How much German World War I propaganda have you read?
I’ve now read one piece of it. My guess is that this puts me in a distinct minority.
"Foseti," you say, "why would you read such crazy stuff?" Good question.
Before I started reading this, I decided to think about what I knew about the beginning of WWI. I knew that Europe was a tangled mess of alliances. I knew that England followed its historical pattern of allying itself in such away as to maintain a "balance of power" in Europe. I knew that the major powers were building up their armies and navies. I knew that when war broke in the Balkans, the alliances caused every country to instantly be at war with every other country. I knew that England was pledged to defend Belgium, but that it could have easily decided not to do so, when German attacked France. I knew that the war lasted a very long time and that lots of people died.
Looking back now on this narrative (which I have perhaps over-simplified slightly), I see some holes. Why were the alliances the way they were? If the major powers were accidentally drawn into war with each other – as the story goes – why were they willing to fight so long and lose so much? Why were they building up their armies prior to the outbreak of WWI? What did they hope to gain from the war once it had begun? Etc.
Reading Reventlow’s work, I realized that my understanding of WWI is based largely on Allied propaganda – this is really only a slight exaggeration. The hazy answers that I would have been able to provide to these questions were also based on Allied propaganda – this is hardly an exaggeration. Allied propaganda in 1916 (the year Reventlow wrote this book) is now known as "history." The Allies, after all, won.
Reventlow’s work is over-the-top. But if Germany had won the war, it would probably be known as "history" now. Thus, one can argue that most of history is written by cranks. The truly even-handed historian is rare, indeed. If you can’t find a true historian, reading propaganda from both sides is the next best option. Of course, in doing so, you’ll be exposed to some cranks. The true however, is not always easy to come by.
Before I get into the book, here’s Mencius Moldbug recommending it (sort of):
I stole [the title for the post] from Count Ernst zu Reventlow, whose Vampire of the Continent (1916), translated by the Irish traitor George Chatterton-Hill, then smuggled to New York by (I kid you not) U-Boat, is today available to all and sundry, courtesy of the innocent young progressives at Google Books. Read it now, before they realize their terrible mistake.
I can’t really endorse Reventlow’s Vampire. For one thing – unlike the aristocratic German nationalists I really do admire, eg, Ernst Jünger, Ernst von Salomon and Fritz Reck-Malleczwen – he succumbed to the brown poison, ie, became a Nazi. And Vampire is not about America, of course, but England. (The translation is half the length of the original – I’m sure any morsels of counter-Americanism were scrubbed for propaganda purposes.) Nor is it a terribly cogent piece of analysis. Reventlow often finds calculated malice where I see only accidental incompetence. He is, after all, writing war propaganda.
Vampire is still a fun read, however. I’ll bet you’ve never read any German World War I propaganda. Better yet, wash it down it with some Allied propaganda – such as George Herron’s Menace of Peace. Herron, who was perhaps even more Wilsonian than Wilson, was actually employed by that dear President as a peace emissary in negotiations with Emperor Charles. It is with great surprise that I report that the talks were not successful.
Anyway, Reventlow wants to explain the build-up to WWI. He starts with British foreign policy going back to the Spanish Armada:
Thus began, as British historians solemnly tell us, the “ heroic age ” of the English people. It was an age characterised by organised piracy and highway robbery; which was at first tolerated, and subsequently sanctioned, by the English sovereigns — especially by the Virgin Queen, the champion of Protestantism.
This is hard to argue with.
In Reventlow’s telling, England did nothing good. In fact, in his telling, the industrial revolution didn’t really start in England. It started elsewhere, but since England controlled the seas, England prevented any other country from becoming truly industrialized. Instead, England stole technology from others and ensured that markets around the world were opened to its goods. In other words, if you want to industrialize, you should: 1) steal others’ technological advancements, 2) prevent their goods from being sold abroad, and 3) prevent anyone from closing off other markets to you. Actually, this sounds like it would be highly effective. Here’s Reventlow:
Throughout English history, and up till the present day, we can trace the constant application of three methods: firstly, destruction of the means which the nation whom it is intended to rob possesses for protecting its property on the seas and oversea — i.e. its fleet, harbors, docks, etc.; secondly, the seizure or destruction of the trading vessels of such a nation. When these aims have been realised, England lays hands without further difficulty on that nation’s oversea possessions. It is to be observed, that this policy and this method of warfare depend in the last instance for their success on the weakening of England’s continental rivals. When the sea-power of the latter has been broken, the colonies fall off automatically, so to speak. . . .
They [i.e. England] were not more intelligent than other nations; on the contrary, during the era of discoveries they discovered nothing, and during the era of inventions they invented nothing. But they understood the art of ploughing their fields by means of stolen oxen. And that which very clearly distinguished them from every other European people was the greed of lucre as the fundamental mainspring of action. . . .
Admiral Freemantle and other English historians speak with pride of the era when the English fleet began to undertake the duties of “ policeman of the seas,” and to impose the pax britannica on all by force. The right of policing the seas has since been considered a Divine right of the Chosen People. This right consists in stealing as many trading vessels, whether neutral or not, as possible, under some pious and lying pretext.
Colonies can then be forced to buy your goods, and so on. You can then step back and admire your economic and technological prowess.
Far from being the bringer of liberty, Reventlow sees England as the bringer of war:
From the very outset it was tacitly admitted that nothing could be so disadvantageous for the realisation of English aims, than harmony among the Continental States, i.e. peace in Europe. Peace must inevitably bring about increased prosperity; and the consequence will be the growth of the sea-power of Continental nations, alike in the waters in the neighborhood of England, and on the ocean. Sea-power is the typical expression of the inner strength and unity of a nation — of a strength which must expand abroad because it cannot find adequate employment within the limits of the mother country. But it was precisely this growing prosperity of the European Continent of which England had no need! . . .
In reality the English policy of the balance of power means simply the stirring up of as many European Powers as possible against the nation which Great Britain, at any given time, considers as her most dangerous competitor. This nation is, of course, always the one which, thanks to its strength and prosperity, threatens to destroy the commercial monopoly of the Chosen People [i.e. the British].
We have tried, in the course of this book, to give the reader a bird’s-eye view of some centuries of that history; England, without one single exception, has been found to be the Vampire of Europe. Her economic policy, her political policy, her wars, have invariably had but a single aim: to drain the riches and the life-blood of the Continental nations. In order to do this, she has systematically stirred them up against each other.— But Mr. Lloyd-George, with true English impertinence, speaks about the “invaluable services” rendered by Great Britain to the cause of Continental freedom; he even dares to talk to Europe about “centuries of heroism and achievement,” when the sole object of his country has always been piracy and theft under every conceivable form.
I leave it you, dear Reader, to determine whether England embarked on the Great War to cripple the power of Germany or whether she did so to protect liberty and democracy or whatever else you have been told. If you have a few hours, you could do worse that read some Reventlow for yourself. Any crankiness he may have is surely not contagious.