Antony. The Second World War. New York: Little, 2012. Print.
  • Clark, Christopher. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. New York: Harper, 2013. Print.
  • Graebner, Norman A., and Edward M. Bennett. The Versailles Treaty and Its Legacy: The Failure of the Wilsonian Vision. New York: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
  • Ritter, Gerhard. The Sword and the Scepter: The Problem of Militarism in Germany. Vol. 4 of The Reign of German Militarism and the Disaster of 1918. Miami: U of Miami P, 1973. Print.
  • Schmitt, Bernadotte E. The Coming of the War. 1930. New York: Fertig, 1968. Print.
Categories: History