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German Terrorism in WW1 – “The Guns of August 1914” – Barbara Tuchman

April 3rd, 2012 · No Comments · Human Rights, War, WW1

The turn of events in Belgium was a product of the German theory of terror. Clausewitz had prescribed terror as the proper method to shorten war, his whole theory of war being based on the necessity of making it short, sharp and decisive. He said the civil population must not be exempted from war’s effects but must be made to feel its pressure and be forced by the severest measures to compel their leaders to make peace. As the object of war was to disarm the enemy, he argued reasonably, ‘we must place him in a situation in which continuing the war is more oppressive than surrender’…

Although 1870s proved the corollary of the theory and practise of terror, that it deepens antagonism, stimulates resistance and ends by lengthening war, the Germans remained wedded to it’. As Shaw said, they were a people with a contempt for common sense.


On August 23 placards signed by General von Bulow were posted in Liege, announcing that the people of Andenne, a small town on the Meuse near Namur, having attacked his troops in the most ‘traitorous’ manner, ‘with my permission the General commanding these troops has burnt the town to ashes and has had 110 persons shot.’ The people of Liege were being informed so that they would know what fate to expect if they behaved in the same manner as their neighbours.

When Bulow’s army took Namur, a city of 32,000, notices were posted announcing that ten hostages were being taken from every street who would be shot if any civilian fired on a German. The taking and killing of hostages was practised as systematically as the requisitioning of food. The further the Germans advanced, the more hostages were arrested….

Through some peculiar failure of the system, the greater the terror the more terror seemed to be necessary.

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