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The Inevitability of War: General Friedrich von Bernhardi (1912)

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It is also imperative to reclaim for war its moral justification and political importance in public opinion. Its great significance as the mightiest promoter of civilization must be generally recognized in accordance with its worth. We must come to understand that in a genuinely cultured nation, economic and personal interests alone must never be allowed to be the only ones; that it is not the external but the moral goods that are the true cultured goods worth striving for, and that making sacrifices and enduring suffering in the interest of a great cause elevates man more than does the enjoyment and greedy pursuit of the sensual goods of this world; in short, that war for idealistic purposes or for the self-affirmation of a noble people should be described not as barbarism, but as the highest expression of true culture, and as a political necessity in the interest of biological, social, and moral progress. [ . . . ]

In these results, however, lies the biological importance of war for the progressive development of mankind; for it is clear that the forces that bestow superiority in warfare, namely above all the spiritual and moral ones, of the kind that flourish only in a vital people, are at the same time those that make possible a progressive development of culture. It is precisely because they contain within themselves the elements of progress that they grant victory, which expands the vital people and creates more favorable living conditions and enhanced influence. Without war, however, it would be all too easy for the inferior and degenerate races to overpower the healthy, germinative elements through sheer size and the power of capital, and a general decline would be the inevitable outcome. In selection lies the creative power of war. Because it and it alone brings this about, it becomes a biological necessity, a regulator in the life of mankind, which cannot be dispensed with, because without it the result would be an unhealthy development that would rule out any advancement of the species and thus also all genuine culture.

Source: Friedrich von Bernhardi, Unsere Zukunft. Ein Mahnwort an das deutsche Volk [Our Future. A Word of Warning to the German People]. Stuttgart-Berlin, 1912, pp. 22 ff., 54, 56, 60.

Original German text reprinted in Willibald Gutsche, Herrschaftsmethoden des deutschen Imperialismus 1897/8 bis 1917 [The Ruling Methods of German Imperialism, 1897/8 to 1917]. East Berlin, 1977, pp. 153-54.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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