GHDI logo

The Ideology of the Officer Corps (1889)

The high expectations placed on the officer corps became a frequent subject of discussion in Bismarckian Germany. This 1889 article from a military journal preaches that the army's reputation for moral virtue and its claim of “high rank on the scale of human society” are both well-founded: the state-supporting function of the officer corps is taken as self-evident, as are the need for absolute loyalty and opposition to republican ideals. Officers are seen as missionaries of military attitudes among civilians. Yet this article also anticipates Kaiser Wilhelm II's call for a “nobility of spirit” that will include non-aristocratic recruits: “knights of intellect” drawn from the bourgeoisie will produce a new “nobility in arms” that will enjoy the same professional distinction as the old.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 4

Every German’s pride is the army, the bloom of the nation. Germany’s army – Germany’s glory! The most distinguished part of the army, however, the elite portion, is the officer corps.

“The spirit of the army is rooted in its officers,” says General von Rüchel,* and rightly so. They are the unmistakable measure of the usefulness and effectiveness of the army; the upholders of the moral element and of all the idealistic, ethical qualities that can alone guarantee sustained military success, and without which the army cannot fulfill its high mission as protector of throne and Fatherland in difficult times.

Therefore, the state of the officer corps is of the utmost importance; it is crucial to the value of the entire army. This situation simply reflects the experience of life in general: the lower classes are always what the upper classes make of them. As long as the higher, leading classes, the upper ten thousand, maintain moral virtue and health, the people remain strong and vital as well; the moral decay of the ruling classes, on the other hand, inexorably results in the decline of the entire nation. [ . . . ]

In no other country in the world is the officer class on such a high level; nowhere else does it assume such a high rank on the scale of human society, such a reputable and respected position as in Germany. [ . . . ]

Even though the officer’s profession is no longer the monopoly of the nobility, as it was in the past, even today only peers – only knights in intellect and gentlemen in education and attitude – may become members and comrades in this distinguished profession.

The nobility in arms has to rank equally with hereditary nobility. Aristocratic honor and officer’s honor are identical in all respects; the latter undoubtedly originates in the former.

The officer’s honor has been shaped from the knightly disposition which, founded on Christianity, included honesty, truthfulness, respect for women, and manly faithfulness; by being admitted to this class, the individual newcomer is personally knighted, so to speak.

* Ernst Philipp von Rüchel (1784-1823), Prussian General – ed.

first page < previous   |   next > last page