Robinson 10 Aug. 2004
book written in 1902-3, was banned in Germany
, and the author found himself the object of
courts martial. . The book was banned as it "libeled
superior officers." True, but was generally admitted
to be common course by the Minister of War after the trial.
The maladies pointed out generally follow what I have learned
of Prussian Officers. The author, Lt Bilse, detailed what
he saw as horrible problems in a society of the elite officers
in a remote garrison in Alsace-Lorraine.
is not that different from life in a US
garrison town in Germany
in the late 20th century.
The 1904 English translation missed the key word small garrison.
While much is made of the omission, you get the idea easily.
The contents while allegedly fictional, were easy to spot
as the garrison of Forbach. You get the impression
this is some sort of cavalry organization but it is the home
of 10. Lothringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.174 after 1911, and train battalion earlier then that.
The book was based on a Train Battalion. Why there was such
an effort in the book to cover the regimental name in the
part of the book that covers the trial of Bilse.? I do not
know however, there is definitely an avoidance of who, what,
where, and when.
uncovered in "fiction" were:
commander (Similar to a modern US Battalion commander.)
who made what Bilse considered unreasonable decisions.
commander who was blackmailed under the sway of a subordinate’s
wives and officers.
in horrible debt.
who lied leading to the undeserved punishment of an
treatment of an OR.
NCO who lied leading to the trial and dismissal of another
NCO "on the take".
who deserted and ran away with another officer's wife.
- 3 are fairly standard complaints. Juniors frequently despise
and judge seniors (right and wrong) and marital infidelity
exists in all parts of society. (Janet would cut my ears
off though). What is not standard is that Prussians were
expected to duel to avenge their
honor. Dueling had been outlawed by
the Kaiser (in an effort to keep up numbers in a chronically
short officer’s corps). If you did duel you would be sentenced
to fortress arrest for a couple months as it was illegal.
If you chose not to duel you would be found a coward by
a regimental court of honor and drummed out of the service
for conduct unbecoming. Fortress arrest was always
for choice. You had no choice but to duel if you wanted
to stay in the army. The book relates a sad story of a captain
whose wife ran away after a torrid affair with a lieutenant.
The captain was obliged to challenge the lieutenant to a
duel to defend the honor of his now missing wife. During
the duel the captain was horribly wounded and had to be
medically pensioned. So he lost wife, family, income,
health and job. Once again the unhappy couple picture that
dominate German marriages come to light.
#4 seems to be endemic of Prussian
Officers. Marriage was done with income in mind. The father
in law was expected to pay off the officer groom's debts
and the bride was expected to bring monthly income into
the marriage. Bilse painted a picture of unhappy wives in
many cases. In one case a lieutenant finds his wife to be
incapable of providing the income he needs to live. Officer
salaries provided almost no income to the family and in
the small garrison leisure was spent at the officer's casino
where gambling took place. In debt officers often turned
to Jews for lending. This social group was then badly
besmirched and anti Semitism grew as moneylenders were blamed
for all financial problems. One story is of a lieutenant
who bought 10,000 marks of furniture on credit, borrowed
against it, and then sold it! When the creditors collided
a judge had to make peace.
was strictly forbidden in the Prussian Army. The victim
was extremely hesitant to say anything for fear of worse
punishment. He tells the story of an abused batman who deserted
rather than take more abuse. I have seen Ukrainian officers
in the 90's literally beat the heck out of an OR for making
a mistake. Such behavior was forbidden.
while unsurprising, is interesting in that he successfully
targeted: One Year Volunteers (OYVs). Not only would he
hit them as recruits but would accept payment annually during
training, from some to lessen the severity of their duties.
(This is the first time it dawned on me that OYVs did annual
duty. Makes sense just never thought about it.)
Rare but I've seen it. Even from a combat zone!!!!
all in all I'd say much ado about little. A good fast
read but not a lot of helmet details. What has become
obvious is that officers moved. Transfers and moves
in disgrace were common. So more support for double holes
of officers. Staying in an out of the way regiment was not
career enhancing. Getting in trouble or bringing negative
attention to your unit was bad. Some things never change.