Friedrich Nietzsche would famously say, "That which doesn't
kill you makes you stronger".
Since Nietzsche, a German philosopher, wasn't born yet, it
is unlikely he was referring to Prussia, but his statement
certainly was applicable nonetheless.
Over in Prussia, the Hohenzollern rulers heaved a huge sigh
of relief. They understood quite clearly that they had
dodged a bullet. They had not made a single clever
move during the scourge of Napoleon, and yet here they were
the most unified state in central Europe.
At the time of the Napoleonic Wars began, Prussia was a
socially and institutionally backward state grounded
primarily in the virtues of its well-established military
aristocracy (known as the Junkers).
Napoleon had put the fear of Sparta into Sparta.
Prussia's vulnerability to Napoleon's military proved to the
old order that they weren't even remotely ready to face a
major power like France in the condition they were in.
They also understood their neighbors in a fragile, divided, and backward Germany
would be easy prey for a cohesive, industrialized
neighbor like France. They wondered if it was just a matter of
time before France rose again. Wouldn't it make sense
to be better prepared the next time?
Prussia's defeats at the hands of
Napoleonic France highlighted the need for administrative,
economic, and social reforms to improve the efficiency of
the bureaucracy and encourage practical merit-based
education. Prussia needed to become as strong as France...
or Austria for that matter. Prussia saw clearly that
if it was going to go toe to toe with Austria for the hearts
and minds of the German people, it needed to get stronger.
In a sense, the looming competition with Austria made
Prussia determined to try harder.
Everyone agreed the army definitely needed to be tougher.
These reforms laid the foundation for Prussia's future
military might by professionalizing the military and
decreeing universal military conscription. Prussia
began to train and arm itself.
In order to industrialize Prussia, working within the
framework provided by the old aristocratic institutions,
land reforms were enacted to break the monopoly of the
Junkers on landownership. In order to this, the feudal
practice of serfdom was abolished.
Prussia knew it had been lucky during the Day of Napoleon.
Since everyone was too tired from Napoleon to start any
trouble at the moment, the leaders understand they had been
given an amazing opportunity
to get their country back in shape.
In a flash, Europe's balance of power had shifted.
Napoleon's victories had often come at the expense of
Austria, which left it weakened.
Prussia emerged from the Napoleonic Wars as the dominant
power in middle Europe, overshadowing long-time rival Austria,
which had abdicated the imperial crown in 1806. Now
Prussia was the dominant force in
Europe along with England. Furthermore, since England was
more interested in conquests overseas than any risky
ventures on European soil, Prussia's growth on
the continent continued unchecked.
Now that Napoleon was out of the way, the Kingdom
of Prussia swept into the vacuum. Prussia was now the
strongest military power on the European continent. Following
Napoleon's bitter defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Prussia was
ready to fulfill its destiny.
Prussia took a big step in 1815 by joining the German
Confederation, a loose association of 39 German states
in Central Europe. It was time to play politics with
the big boys and see what developed. Prussia
understood that throughout the 1800s, Prussia, Austria and
France would all attempt to dominate the politically weak, greatly divided
Prussia had as good a chance as anyone to dominate.
All they needed was a good leader.
Between Otto von Bismarck and Frederick the Great,
it is hard to tell who was more valuable to Prussia.
Ever since Frederick the Great in 1740, Prussia had
been a major thorn in the side of Austria. But since
his death, they had lacked a man with the cunning or the
will to take the country to the next level. In
Bismarck, Prussia found that man.
Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) was born in Berlin just
two months before the Battle of Waterloo. His father was a
wealthy Junker estate owner and a former Prussian military
officer; his mother was the well-educated daughter of a
senior government official in Berlin.
Bismarck grew up as a typical Prussian Junker. He
loved military training and he frequently wore military
uniforms. Bismarck was well educated and cosmopolitan, with
a gift for conversation. He was fluent in English, French,
Italian, Polish and Russian.
From his youth, Bismarck had been drawn to a career as a
diplomat. He served in the army, then studied to be a
lawyer. Although distracted for a time by several
pretty girls, in 1847 Bismarck married happily and settled
down to raise a family. He and his wife would have
That same year, Bismarck, now 32, was chosen as a
representative to the newly created Prussian legislature.
One year later, 1848, a revolution broke out in Prussia.
At first, King Frederick William IV (1795–1861) moved
to repress it with the army, but later decided to recall the
troops. Instead he decided to listen to the demands,
an unusual step for any monarch back in those days.
The King formed a liberal government, convened a national
assembly, and ordered that a constitution be drawn up.
In addition, the King promised to commit Prussia to a path
of German unification, an idea growing increasingly popular
in Prussia and the surrounding territories. However,
due to strong opposition from Austria and Russia, the German
Unification effort died shortly thereafter. Bismarck
was glad; he was strongly opposed to German Unification.
In 1851, Friedrich Wilhelm IV appointed Bismarck as
Prussia's envoy to the Diet of the German Confederation in
Bismarck's eight years in Frankfurt were marked by changes
in his political opinions. No longer under the influence of
his ultraconservative Prussian friends, Bismarck became less
reactionary and more pragmatic. He became convinced that to
countervail Austria's newly restored influence, Prussia
would have to ally herself with other German states.
As a result, Bismarck grew to be more accepting of the
notion of a united German nation. Bismarck worked to
maintain the friendship of Russia and even developed a
working relationship with Napoleon III's France. This
was a bold move for Bismarck; the conservatives back in
Berlin were staunchly opposed to any favorable move with the
However Bismarck felt a bond with France was necessary both
to threaten Austria and to prevent France allying herself to
In a famous letter to his patron Leopold von Gerlach,
Bismarck wrote that it was foolish to play chess having
first put 16 of the 64 squares out of bounds. This
observation was ironic as after 1871, France indeed became
Germany's permanent enemy, and eventually did ally with
Russia against Germany in the 1890s.
The point here is that Bismarck was learning to keep all
options in play, even the longshots.
In 1857, King William I (1797-1888) was appointed
Regent of Prussia after his brother King Frederick
William IV had a stroke and was disabled. King
William didn't like Bismarck very much, so he sent him to
Siberia so to speak. He transferred Bismarck from
nearby Frankfurt all the way to Saint Petersburg as
Prussia's ambassador to Russia. Situated in this
remote outpost, Bismarck had little choice but to simply
William would serve as Regent for four years. Upon his
brother's death in 1861, he would become King of Prussia.
Above all else, William was a soldier. A poor
performance by the military in the Prussian-Sardinian War
convinced him the army needed strengthening. The
geographical position of Prussia in the center of Europe
sandwiched between powers like France, Russia, and Austria
left the country vulnerable on all sides.
Unlike some of his recent predecessors, William understood
quite clearly this dangerous situation meant no sacrifice be
spared to develop an army as efficient as any other military
force in Europe. A well organized army for Prussia was
just as necessary as a powerful navy for England.
Frederick William IV
William I of Prussia
William was worried because he was convinced Prussia's
military power was inferior to that of France.
Something had to be done.
On July 25, 1858, a chance meeting between General Albrecht
von Roon and Regent-Prince William at the railway-station in
Potsdam (a suburb of Berlin) led to a very serious
conversation. William was deeply impressed by Roon's
observations. William asked Roon to draw up a scheme of army
reform and subsequently appointed him to install the
Roon immediately began to whip the Prussian army back into
shape. William was very impressed with Roon's administrative
abilities, so on December 5, 1859, William made Roon his new
Minister of War.
Only one problem. The liberal Prussian Landtag
(Senate) refused to fund the money necessary for the
expensive military reform. This involved raising the
peace time army from 150,000 to 200,000 men and boost the
annual number of new recruits from 40,000 to 63,000.
However, the truly controversial part was the plan to keep
the length of military service at three years.
The Landtag refused to budge. They strongly resented
the military buildup. Meanwhile King William was so
angry he was ready to resign, but his son talked him out of
it. Frustrated, William turned to Roon, the only man
he really trusted, and asked his advice.
Roon had anticipated this moment. He had recommended
Bismarck, a close friend, before, but had been rejected.
Roon understood the King didn't like the aggressive Bismarck
at all. In fact, 5 years earlier King William had sent
the man to Russia just so Bismarck wouldn't be around to
interfere with things.
However, Roon sensed this time might be different.
Due to the emergency situation with the Prussian Landtag, at
this moment, Roon was in constant communication with
Bismarck. At the moment, Bismarck, now Ambassador in
Paris, was in the South of France. There he received several
communications from his friend Roon urging him to come to
Bismarck started at once, and reached Berlin on the morning
of September 20th, 1862. Roon saw him immediately on his
arrival and explained the situation. Then Roon went to
King William, who was at the Castle of Babelsberg.
Roon found King William in despair. The King knew that the
entire army estimates would certainly be rejected by the
Landtag in a couple of days. William was convinced of the
absolute necessity of army reform, but even his own family
was against him. Pressure of every sort and kind was brought
to bear on him to give up the fight, by Queen Augusta, by
the Crown Prince, by other members of the Royal family, and
even by some of the Ministers. William didn't know
what to do. At this point, Roon was his only remaining
Roon urged him to stand firm. "Call Herr von Bismarck, Your
Majesty," said Roon.
"Bismarck will not be willing to undertake the task,"
answered the King; "besides, he is not here, and the
situation cannot be discussed with him."
"He is here and at Your Majesty's orders," Roon replied.
The King's eyes grew large. What was going on here?
That afternoon Bismarck was summoned to Babelsberg.
When Bismarck entered the room, the fate of Prussia hung in
the balance. The King sat at a table with papers on it. One
of these papers was the act of his abdication, already
William asked Bismarck whether he would undertake to carry
on the Government in face of a hostile majority.
"Most certainly," Bismarck replied.
"Notwithstanding that the supplies may be stopped?"
continued the King.
"Yes," said Bismarck in even tone.
And so the conversation began. The powerful
personality and confident attitude of the statesman made the
King wonder if perhaps he had misjudged this man.
King William told Bismarck he would get back to him, but he
was so impressed that once Bismarck left the room, he tore
up his act of abdication. Just maybe there was a
chance after all...
On the 23d of September, the Landtag rejected the army
requests in their entirety. Furthermore William's
entire Ministry resigned.
Roon saw the King again that day and begged him to hesitate
no longer. William nodded. Desperate times call
for desperate measures. William had trusted Roon on
the military buildup, so now he decided to trust Roon again
on Bismarck. At 5 pm that afternoon William appointed
Bismarck to the position of Minister President and Foreign
Minister of Prussia.
Bismarck got right to work. Despite the initial distrust of
the King and Crown Prince, and the loathing of Queen
Augusta, Bismarck soon acquired a powerful hold over the
King by force of personality and powers of persuasion.
On 30 September 1862, Bismarck made a speech to the Budget
Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies, in which he
expounded on the use of "iron and blood" to achieve
must concentrate and maintain its power for the
favorable moment which has already slipped by several
times. Prussia's boundaries according to the Vienna
treaties are not favorable to a healthy state life. The
great questions of the time will not be resolved by
speeches and majority decisions—that was the great
mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood."
It was an impressive argument, but the Landtag was in no
mood to soften. No matter; Bismarck was intent on
ending the budget deadlock in the King's favor.
Bismarck would make sure the King had his way, even if he
had to use extralegal means to do so.
Unable to persuade the Landtag to do his bidding, Bismarck
had a trick up his sleeve. Bismarck argued that since
the Constitution did not specify what to do when legislators
failed to approve a budget, he could merely apply the
previous year's budget.
Thus, on the basis of the previous year's 1861 budget,
collection of taxes continued at the same pace for four more
years. At this point, one can assume Bismarck and the
Landtag did not get along very well. But the impasse
was broken and this was enough money to allow Roon to
implement his changes.
In the privacy of his office, King William smiled.
Maybe Roon had been right about this man all along.
With the addition of Bismarck to the team, the final key was
in place for Prussia to flex its muscles in the European
In William, they had a
king who was firmly committed to a strong military and
In Albretch von Roon,
they had an effective military administrator.
In Helmuth von Moltke,
the chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years,
they had a man who would come to be regarded as one of the
great strategists of the latter 19th century.
And in Otto von
Bismarck, Prussia had the greatest statesman of his era.
This was the 19th century equivalent of a dream team.
Prussia was set on a path to greatness.
Minister of War,
Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army
Prussia's Rise to
domestic politics now under his control, Bismarck turned his eye to
European politics. He didn't have to wait long for his first
challenge. When Frederick VII of Denmark died in November
1863, the succession to the duchies of Schleswig and
Holstein were disputed.
had no claim to either duchy. However, through a series of
diplomatic judo moves that included the invasion of Denmark in 1865,
Bismarck was able to get Austria to give Prussia Schleswig
while Austria received Holstein. In truth, Prussia
deserved nothing, but got a valuable piece of property anyway. It
was a pure case of the lion demanding his share of the kill.
problem. One year later Austria reneged on the deal.
Austria understood that it had a legitimate claim to both duchies
and wanted the matter reopened. Bismarck smiled. This
was the chance he had been waiting for.
used this argument as an excuse to start a war with Austria.
Bismarck sent Prussian troops to occupy Austria's Holstein.
Provoked, Austria called for the aid of other German states to come
and help. This was the start of the 1866 Austro-Prussian
Austria. This is was the perfect test for the Prussian Dream Team.
Thanks to von Roon's reorganization, the Prussian army was now
nearly equal in numbers to the Austrian army. Furthermore, Prussia
had the strategic genius of von Moltke to call upon. In
addition, Bismarck pulled a move out of Frederick the Great's
playbook and made a secret alliance with Italy. The Italians
desired Austrian-controlled Venetia. Italy's entry into the war
forced the Austrians to divide their forces in order to protect
Venice as well.
casual observer, Austria had a seemingly powerful army; it was
allied with most of the north German states and all of the south
German states (keep in mind that Germany was still divided into
those 39 independent states).
Austria never knew what hit them. General Moltke had devised a
frightening new battle technique called "Blitzkrieg", lightning war.
Moltke made a daring advance in Austria with two separate armies.
These divided armies were quite vulnerable to destruction if Austria
could react fast enough.
the Austrian generals were too surprised to know what to do.
By being indecisive, the Austrians failed to use their superior
numbers to eliminate the Prussian armies individually.
Consequently two Prussian armies had been allowed to penetrate deep
into Austrian territory. This meant any battle would be fought
on Austrian soil, not in Germany near the Prussian homeland.
At the Battle of Königgrätz, the Austrian army of 240,000
faced the Prussian Army of the Elbe (39,000) and First Army
(85,000). One would assume a 2-1 advantage would make a
difference, but nonetheless Prussia won handily.
William and his generals were excited. They wanted to push
onward, conquer Bohemia and march straight into Vienna.
Bismarck was worried that Prussian military luck might change or
that France might intervene on Austria's side. Bismarck
enlisted the help of the Crown Prince (who had opposed the war but
had commanded one of the Prussian armies at Königgrätz) to dissuade
his father at a very angry meeting.
insisted on a "soft peace" with no annexations and no victory
parades, so as to be able to quickly restore 'friendly' relations
with Austria. By threatening to resign, Bismarck got his way.
This would start a pattern. Each time Bismarck won a battle,
he found a way to allow the vanquished side to safe face. His
caution served him well.
Prussia got everything they wanted at the Peace of Prague
(1866). First the German Confederation was dissolved. Then Prussia
annexed former Austrian territories Schleswig, Holstein,
Frankfurt, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, and Nassau.
this highly profitable war, Prussia now controlled practically all
of Northern Germany.
political cartoon mocked Bismarck's tendency to juggle roles from
from general to minister of foreign affairs, federal chancellor,
hunter, diplomat and president of the Zollverein parliament.
In a way, the cartoon was probably a compliment.
Königgrätz, July 3, 1866
As one can
see, following the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, by absorbing all those
Austrian states into Prussian alliance, Northern Germany was just
short of becoming unified under Prussian rule.
The 1866 Austro-Prussian War had been an amazing campaign.
The war had lasted only seven weeks. All four men on
the Prussian Dream Team had played a key role in bringing
Austria to its knees. But they knew they weren't done
yet. They understood there would be serious repercussions from this war.
Austria of course was the big loser. Poor Austria. Not
only did they lose all their holdings in Northern Germany,
they lost Veneto as well. In 1866, Venice became part
of the newly created Kingdom of Italy. These twins
blows left Austria reeling.
These devastating losses initiated what historians refer to
as "The Misery of Austria". From this point on,
Austria would serve as a mere vassal to superior Germany, a
relationship that lasted for over 150 years into the World
Wars of the 20th Century.
Prussia of course was the big winner.
Back at home, this military success in Austria brought
Bismarck tremendous political support in Prussia. In
the House of Deputies elections of 1866, liberals suffered a
major defeat, losing their large majority. The new, largely
conservative House was on much better terms with Bismarck
than previous bodies; at the Minister-President's request,
it retroactively approved the budgets of the past four
years, which had been implemented without parliamentary
consent. Now Bismarck's shenanigans had been rendered
France of course was the biggest worrier.
After Austria's pathetic collapse, Europe sat up and took
notice. Napoleon III in France was particularly upset.
Napoleon III feared that a powerful Germany would change the
balance of power in Europe.
Napoleon III had every right to be suspicious of Bismarck.
He suspected Bismarck wasn't done yet. Bismarck had
united half the independent German states into Prussia, but
the southern part of Germany was not yet in his domain.
Indeed, Napoleon III's instincts were right on the money.
In his memoirs written long after the war, Prussian
Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck wrote:
considered that a war with France would naturally follow
a war against Austria... I was convinced that the gulf
which was created over time between the north and the
south of Germany could not be better overcome than by a
national war against the neighboring people who were
aggressive against us. I did not doubt that it was
necessary to make a French-German war before the general
reorganization of Germany could be realized."
What Bismarck needed was some way to persuade the South
German states of Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt
to join Prussia's coalition of German states. Bismarck
believed that if these states perceived France as the
aggressor in any war, they would unite behind the King of
suitable premise for war arose in 1870, when the German
Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was offered
the Spanish throne, vacant since a revolution in 1868.
France blocked the candidacy and demanded assurances that no
member of the House of Hohenzollern would become King of
Seeing the opportunity to unify Germany’s loose
confederations against an outside enemy, Bismarck adroitly
created a diplomatic crisis over the succession to the
Apparently there was a meeting between William, the Prussian
King, and the French foreign minister whereby William
snubbed the man. Or that's how the story goes.
No one is quite sure exactly what was said or done.
What is known is that Bismarck exploited for his own gain. Bismarck stirred political tensions
between France and Prussia by rewriting a telegram from
William I and the French foreign minister to make both
countries feel insulted by the other.
One has to
wonder how one can write a letter that insults both sides at
the same time,
but it worked. Bismarck was successful at inflaming popular
sentiment on both sides in favor of war.
Indeed, the French press and parliament demanded a war. Even
better, the generals of Napoleon III assured him that France
would win. On 16 August 1870, the French parliament voted
101 to 47 to declare war, and the war was declared on 19
Considering Prussia's military build-up, it seems odd that
France would be so eager to take on this modern Sparta.
Apparently someone had "intelligence" that the southern
German states were more loyal to France than to Prussia and
would surely turn on Prussia the first chance they got.
What they didn't know is that Bismarck had been busy getting
secret treaties with the Southern German states. They
just stepped aside and let the Prussia war machine roll
Considering the magnitude of France's mistake, it makes one
wonder why 'intelligence' is called 'intelligence'.
In truth, it appears that both sides were itching for a
fight. All they needed was any reason whether it made
sense or not.
What a joke. Whichever general whispered to Napoleon
III that France would win this war should have been
guillotined. France was no match at all.
Using that Blitzkrieg trick again, the German coalition
mobilized its troops much more quickly than the French army.
They rapidly moved into northeastern France. The German
forces were superior in numbers, had better training and
leadership, and made more effective use of modern
technology, particularly railroads and artillery.
series of swift Prussian and German victories in eastern
France culminating in the Battle of Sedan.
Napoleon III and his whole army was captured on 2 September just
two weeks after France had foolishly declared war on Prussia.
Now that is fast!
Yet this did not end the war. A new French army was quickly
raised. Over a five-month campaign,
the German forces defeated another group of the newly recruited armies
in a series of battles fought across northern France.
This brought the Prussian army to the doorstep of Paris.
The history books say
that Paris was "ineffectually bombarded", a euphemism for
lobbing a cannonball into the Seine River every hour or so.
One suspects Bismarck did not have the heart to destroy this
beautiful city, so he exercised his characteristic
restraint as usual. It was easier just to play a
Following a prolonged siege, the French eventually conceded.
10 days after William was proclaimed Emperor, Paris fell on 28 January 1871.
At the conclusion of the war, France was forced to surrender
Alsace and part of Lorraine. Chief of Staff Moltke and
his generals wanted it as a defensive barrier. Bismarck
opposed the annexation because he did not wish to make a
permanent enemy of France, but he was overruled.
France was also required to pay an indemnity; the indemnity
figure was calculated, on the basis of population, as the
precise equivalent of the indemnity which Napoleon I had
imposed on Prussia in 1807 following the embarrassing
Battle of Jena.
It seems likely that Bismarck was overruled here too.
The Prussians wanted their revenge far too much to heed
It is often said France's determination to regain
Alsace-Lorraine would subsequently be a major factor in
France's involvement in World War I.
Following the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Bismarck was now
obsessed with finishing the task of uniting Germany.
He kept a close eye on Saxony, Bavaria, and the other grey
states that were not yet part of his Prussian Confederation.
Europe watched as Prussia and France prepared to square off.
picture says it all. France got clobbered.
Prussians at the Arc de Triomphe
Hohenzollern dynasty started in 1192. Seven centuries
the jigsaw puzzle is finally complete. Germany owns
bad they could resist taking Alsace-Lorraine as well.
The temptation to seize Lothair's ancient Kingdom from the
days of Charlemagne would come back to haunt them.
look at Konigsberg in the upper right corner. That is
where the Kingdom of Prussia originally started in 1220 and
Even while the French capital was still under siege, King William I of
Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor on 18 January 1871 in
the Hall of Mirrors in the Château de Versailles.
William quickly appointed
Bismarck to become the first Chancellor of the new German
Bismarck acted swiftly to secure the unification of
Germany. He negotiated with representatives of the southern
German states, offering special concessions if they agreed
Following Prussia's impressive defeat
of the French, the negotiations went quite smoothly.
The Southern German States were proud to join this
The southern states became
officially incorporated into a unified Germany at the
Treaty of Versailles of 1871.
The victory over France in 1871 expanded Prussian hegemony
(dominance) in the German states to the international level. With the
proclamation of Wilhelm as Kaiser, Prussia assumed the
leadership of the new empire.
The new German Empire was a federation, i.e. a collection of
states. The Hohenzollern kingdom was at the
center operating like a magnet. Several of its 25
constituent states retained some autonomy such as keeping
their own army. These particular states were a part of
the Empire because they chose to be and because it was
definitely in their best interests.
King of Prussia, as German Emperor, was not sovereign over
the entirety of Germany; he was only first among equals.
He did hold the presidency of the Bundesrat, which
allowed him to propose policy and appoint chancellors.
Officially, the German Empire, or German Reich
as they called it, was a federal state. In
practice, Prussia's relationship with the rest of the empire
was definitely confusing.
The Hohenzollern kingdom included
three-fifths of the German territory and two-thirds of its
The Imperial German Army was, in practice, an enlarged
Prussian army, although the other kingdoms (Württemberg,
Bavaria, and Saxony) retained their own armies. The imperial
crown was a hereditary office of the House of Hohenzollern,
the royal house of Prussia.
The conflicting identities of Prussia and the German Empire were something of a paradox.
Maybe this analogy will help. Texas was an
independent nation that chose to join the United States
in 1845. At the start, the Texans still thought of
themselves as Texans first and Americans second. Then
over time with each new generation, that idea switched.
Today the citizens of Texas are Americans first and Texans
At first, it was "Prussia within the German Empire".
The Bavarians were Bavarians first, German second. The
Prussians were Prussians first, German second. But
over time, as people got used to the idea, it became easier
for the general populace to think of themselves as "Germans"
who were members of the "German Empire" first and
their state second.
Gradually Prussia was absorbed into the land of
Germany. And now after 700 years, the Hohenzollern
destiny was complete.
William I of Prussia is proclaimed German Emperor on 18
January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors in the Château de
Bismarck can be seen wearing the white military uniform.
must concentrate and maintain its power for the
favorable moment which has already slipped by several
times. Prussia's boundaries according to the Vienna
treaties are not favorable to a healthy state life. The
great questions of the time will not be resolved by
speeches and majority decisions—that was the great
mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood."
Otto von Bismarck, 30 September 1862
Realpolitik is the study of the powers that
shape, maintain and alter the state. It is the basis
of all political insight. It leads to the understanding that
the law of power governs the world of states just as the law
of gravity governs the physical world. In other words,
Realpolitik is a term analogous to 'power
Realpolitik was alluded to by Bismarck in
his famous “Blood and Iron” speech. Bismarck hinted
that all the lofty ideas of "German Unification" amounted to
nothing more than a lot of talk talk talk that never came
close to reaching consensus.
Bismarck believed that nation-making required cunning and
military power, not lofty ideals. He remembered how
his predecessor Frederick the Great had stolen
Silesia from Austria by bullying an inexperienced woman
(Maria Theresa) and persuading France to attack Austria as
well to create a diversion. Those dirty tricks had
started Prussia on its path to the birth of
the German Empire.
Minister Otto von Bismarck, the brilliant statesman,
saw himself merely picking up where Frederick the Great
had left off. Thanks to these two leaders, throughout the 18th 19th
centuries the Kingdom of Prussia added one slice
of territory after another till suddenly the Southern States
of Germany couldn't wait to join the parade after the defeat
Just like a
giant jigsaw puzzle,
the massive hole in Central Europe created largely by the
Holy Roman Empire had finally become solidified due to the work of these two brilliant men.
As for the series of wars that created the finished product,
they did not
happen by accident. These wars were part of Bismarck's calculated
plan of power politics, aggression, and annexation.
Bismarck used Realpolitik in his quest to achieve
Prussian dominance in Germany. He manipulated political
issues such as the Schleswig-Holstein Question and the
Hohenzollern candidature in Spain to antagonize other countries and
cause wars to attain his goals. These
Machiavellian policies were characteristic of Bismarck,
who never ceased to demonstrate a willingness to twist the events of the
political" world to achieve his ends.
Today little has changed. Hitler started World War II
with a series of annexations under the flimsiest of excuses.
Currently in the news of 2014, we see Vladimir Putin using
the frightening threat of military power to annex Crimea and
perhaps next the Ukraine without any real excuse. He
does it simply because he can. This is a pure example
of the fabled European "balance of power" strategy not
working - Russia is simply too strong.
The story of Germany, and for civilization in general, has
been one of neverending war. This article started with
war... barbarians racing into Central Europe and plundering
anything in their path. Then came the Romans.
Then came the Franks. Then came the insanity of the
Medieval Europe where millions of innocent people were
slaughtered in religious wars. This was followed by
the Middle Ages when all the wars were referred to by their
length... Seven Years, Thirty Years, One Hundred Years.
Next came the Napoleon Wars where any number countries lined
up on one side versus any number of countries on the other.
And then of course came the two horrible World Wars.
While it has been fascinating to trace war after war after
war, at some point one has to ask if civilization has ever
known any kind of lasting peace. Has any country ever
been born without a fight? Probably not.
By coincidence, the final German Wars of Unification took
place in 1860s at the same time as the Civil War in America.
This was America's first-hand chance to see the same horrors
that had plagued Europe for all those centuries.
Germany's fate in World War I and World War II certainly
makes one wonder if maintaining a military state makes much
A nation engaged in an arms race
like Bismarck’s Prussia can not only plot wars but can also
stumble into wars, as was the case in the First World War.
Arms races dramatically increase national government
spending. After 1871, the German Empire, France and
Britain all increased military spending, thereby reducing the amount
of their wealth that taxpayers could keep. It is impossible
to have a vast, sprawling military without also having a
vast, sprawling government.
Third, reliance upon force rather than consent — upon
military power rather than treaties, trade and legal
immigration — is no path to long term peace, prosperity, or
Are there lessons to be learned from Germany?
Our nation was founded upon the
we would be on friendly and peaceful terms with any nation
that would leave us in peace as well. The worst
trouble America has ever gotten into came when America
deviated from those principles.
In Vietnam and in Iraq, we attacked countries that had not
attacked us first. Both invasions cost America
countless men, countless dollars, and the moral high ground.
When America strays from that path, when we embrace the
Machiavellian cynicism of Europe - think Richard Nixon
- and imagine that "Empire" can
create peace and wealth, then we risk finding we have
neither peace nor prosperity.
Yes, it is important to have a strong defense, but a policy
based on Prussian's Blood and Iron aggression can never lead
to peace. Prussia had created so many enemies along
the way that the German people were doomed to pay a heavy
price in the Twentieth Century.
War is not the answer. The true way to build a nation
is to make allies and nurture trust.
One of the few good things to come out of World War II was a
rebirth of Germany into something pretty wonderful.
Today's Germany is a great power in regional and global
affairs. The Germans of today are certainly barbarians no
longer. Hardly! Germany has the world's fourth-largest
economy and is blessed with one of the highest standards of
living in the world.
Germany is well-known for its rich cultural and political
history. It has created one of the finest educational
systems in the world. Over the years, Germany has been
blessed with many influential philosophers, inventors,
writers, music composers and scientists.
It gives me great pleasure to point out Germany is one of
the best allies the United States has in the entire world.
In this crazy, mixed up world, I think America is very
fortunate to have Germany
on our side.
hope you have enjoyed my story of how Germany became a
Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army,
Otto von Bismarck,
the newly appointed Chancellor of the German Empire,
Minister of War, at the coronation of Prussian King William I as
the Emperor of the German Reich at Versailles in 1871.
move heavy with irony, Germany was blamed for causing the
which was signed in the very same room on 28 June 1919.
German Empire had come full circle.
Dresden, World War II. The German people paid a heavy
price for the warlike ways of its leaders.