Youth In The Fatherless Land – War Pedagogy, Nationalism, and Authority in Germany, 1914 – 1918

Youth In The Fatherless Land –

War Pedagogy, Nationalism, and Authority in Germany, 1914 – 1918

By Andrew Donson

Harvard University Press – £36.95

In the conclusion of Youth In The Fatherless Land – War Pedagogy, Nationalism, and Authority in Germany, 1914 – 1918 Andrew Donson writes: ‘’The highest masculine ideal was not to be afraid of ‘’dying on the alter of the Fatherland.’’

Whether or not such dubious idealism acted as a subliminal prerequisite for Weimarian thought – the pinnacle of which was the despicable onslaught of Nazism in 1933 – is highly contentious. For at the time, such inflammatory rhetoric was highly contagious, especially in a nation literally starving to death and on the brink of revolution.

Due to the First World War’s vast, not to mention far-reaching mobilization, German teachers (along with authors of youth literature) instilled such loaded, all purveying feelings of militarism and jingoism, that the country evolved into the world’s largest and most over subscribed organisation of Socialist Youth. An organisation that ironically and illegally, agitated for peace amid the rise of the proletariat. Also, mass conscription empowered female youth – particularly within the nation’s middle-class movement – the only one anywhere, which essentially pitted itself against an older society.

As Donson makes clear throughout this nuanced and highly comprehensive study of German youth culture during the First World War, it ought hardly be surprising to learn that such a profound dogma as that initially quoted, wholeheartedly prevailed in relation to an ideological kernel of Germany’s future.

In Chapter Nine’s ‘ Propaganda and the Limits on Dissent,’ he writes: ‘’Authors in the journal (Die Lehrerin, the leading weekly for female schoolteachers) discussed using class time for war prayers and patriotic war work and suggested lessons for teaching war poems and war plays. The slogans were the same as in 1914: Allow ‘’the children to experience the great times’’ and ‘’devote service to the Fatherland.’’ ‘’The war is a great pedagogical God,’’ one teacher claimed. ‘’It helps us to ennoble the will of the child, to educate her in selflessness and joy in sacrifice.’’

Is it any wonder that the Hitler Youth evolved into the super influential powerhouse that it was to become? Wherein actions were indeed stronger than words. Wherein myopic hate was both administered and applauded from above.

On a number of occasions in Youth in the Fatherless Land, Donson substantiates a war pedagogy that was by far too circumlocutionary. Not only for its own good, but also that of Germany itself: ‘’Teachers who were previously quiet about patriotism now saw it as their duty to nurture it in their pupils. Those who had earlier kept their radical nationalist ideas out of the classroom now immersed their pupils in the glory of war and German territorial acquisition. Under the Burgfrieden, no one could publicly criticize this jingoism. Evidence from over twelve hundred original compositions by schoolchildren in 1915 shows how these practices transmitted militarist and nationalist ideas to youths and reinforced their support for the war and its violence.’’

Covering a broad range of topics, ranging from crime to religion (which herein, are more oft than not the same thing), to gender, family, politics, work, recreation, everyday life and the constant influence of literature, Donson deliberates upon an array of dense and demanding issues. Issues, from which so much ought to be gleaned, but probably won’t be due to the continuing inane proclivity of human nature.

One need only look at the recent upsurge of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, to fully appreciate the media’s devastating influence upon the young.

David Marx


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