Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The two greatest events in term of magnitude in Germany and in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries revolved around the ideas and actions of two men: Otto von Bismarck and Adolf Hitler. These men pulled Germany together and gave it a sense of nationalism that would sweep the Western world and change Europe forever. Their actions were meant to make Germany the greatest nation in Europe and the world. In order to do that, they played political chess and became masters of deception. Bismarck and Hitler were Germany’s most well-known and influential leaders who left their mark on their nation and the world.
Prince Otto Edward Leopold von Bismarck came on the scene when Germany was a collection of almost forty independent states with Germanic heritage but not a united government. They were run by princes without a sense of Germanic nationalism though many groups pushed toward unification. That push became a tsunami when Bismarck became the prime minister of Prussia. From the very beginning of his power, Bismarck desired to “unite the German states into a strong German Empire with Prussia as its core.” He strategically set the stage for Prussia to develop into an adversary that would be strong enough that the other Germanic states would prefer unification rather than defeat.
The road to unification hit Europe hard. It began with the Danish War in 1864 when Prussia allied with Austria with sights set on Schleswig-Holstein. They were successful as the rest of Europe sat on its hands and allowed Prussia to be victorious in acquiring the territory. Bismarck’s strategic moves were planned well in advance. Even while joining forces with Austria against Denmark, he was plotting his attack on his partner in crime. He developed a military and political machine that would cull each state one by one and break down the resistance. With Austria, he negotiated with Italy, Russia and France, and the other Germanic states to leave Austria crippled and alone. He made a political move which “purposely excluded Austria from the German affairs” which finally forced Austria’s hand. As a result of the fear instilled into the other Germanic states, the North German confederation was formed allowing the German states to continue governing themselves though they were now under the control of the German Empire. It wasn’t complete unification, but the military power of Prussia was strong enough to push the move down the road a great distance.
One of the most infamous traits of Bismarck was his political backstabbing. He moved to Austria’s side only to turn on her. He made an agreement with France which he never intended on keeping which became evident in the Franco-Prussian War. He strategically isolated France and moved in for the kill. Bit by bit, he was tearing Europe apart and pitting countries against each other in order to gain the advantage. Even after he defeated France and took the land he sought, he moved to “keep France diplomatically isolated” in order to prevent them from trying to take back what was theirs by setting up various alliances with the major European powers. It wasn’t long before Bismarck could look upon the land as a united Germany.
During this unification process, Bismarck faced the problem that his goal was “both too extensive and not extensive enough to satisfy national hopes.” Many of the lands he pulled into Germany were of Germanic heritage but had lived under the influence of other cultures for hundreds of years. This created resentment to those that were taken into the new Reich that would fester and explode during the two world wars. Bismarck sought to bring the Germanic people together under a sense of nationalism. Though he was successful in uniting the states, he set the stage for massive European upheavals with war. Tensions between Germany and other nations became ingrained and still exist today. Bismarck’s act of political cloak and dagger made Germany unified but created common enemies that would join forces later. These same problems could be seen when Hitler rose up decades later.
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