Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1.: The Prussian Army in the New German Empire - Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War
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1.: The Prussian Army in the New German Empire - Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War 
Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, edited with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Indiana, 2011).
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The Prussian Army in the New German Empire
In the late afternoon of September 1, 1870, King William I, surrounded by a pompous staff of princes and generals, was looking down from a hill south of the Meuse at the battle in progress, when an officer brought the news that the capitulation of Napoleon III and his whole army was imminent. Then Moltke turned to Count Falkenberg, who like himself was a member of the Parliament of Northern Germany, and remarked: “Well, dear colleague, what happened today settles our military problem for a long time.” And Bismarck shook hands with the highest of the German princes, the heir to the throne of Württemberg, and said: “This day safeguards and strengthens the German princes and the principles of conservatism.”* In the hour of overwhelming victory these were the first reactions of Prussia’s two foremost statesmen. They triumphed because they had defeated liberalism. They did not care a whit for the catchwords of the official propaganda: conquest of the hereditary foe, safeguarding the nation’s frontiers, historical mission of the house of Hohenzollern and of Prussia, unification of Germany, Germany foremost in the world. The princes had overthrown their own people; this alone seemed important to them.
In the new German Reich the Emperor—not in his position as Emperor but in his position as King of Prussia—had full control of the Prussian Army. Special agreements which Prussia—not the Reich—had concluded with 23 of the other 24 member states of the Reich incorporated the armed forces of these states into the Prussian Army. Only the royal Bavarian Army retained some limited peacetime independence, but in the event of war it too was subject to full control by the Emperor. The provisions concerning recruiting and the length of active military service had to be fixed by the Reichstag; parliamentary consent was required, moreover, for the budgetary allowance for the army. But the Parliament had no influence over the management of military affairs. The army was the army of the King of Prussia, not of the people or the Parliament. The Emperor and King was Supreme War Lord and commander in chief. The chief of the Great General Staff was the Kaiser’s first assistant in the conduct of operations. The army was an institution not within but above the apparatus of civil administration. Every military commander had the right and the duty to interfere whenever he felt that the working of the nonmilitary administration was unsatisfactory. He had to account for his interference to the Emperor only. Once, in 1913, a case of such military interference, which had occurred in Zabern, led to a violent debate in Parliament; but Parliament had no jurisdiction over the matter, and the army triumphed.
The reliability of this army was unquestionable. No one could doubt that all parts of the forces could be used to quell rebellions and revolutions. The mere suggestion that a detachment could refuse to obey an order, or that men of the reserve when called to active duty might stay out, would have been considered an absurdity. The German nation had changed in a very remarkable way. We shall consider later the essence and cause of this great transformation. The main political problem of the ’fifties and early ’sixties, the problem of the reliability of the soldiers, had vanished. All German soldiers were now unconditionally loyal to the Supreme War Lord. The army was an instrument which the Kaiser could trust. Tactful persons were judicious enough not to point out explicitly that this army was ready to be used against a potential domestic foe. But to William II such inhibitions were strange. He openly told his recruits that it was their duty to fire upon their fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters if he ordered them to do so. Such speeches were criticized in the liberal press; but the liberals were powerless. The allegiance of the soldiers was absolute; it no longer depended on the length of active service. The army itself proposed in 1892 that the infantry return to two years of active duty only. In the discussion of this bill in Parliament and in the press there was no longer any question of the political reliability of the soldiers. Everybody knew that the army was now, without any regard to the length of active service, “nonpolitical and nonpartisan,” i.e., a docile and manageable tool in the hands of the Emperor.
The government and the Reichstag quarreled continuously about military affairs. But considerations of the usefulness of the forces for the preservation of the hardly disguised imperial despotism did not play any role at all. The army was so strong and reliable that a revolutionary attempt could be crushed within a few hours. Nobody in the Reich wanted to start a revolution; the spirit of resistance and rebellion had faded. The Reichstag would have been prepared to consent to any expenditure for the army proposed by the government if the problem of raising the necessary funds had not been difficult to solve. In the end the army and navy always got the money that the General Staff asked for. To the increase of the armed forces financial considerations were a smaller obstacle than the shortage of the supply of men whom the generals considered eligible for commissions on active duty. With the expansion of the armed forces it had long become impossible to give commissions to noblemen only. The number of nonaristocratic officers steadily grew. But the generals were not ready to admit into the ranks of commissioned officers on active duty any but those commoners of “good and wealthy families.” Applicants of this type were available only in limited numbers. Most of the sons of the upper middle class preferred other careers. They were not eager to become professional officers and to be treated with disdain by their aristocratic colleagues.
Both the Reichstag and the liberal press time and again criticized the government’s military policy also from the technical point of view. The General Staff were strongly opposed to such civilian interference. They denied to everybody but the army any comprehension of military problems. Even Hans Delbrück, the eminent historian of warfare and author of excellent strategical dissertations, was for them only a layman. Officers in retirement, who contributed to the opposition press, were called biased partisans. Public opinion at last acknowledged the General Staff’s claim to infallibility, and all critics were silenced. Events of World War I proved, of course, that these critics had a better grasp of military methods than the specialists of the General Staff.
[* ]Ziekursch, Politische Geschichte des neuen deutschen Kaiserreichs, I, p. 298.