German Immigration: Pacifism

Figure 1.--This portrait of a German-American boy is interesting as it is rather unusual. The boy about 1910 wears a German cadet uniform. We are unsure when his ancestors immigrated, but we believe he was born in America. It is unsusual not only because he is wearing a German-style uniform, but because there was a strong thread of pascifism among German-American immigrants.

Europeans may be surprised to know that there was a string pascifist thread among German-American families. Germans in the 19th and early 20th century developed a militaistic image. This was due to the Prussian military tradition and the fact that Germany was unified by the Prussian monarchy. Kaiser Wilhem II's bombastic behavior and of course Hitler's military adventurism helped confirm this image. A great deal has been written about German militarism, with good reason. Much less has been writtebn about the interesting subject of German pacifism. There are a range of reasons why German immigrants did not have this martial tradition. Many Germans who immigrated to America objected to conspription. It was in some cases one of the reasons for immigrating. Many Germans immigrated before Prussia united Germany. I'm not sure of the regional makeup of German immigration, but suspect that Prussia did not fit highly in the regional makeup. Another factor was the military suppression of the 1848 liberal revolutions. Many German immigrants in the aftermath dispaired of liberal reforms in Germany and turned to America. Thus the German-American boy in a cadet uniform is very unusual (figure 1). There were also pacifist religious sects like the mennotites who immigrated. Over time German-Americans gradually acquired more generalized American political and social attitudes. Of course German immigration was so extensive that it also affected American attitudes and values. A good example is the Eisenhower family. Dwight's parents were pascifist yet he became the most popular American military commnder of the 20th century and eventually president.


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Created: 2:54 AM 9/18/2006
Last updated: 6:01 AM 10/12/2006