Book Review: Iron Kingdom

Review of Iron Kingdom

Rating: Recommended if interested in the topic

1. We are all Prussians now.
2. What Ifs
3. Ending – basically Junker support of Hitler, and dissolution
4. Thoughts on Prusso-German Military Superiority.

We are all Prussian now. First, what exactly was Prussia? It never was a natural nation or land, its boundaries were always fairly arbitrary. Liberals opposing it defined it as runaway militarism and discipline. While not inaccurate I think that purposefully misses a lot because they were on the same page with a lot of Prussianism. What I see as the essence of Prussia is the state. Prussia pioneered draconian army discipline, comprehensive education, bureaucratic system, state involvement in the internal economy, soft control of public opinion, and comprehensive welfare. Most of these have become common in the world today. We are all Prussians now.
This state was run by and for the Junker class and mostly developed by them. The Junkers were the thoroughly mixed German-Slavic aristocracy that came out of the eastward settling and conquest of Slavic areas by Germans such as the Teutonic order. Their land is sandy,  and somewhat marshy and consequently their estates were fairly hardscrabble farms where Junkers could generally not maintain a life of privileged leisure but needed to administer and work on their land. As Feudal work obligations faded away this class become economically insolvent. First Prussia attempted to prop up the aristocracy by  a national bank that loaned nobles money on very generous terms. That failed. Eventually, it employed them as officers and administrators paid for by industry and commercial interests which the state farmed, first by ham handed efforts at creating industries (this failed), education, and then by cozy relationships with business owners and commercial interests. Finally, it took steps to maintain its power in the face of growing nationalism/democratic movements by adopting it, controlling media by soft power means, indoctrination in schools and finally a comprehensive welfare system. This was the most interesting part of the book to me – how the landowner class held on to power in modern times and for this I recommend it.

What ifs. I have several and I don’t want to spend too much time on them, so in chronological order.
a. Frederick the Great (often called in Germany the unique or exceptional, which I think fits him better than the Great), took Silesia
for economic reasons and to make Prussia not completely indefensible. Doing the ensuing Silesian wars his allies who wanted a general war to break Austria. He generally dropped out of these alliances when Austria was on the ropes, and it stayed a great power.
What if instead he saw through the destruction of Austria as a great power? Prussia would be able to occupy only a little more than it took OTL, Belgium and Austrian holdings near France would be independent. France would probably push its borders a little more eastward. The partitions of Poland would be a lot different. End result is the French-Russian Squeeze that made Prussia a non factor in the Napoleonic wars would happen even earlier, which probably would lead to German nationalism even earlier too. Of course, I doubt England would stand idly by while Austria was dogpiled, probably the real result would be the 7 years war would start earlier with Austria playing the role of England’s sole continental ally. In some wars this would be a replay of earlier wars.
b. Different reunifications – especially the Frankfort parliament. In Europa Universalis if Prussia accepts that then a general dogpile on Germany ensues. I don’t see that as too likely but I assume for purposes of keeping the game more or less on track it is necessary. Probably the result would be a trend to a more constitutional monarchy, at least for Germany as a whole if not Prussia. Of course Prussia had the administration that was capable of scaling up the organs of government to the whole nation and still maintain some level of competence. There is a reason that the parliament picked the Hohenzollerns to be Kaiser after all. Friedrich Wilhelm II declined, precisely for the reason that it was a path to constitutional monarchy UK style. It is not theirs to give.
c. In the wars of 1866 and 1870 Prussia emerged as a leader of a unified Germany. Thanks to Bismark’s efforts Austria was not humiliated and later became an ally. Against his wishes France was humiliated and revanchism became a potent force in French politics. I think reconciling Austria was a mistake. It never could join the German nation because Hungary and other extensive holdings were not German. Germany needed to have as an ally either France or Russia (I assume the best it could hope for re UK was for it to stay neutral). By alienating Austria it would have Italy as a natural ally, and would not have cause for conflict with Russia. The main drawback is it would incentivize Austria to stir up trouble in the constituent states of the Empire, but nobody likes a loser. Also one though that occurred to me was to have a plebiscite in the conquered provinces with the populace voting to rejoin France, remain German (possible which state they would join) or Switzerland. Depending on the outcome, boundaries would be moved proportional to the popular support and people would be moved to homes in the new boundaries. Switzerland did something like that at the beginning of the religious wars and it seemed to prevent civil war for them. It might reduce the anti-German feeling in France slightly, shorten the border with France (Assuming the Swiss agree), and make Germany appear conciliatory.

 

Endings – I get sad at endings. I even mourned Carthage! when reading a history of that city. In this case I felt it most for the Junkers, mustering out at the end of WW1 and being forced out of their homes and manors at the end of WW2. This book says that despite initial resistance the nobility were pretty complicit in Hitler’s rise. Hindenburg in particular seems to be the cause of the ruin of Germany – Defying the Kaisers wishes routinely in WWI, including getting his way for unlimited submarine warfare, (in fact the details of WWI reveal that Junkers were really in charge, just like parliament is really in charge of monarchical Britain) At the end of WWI Hindenburg pushed peace through and then claimed it was all the civilians government idea – starting the ‘stab in the back’ myth, then actually handing power over to Hitler. I suppose it fitting that a Junker bear the blame for the end of the Junkers and Prussia.

Prusso-German Military Superiority. First lets be clear, I am talking about land combat and at a tactical-operational level, not at a strategic level. A reading of history seems like they generally punch above their weight, and of course they had several military innovations: drill and maneuver in formation, general staff/staff officers, rail mobilization, firepower v. shock then later shock and stormtroopers, blitzkrieg etc. Dupuy did a numeric analysis and concluded that part of this is due to them often fighting on the defensive and in smaller numbers. Smaller groups of men being easier to coordinate and bring to bear than larger groups. But after accounting for that they still seem to have an advantage of 10-20% more than their numbers would suggest in any given battle. I cannot explain why that would be. My guess would be that the staff system is slightly better than equivalents accounting for 2-3% of it but the lions share comes to greater local and regional loyalty and their canton system of recruitment. Essentially they went to boot camp with their neighbors and friends and fought with them – and they had a local identity that was important to them. Of course the downsides of this is a community could lose most of their sons in one day, and there is no national integration/networking like there was in the US following WWII which led to the homogeneity and economic growth of the 50s and 60s. I suppose Germany had massive refugees in the east, and sheer poverty, and the polarization of the cold war to fuel their own similar achievements in that era. But I am getting way beyond the scope of the book.

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