Is pacifism actually harmful to a nation?

An epidemic of political murder


Read on one side

State attacks intensified during the First World War. Pacifist literature can no longer be published; prominent pacifists escape persecution by fleeing abroad, mostly to Switzerland. In 1918 the nationalist propaganda sounds that German democrats, Jews and pacifists stabbed the fighting front with the dagger in the back.

In the first years after the war, a true epidemic of political murder raged in Germany. According to the statistics of Emil Julius Gumbel, a pacifist mathematician, a total of 354 murders were committed "from the right" between January 1919 and June 1922. The victims are primarily well-known opponents of the war and less "Bolsheviks", as contemporary propaganda claimed. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg belong to them as well as the lieutenant captain Hans Paasche, who converted to pacifism under the influence of the war. The perpetrators can trust that the nationalist judiciary will find ways to let them get away with impunity.

The nationalists, however, have only parts of society on their side. Millions of women and men did not experience the war as a heroic event, but rather associate it with hunger, hardship, danger and death. In the first five years after the war, these people took part in mass demonstrations in many places - under the motto "Never again war!" The organizers coincide with the defenders of the republic: social democracy, center, left-wing liberals, trade unions. Then there are the pacifist organizations.

The Weimar judiciary does not punish illegal armament, but persecutes its critics

But the foundation of the republic is weak, because the nationalists refuse to approve the new state, but remain in their traditional positions. They compensate for the losses in power politics with an increased militarism of the minds. At the same time they operate secret armaments and prepare war plans.

This creates a ludicrous situation: while the militarists are secretly working for the war of revenge, the pacifists are fighting illegal armaments measures using the means of enlightenment - a political judiciary that is committed to the power-state thinking, however, does not fight illegal secret armaments, but the legal enlighteners. These are criminalized with the help of the treason paragraph, as happened in the trial against Carl von Ossietzky because of the World stage published article "Windiges aus der Deutschen Luftfahrt", which revealed how the Reichswehr pushed ahead with the establishment of an air force contrary to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty.

In the final phase of the Weimar Republic, organized pacifism drifted apart as a result of massive differences of opinion. In essence, it is about the question of whether peace is threatened by the new German militarism or by external enemies. As a result of this controversy, DFG chairman Ludwig Quidde, who had been in office since 1914, resigned in 1929. He is succeeded by World War General Paul Freiherr von Schoenaich, who fell away from believing in the sword. It has been blasphemed that militarism was so strong in Germany that even the Peace Society could not do without a general at the top. But even with him as chairman, the DFG soon sinks into insignificance, while the NSDAP is blowing a storm on the republic.

Little is known about how the Nazis, once in power, would deal with the pacifists, as early as 1930. At that time, the NSDAP parliamentary group in the Reichstag presented a draft "Law for the Protection of the German Nation", in which they vowed to make short work of all military critics. For Hitler, pacifist endeavors are "humanity drudgery" contrary to nature. And indeed, after 1933, the pacifists were forcefully pushed back and silenced: Half of the literature that professors and students loyal to the regime threw into the fire in May 1933 is pacifist literature. In the war years, the military penal code and the increasingly radical versions of the relevant commentaries serve to prosecute pacifist ideas as "treason" or "degradation of military strength" and to punish them with death. It is no different for conscientious objectors and deserters. And the Nazi state not only wants to eradicate pacifism, but also the memory of it. He almost succeeded in doing that. Its history will only be rediscovered in the course of the West and East German peace movement of the seventies and eighties.

Wolfram bet

The author is Professor (em.) For Modern History at the University of Freiburg. More on the subject in his book Emergency peace, which was recently published by Donat Verlag in Bremen (640 pages, € 24.80)

After approval by the British occupation authorities, the DFG was re-established in 1946. The "Friedensgeneral" von Schoenaich, who was its president until 1933, takes over the chairmanship again. The largest pacifist association now demands - in accordance with the war aims of the Allies - "the complete annihilation of Prussian-German militarism".

Ludwig Quidde no longer experiences this re-establishment. On March 18, 1933, he fled Munich to Switzerland. In 1936 his daughter and a little later his partner followed. In 1940 the Nazi regime finally citizenship him. Somebody like him shouldn't be a German anymore. Ludwig Quidde died on March 5, 1941 in Geneva. A few days later he would have been 83 years old.