The start of the Great War was greeted with enthusiasm by many citizens across Europe. People had developed a greater sense of nationalism and patriotism – sentiments governments actively encouraged through their education systems and the mass press. Germany had developed a reputation for intellectual excellence and industrial growth before the war (Kahn, below) and Germans were encouraged to believe they were part of a superior civilisation, a concept expressed as Kultur.
As a result, thes of invulnerability and moral integrity pervaded German propaganda. Other nations were seen as fighting for selfish reasons or out of jealousy while Germany fought to defend its existence and way of life (Wundt ; Freytag-Loringhoven, below). Not all pro-war Germans agreed with this narrative of defence, however. Harden’s writing confirms the Allied view that Kultur and aggressive militarism became one and the same (Spielmann, below).
Although British academics acknowledged a considerable debt to German scholarship, they lamented the German intellectuals’ support for the Kaiser’s use of Kultur as a justification of war. One of our past college chaplains, Daniel Inman, has researched the relationship between German and English theologians during the war. He describes how the Oxford faculty wrestled with the outbreak of war and were surprisingly critical of the strident nationalism apparent in British public opinion. However, as the war progressed, Oxford’s liberal theologians increasingly came under criticism for their indebtedness to German theology. Many Germans also lamented the way in which the war restricted their intellectual freedom and critical debate (Fernau, below).
“The things which made Germany great are not dead, and the world cannot afford to allow them to die. They belong to the immortal possessions of the human race.” (Kahn)
“France’s desire for revenge, England’s envy and jealousy and Russia’s dream of power through Panslavism worked together in an unhealthy mix of national instincts” (Wundt)
“In the case of the Central Powers, that lofty moral strength, arising from the sense of righteous self-defence in a war which had been thrust upon them, showed its superiority to the zeal which a commercial and predatory war could kindle in our enemies” (Freytag-Loringhoven)
“Let us renounce those miserable efforts to excuse the actions of Germany in declaring war. It is not against our will that we have thrown ourselves into this gigantic adventure. The war has not been imposed upon us by others and by surprise. We have willed the war. It was our duty to will it. We decline to appear before the tribunal of united Europe. We reject its jurisdiction. One principle alone counts and no other - one principle which contains and sums up all the others - might.” (Speilmann)
"And is it not the fact that German scholar-ship has declared its solidarity with all these actions and has thus robbed itself of the glory which it enjoyed throughout the whole world?" (Nippold)
“If, in the land of Kant and Fichte, a Government now declares that it must draw the sword in defence of these treasures of Culture, and yet at the same time enforces silence upon any critics who are not of one mind with itself, this proceeding ought to cause us Germans the utmost shame and anxiety.” (Fernau)