The Caste System in Germany
By F. W. Giese, Prof. Romance, Languages University of Wisconsin
German society is based on absolutism and militarism. The ambition of the House of Hohenzollern is to dominate the world; its pretext is to spread Germanism. German culture we have hitherto warmly welcomed - - and we shall do so again. But the Kaiser’s brand of Germanism we do not want. We prefer our own civilization which is based on liberty, not on despotism.
The Kaiser says: “The soldier should have no will of his own: you should all have but one will, and that is my will. There is but one law for you, and that is mine.”
He says to his recruits: “Should the necessity arise, you must even shoot down your fathers and mothers at my order.”
He says again: “Only one is master in the land. That am I! Whoever opposes me I will smash in pieces!”
He refers here to Social Democrats, the only important party in Germany that stands for democratic liberty and for the rights of the common man. He calls them “a gang unworthy of the name of Germans”, traitors to their country!”
The Kaiser and the government are intensely militaristic. Wilhelm’s first speech as Kaiser was to the army and navy. These are his idols. “German militarism is the best thing we have achieved in the course of our development as a state and a people”, say Chancellor von Buelow. A chorus of professors and politicians joins in. Professor Sombart proclaims ware “the holiest thing on earth,” and all re-echo Moltke’s words that perpetual peach is only a dream and not even a beautiful dream.
Under such a government there is little liberty, and much oppression. “We Germans in Prussia”, says Karl Liebknecht, “have three cardinal rights: to be soldiers, to pay taxes and to hold our tongues between our teeth.” In Prussia they are not very considerate of the common man.
In the first place, is he educated for his won good? Of the common school teacher and of the university professor alike the Kaiser says: “According to his rights and duties he is in the first place, a state official. In this position he should do what is demanded of him. He should teach the young and prepare them for resisting all revolutionary (i.e. democratic) aims.”
The German boy not only learns at school that he must not be a Social-Democrat, he learns that he is to be a soldier – not a very pleasant business. His drill-masters do not treat him very humanely. In 1902 the Reichstag protested, and 600 officers were condemned for cruelty to soldiers – one lieutenant for 600 cases of mal-treatment, and one non-commissioned officer for 1520. “They attempt to tame men as they attempt to tame animals,“ says Liebknecht.
A civilian, when he has to deal with an officer, is in even worse plight. At Zabern, a colonel locked up thirty civilians (including a judge) for 24 hours in a cellar, to make them properly respect the uniform! On trial he was acquitted (inspite of an overwhelming protest from the powerless Reichstag), and the Crownprince sent him his congratulations! Numberless cases are cited of civilians run through by officers whom they happened to jostle in the street, of ladies forced to surrender their seats in street cards to officers, or pushed off the sidewalk into the mud by uniformed “gentlemen”.
After his army service, the work man, back at his job, has longer hours and poorer pay than almost any other European working man. As a result, 55 per cent of the workmen’s families in Berlin live in a single room, according to Ambassador Gerard.
If the laborer does not like his wags of course he can strike, but he must not forget that the Kaiser once proposed, on his own initiative, a law making strikes punishable by three to five years of penal servitude. Against sickness, non-employment and destitution and old age the government shrewdly protects him, in past of course, at his own expense. He will have to pay a large share of h is slender savings into the government insurance fund – and, if he should ever leave the country, he will lose all he has paid in! There’s a reason! It is an indirect method of restoring serfdom and of imprisoning the German within the bounds of his won country, so that he and his children may furnish the Kaiser a generous supply of cannon fodder.
The German-American who loves freedom and the blessings of peace cannot therefore love a system, which is the deadly foe of both. “Kultur” says a celebrated German writer Thomas Mann “is a spiritual organization of the world, which does not exclude bloody savagery. It raises the demonic to sublimity. It is above morality, reason and science.” Since this picture of German imperialism is only too true, is it astonishing that it holds out little attraction to anyone who knows it for what it is. Is it astonishing that many a German-American who has gone back to pass his old age in the fatherland which he had left as a youth, has found life there so narrow and freedom so restricted that he has after a short time come back again to a land where the common man enjoys full political liberty and finds every business and social opportunity open to him and his children?