Militarism: The New Slavery - John T. Flynn


As we survey the institution of Universal Military Training in Germany, we will go very far wrong if we think of it in terms of a purely military organization. It did make a powerful appeal to those in Germany who loved military might and display. But there would have been no UMT in Germany had there not been in that country far more formidable reasons for it. Actually it had originated in France. And it found little favor at first with the old Junker elements in Prussia. The old army had been a prized professional institution as a proper activity for young nobles. They found in the officers' corps a vocation suited to their social level. When Germany turned to Universal Military Training there were not enough young nobles qualified to provide the military with the great swarm of officers needed. The immense number of non—noble applicants who crowded into the army tended to debase the "social standing" of the officers' corps. Hence the nobility of Prussia in particular looked on the experiment of UMT with grave misgivings. We must look to other elements of the population for the rise of militarism in Germany. Foremost were the politicians, the business men and the imperialists, who looked with growing envy on the imperialist adventures of Britain, France and Italy and who nursed dreams of colonial expansion.

As a matter of fact, at the root of the movement in Prussia was the politician. And the urge for it was to be found in the rising tide of socialism in the German states. Bismarck, one of the first German leaders to be alerted to the socialist threat, was a pragmatic statesman. Socialism had had its origin in Germany, the birthplace of Marx and Engels. In their assault on the capitalist society the socialists held out the vision of "jobs for all and security for all." There can be no doubt this gaudy promise had a potent impact on the minds of the German workers. Lassalle, then the socialist leader in Germany, made so great an impression on Bismarck's mind that he cultivated the socialist leader. He began by adopting a few socialist welfare measures. But he came around after a while to launching a full—scale competition in socialist projects with the socialists.

The great German Chancellor decided, after some experimenting, that he could give the German people all that the socialists promised without setting up socialism—a tragic blunder which politicians in America who have not read history seem not to have comprehended to this day.

As early as 1887 various German leaders were talking about capitalism suffering from a "lack of planning." Von Moltke and other German military leaders, following their great victories, were rewarded by the German people with seats in the Parliament. Under the influence of this type of leadership "the people became inclined to believe in a superior kind of planning," as one commentator put it, "which the crisis—beset capitalism did not know how to provide, but which was inherent in successful military institutions and enterprises."

Bismarck was not proposing a socialist Germany. Like many a naive American politician, he recognized that Germany was troubled by grave economic dislocations and that the government was being urged to do something about it. He shied away from the word "socialism," just as our own bedeviled politicians do, and he took refuge in the word "planning."

Many Americans do not realize that around 1937 the Socialist Party in America ceased to exist as a real force. The word "socialism" was a poor brand label. A new and slicker school of socialist revolutionaries adopted the term Planned Economy. And that is the brand name under which authentic socialism is now being offered to the American people. Bismarck adopted the term in Germany and proceeded to set in motion a chain of welfare and other socialist proposals for the purpose of creating jobs. He sought to take socialism away from the socialists. He proposed in his ignorance of the explosive nature of this idea, that he could defend capitalism by adopting many of the root ideas of socialism — and to this he added the glamorous job—making boondoggle of militarism.

In one social area he established old—age pensions, unemployment insurance and public works to absorb as many unemployed as possible. He encouraged the several German states to take over railroads, electric power plants, water works, municipal transport, telegraphs, forests, mines and industrial enterprises. His avowed purpose was to operate these enterprises at a profit to lighten the burden of taxation on the people. This has been called State Capitalism.

But all these adventures were not sufficient to make the Planned Society work—a society that would provide jobs and security for all and take the wind out of the sails of the socialist revolutionaries.

None of this was enough. And it was no very broad jump for the Junker rulers of Germany to recognize the possibilities in Universal Military Training. While they were aware of its military value to a Germany then straining at the leash for imperialistic adventures, they were also aware of its job—making possibilities. These were derived from two sources:

1. Conscription takes into the armed forces great numbers of young men on coming of age who would otherwise be seeking jobs in private industry.

2. Not only were these registrants removed from the labor market, but they were provided with barracks, clothing, food, medical care at the expense of the taxpayers

But this program involved still another and enormously important department. These huge levies of men had to be armed. This brought into existence Germany's vast armament industry, which became her greatest industry. It involved not only the manufacture of weapons and munitions, but it drew upon the raw material industries for steel copper, wood products, chemicals—the garment industry for making uniforms; the shoe industry; the farmers for the immense herds of horses for the cavalry and the feed for horses and men. To which must be added the pay of the drafted men which, however small, made a substantial addition to the purchasing power of the nation.

The immensity of this huge military industry in Germany by 1907 may be seen from some figures. There were 600,000 men in the Army and 33,000 in the Navy. There were 1,800,000 employed in the materials industries such as mining and metals and forestry and commerce and trade, entirely dependent on government military orders. Actually militarism became a huge PWA (Public Works Administration) that provided jobs for vast military and industrial armies.

When critics complained of the oppressive taxes and borrowings to support this enterprise, the reply, to quote one cabinet official referring to the military industry, was that "The national economy, with its thousand wheels, through which millions find a living, cannot stand still for long." Another German statesman, at the Peace Conference in 1898, declared that "the armies are not impoverishing the people and the military service was not a burden." And he declared that "Germany owed her prosperity to military service."

Of course, there was the inevitable professor to assure the people that:

"In spite of the fact that millions in taxes were required to maintain this rapidly increasing naval power, the public in general was pleased with the new navalism."

In fact the Herr Doctor declared:

"People associated prosperity and good times with monarchy and its militaristic props, and they seemed to be convinced that this prosperity would continue if the fighting forces of the nation were continually modernized."

This is not an interpretation put on these policies after the event. The German leaders knew quite well what they were doing and why. An English writer in 1942 called attention to this gaudy boondoggle in our own time. He wrote:

"The special features of the demand for armaments which has enabled it to be used as a solution of the unemployment problem are two. In the first place, the demand, being unlimited, imposes a system not merely of planned production but of planned consumption. Secondly, the plan of consumption is not determined by considerations of price and profit"

Of course the same result can be obtained from peace—time projects, but there is always a resistance to spending on peace—time projects. But on armies and armaments it is possible to break down the resistance by promoting fears of external danger, threats of war, or invasion. There is another reason. Where money was spent on war goods those who benefited were highly organized—as the huge armament industries in Germany which maintained powerful lobbies and could also keep alive endless war scares. Indeed it became a policy with the armament industries to employ retired army officers who enjoyed easy access and influence over the policy and purchasing bureaus of the government.

However, this policy confronted Bismarck's Germany with one dangerous problem. It was never possible to collect enough taxes to pay the bills. In 1870 Germany defeated France and created the unification of the German states into the German Empire. Bismarck wrung from France an indemnity of 4,467,000,000 marks—a huge sum in the values of that day. But despite this great bankroll to start with, the new empire began immediately to go into debt. Here are the figures on the rise of Germany's national debt following the Franco—Prussian war, due chiefly to military enterprises:

1871 0
1885 410,000,000
1897 2,317,000,000
1909 4,233,000,000
1913 4,897,000,000

In addition to this huge debt of nearly five billion marks of the central government, all the states and local governments were piling up huge deficits. The total of federal, state and local debts in 1913 was:

Federal government 4,897,000,000
States 14,262,000,000
Local governments 5,295,000,000
Total 24,454 ,000,000

These totals may not seem extravagant to the youth of our day who think in terms of war—inflated money. But it was a staggering burden to Germany in the money values of that period, prior to two world wars. In 1913, on the eve of World War I, the Finance Minister of Germany declared that "the vital question of Germany's finances must be solved NOW." He said the "stability of the empire is exposed to risk."

In the hope of surmounting the difficulty, the cities and states began buying up private enterprises, hoping to operate them at a profit to overcome the immense burden of social welfare and military services. They never succeeded. Germany approached national bankruptcy.

There remained only the ancient escape of bedeviled nations—WAR. As usual the war was fought on vast taxes and huge credits. From 1914 to 1918 Germany spent 164,299,000,000 marks. Of this amount she borrowed 60 percent. This huge deficit, piled on the vast pre—war deficits of fifty years, brought her politicians to those desperate experiments that culminated in the grotesque inflation of 1923—24. Thus the debt of 4,685,000,000 marks in 1922 became in two years nearly seven trillion marks (6,955,000,000,000). One result was that money lost its value and the bondholders lost their bonds. The debt was wiped out by inflation, including the savings and insurance policies of everybody in Germany. It became necessary to stop the printing presses grinding out trillions of worthless marks and to introduce a new money unit—the Rentenmark. One Rentenmark was worth one trillion old marks.

This is what militarism and welfare and boondoggling did to Germany. The imperial government fell and the new revolutionary republican government proceeded to repeat this crazy experience all over. Between 1926 and 1931 it built up a new national debt of nearly seven billion Rentenmarks. Adding the debts of the state governments, Germany had a new debt of 21 billion Rentenmarks. The appalling finale of all this was Hitler, who did what the Kaiser did in 1914—he turned to war as an escape—war, the supreme project of obfuscated politicians trapped in impossible promises, in overpowering taxes and crushing debt.

These facts will illustrate what I meant by describing militarism as something more than a mere military enterprise. It was all mixed up with the efforts of the German government to resist the socialist advance by outdoing the socialists in welfare and economic promises. At the outset I cautioned that we must recognize that the subject of militarism, of which Universal Military Training is the base, could not be understood merely in terms of military policy. It was made possible in Germany by the decision of the German Junkers to go into competition with the socialists and their promise of jobs for all. Welfare did not put people to work, and government—owned and operated railroads, street—car lines, electric power plants and other industries merely added to the deficits. The supreme project, which fascinated the minds of military zealots, pan—Germans, imperialists and industrialists, provided the perfect answer. It took huge numbers of men out of the labor supply into the armies and even many more into the armament industries, all paid for out of taxes and crushing public debt. The capitalist sector of the national economy had to pay its own bills and undertake, by paying taxes, a huge part of the losses on the governments socialist industries. Even this was not enough. It had to support a mountainous debt that ultimately crushed Germany twice—once under the Republic and once again under Hitler.