As more than half of the excerpts below was not included when this was first posted September 14, 2004 we have chosen to republish the entire post.
At the bottom I was quite content, for though I have never had great cares I have never had so care-free a life as at the front. Everything is clear and simple. My rights and duties are prescribed. I need earn no money. My food is provided me, and if things go badly with me I have a thousend fellow-sufferers, and above all, the shadow of death reduces every problem to a pleasant insignificance.
For they who can come through this - and, as I say, there can only be a few, what can there be that they can not come through? And so I see in old Europe a new and commanding breed rising up, fearless and fabulous, unsparing of blood and sparing of pity, inured to suffering the worst and to inflicting it and ready to stake all to atain their ends - a race that builds machines, to whom machines are not soulless iron, but engines of might which it controls with cold reason and hot blood. This puts a new face on the world.
The pretensioms of the other side may be even better grounded then ours. That is a matter of indifference. For it is not justification that turns the scale, but the stronger and more deeply realized will to power.
The hardiest sons of the war, the men who lead the storm-troop, and manipulate the tank, the aeroplane, and the submarine, are preeminent in technical accomplishment; and it is these picked examples of dare-devil courage that represent the modern state i battle. These men of first-rate qualities with real blood in their veins, courageous, intelligent, accustomed to serve the machine, and yet its superior at the same time, are the men, too, who show up best in the trench and among the shell-holes.
But we have never stopped it [war] and never shall, because war is not the law of one age or civilization, but of eternal nature itself, out of which every civilization proceedes, and into which it must sink again if it is not hard enough to withstand its iron ordeal.
As long as we have a youth that stands for all that is strong and manly our future is assured.
The important thing is that short and strenuous reverence be paid to the spirit of discipline. Three things keep a body of troops in fighting form: fighting spirit, strength and discipline. Fighting spirit – as I have said before – is the least easy to influence. It is the great prerequisite and justification of war – the spirit of the race and of the blood pledged to the last drop. There lie the roos of the strength whose full development is dependent on outward conditions, fresh air nourishment, clothing, and a lot else. When this soil fails fighting spirit is like a seedling plated in arenaceous quartz – it goes on growing for a while of its own resources and then gives out. It is a tragic destiny when a great enterprise comes to grief from this cause. Finally, the purpose of discipline is to economize and direct the two elements so that they are brought to bear on one aim with overwhelming force. It is a means, not an end; it is in seeing it in its true proportion that the real fighter is distinguished from the soldier. It is one of the danger-points of the Prussian system that it easily loses sight of the spirit in the letter and of real strength in the empty show of it. One of the most terrible apparitions is the sheer drill-master – a machine that goes by clockwork. It is bound to break down for the mere reason that in war there is no rule but the exception.
When equal sacrifices are required, equal rights must be given likewise. This has been such commonplace of thought for a hundred and twenty years that one is ashamed to find it still in need of emphasis. I any case, if this principle is applied in an army, and the great saying about the Marshal’s baton that every recruit carries in his knapsack is not an mere empty phrase, everybody feels that he is in his place, whether he is born to command or to obey. If I give any offence by this, I may add that this would be an army composed entirely of Fahnenjunker.
Democratic sentiments? I hate democracy as I do the plague – besides, the democratic ideal of an army would be one consisting entirely, not of Fahnenjunker, but of officers with lax discipline and great personal liberty. For my taste, on the contrary, and for that of young Germans in general to-day, an army could not be too iron, too dictatorial, ad too absolute – but if it is to be so, then there must be a system of promotion that is not sheltered behind any sort of privilege, but opened up to the keenest competition.
If we are to come to grief in this war it can only be from moral causes; for materially, whatever any one may say, we are strong enough. And the decisive factor will be the defects of leadership; or to express it more accurately, the relation in which officers and men stand to each other. It would not be for the first time in our experience, and it would be another proof that peoples too (for it is on the shoulders of the whole people, not jsut the ruling class) always repeat the same mistakes just as individuals do. The battle of Jena is an instance. This defeat should not be regarded as a great disaster, but as a just and well-deserved warning of the fate to cut loose from an impossible state of affairs; for in that battle a new principle of leadership encountered and overthrew an antiquated one. Every war that is lost is lost deservedly. One must always bear that in mind if one wishes to be the winner.
From this it may be seen at once what is the most important quality a nation must possess when its position in the world compels it to reckon with the waging of great wars. This quality is more than ever, in peace as well as in war, the proof of its fitness to survive. It is the capacity for the speedy development of a large programme.
To us, too, the machine is something external, something we that we have set up outside ourselves. But it is our indispensable resource, whether in peace or war; and for that reason we endorse it and accept it.
The moment we give in, no machine in the world can help us. But as long as we do not lose the feeling that calls out to every valiant man, ’You are born to rule,’ we shall always know how to create the best instruments of power of our time.
Thus we can see that the mechanics of war not only mean increased power but also make the highest demands on the men concerned. The best men will have the best machinery and the best bachinery will have the best men – for the two are inseparable.
Pacifism will rise and fall with the times. A period of weariness or one that lacks great ideas will always give it a clear field. And rightly, for when young men have no great aim before their eyes, why shold they sacrifice themselves? When they have, on the other hand, they will of their own accord be carried away by the force that quails at nothing. The proud and indisputable right of the victor to decide the world’s destiny is so intoxicating a prospect to a race that does not doubt its call to greatness, that all else must appear of no account.
Wars are bound to occur from time to time. In them is manifested that determination of nature to intervene directly in the evolution of the greatest organisms of the earth, though they strive to withdraw themselves from her influence, and to break it forcibly upon their one-sided and purely economic aims.
Toleration of all sides, of which we were so proud, must be seen for what it is – a negative quality. He who as no real belief in anything can certainly be tolerant and to spare; but only intolerance has any force behind it.