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Hull argues that the routines and practices of the Imperial German Army, unchecked by effective civilian institutions, increasingly sought the absolute destruction of its enemies as the only guarantee of the nation's security.
Isabel V. Hull is John Stambaugh Professor of History at Cornell University. She is the author of Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700–1815 (also from Cornell) and The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1888–1918, and the coeditor of German Nationalism and the European Response, 1890–1945.
John Horne, Professor of Modern European History, Trinity College Dublin:
This brilliant and conceptually innovative book examines the organizational culture and military practices of the Prusso-German army between victory in 1870 and defeat in 1918. Isabel V. Hull subtly analyzes the cumulative internal pressures on the army to resort to the use of extreme violence in facing its military challenges. She finds that the weakness of external constraints (such as government and public opinion) which might have curtailed such violence distinguished the German army from its European counterparts. Building on its triumph in the Franco-Prussian War, the army insisted on total victory based on the annihilation of the enemy, thus subordinating both strategy and diplomacy to the military conduct of war. A comparative discussion of how British military brutality in the South African War was curbed by public opinion, and ultimately the government, demonstrates the argument in the colonial sphere. Hull's discussion of the Great War focuses on the harshness of occupation practices in Belgium and France as well as in eastern Europe and on the complicity of some German officers in the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. She also highlights the refusal by the military leadership to distinguish between the fate of the nation and that of the army. It was this extremism that proved the real legacy of the Imperial Army to Nazi Germany. Combining wide reading in the historical literature with intensive use of archives, Hull has provided the most compelling analysis so far of the distinguishing features of the Imperial German army over the span of its existence. Historians of Imperial Germany, colonialism, the First World War, and the role of the military everywhere are in her debt for a fine and thought-provoking book.
"Isabel V. Hull is one of the most accomplished German historians and surely the best of her generation when it comes to empirically soundjudicious, and yet critical scholarship. In her new book she has taken on the daunting challenge of outlining the specific military role in the descent into genocide, which she locates in World War I. For being so utterly provocative, her argument about German military culture is sound and will have staying power in the debates that will undoubtedly ensue. Of course, as far as I am concerned her main provocation lies in the tantalizing parallels of German military culture and the American one. But hers is a German history and it is a compelling one." —Michael Geyer, University of Chicago
Isabel V. Hull has written a powerful analysis of the Prusso-German military between the founding of the German Empire in 1871 up to the end of World War I.... It is not difficult to predict that Hull's analytical framework will generate debate and further research.... This is a rich and thoughtful book that will lead historians of modern Germany to reexamine the decade prior to 1918, and it may also push scholars of the military in other European societies to test again the relationship between military-political institutions and the resort to extreme violence.
Hull writes with passion as well as exactitude. From the first sentence her target becomes institutional extremism, here meaning the military culture that dominated Germany from 1870 through World War I.... She analyzes the presuppositions and implicit assumptions behind military institutions that lead more to particular choices regarding the use of violence during war than do explicit policies or detailed planning.
Absolute Destruction is a stimulating, scholarly, fluent, and important book.... Almost everything Isabel V. Hull says about German military thought, about Germany's institutional weaknesses in the formulation of strategy, and about the result in war itself—particularly that tactical skill and operational art did duty for strategy—is shrewd and sensible. However, the originality of her book resides elsewhere: in the links between colonial war and European war, and between the German Army and other European armies.
'Brilliant' is an adjective that should be used sparingly by reviewers, so that when a truly brilliant book like this one comes along it can be properly designated. Using the concept of organizational culture as her analytical framework, Isabel Hull lays out a coherent explanation for the fact that the Prussian-German army of 1870–1918, in most respects the world's best, functioned so disastrously at the task of formulating strategy in support of rational state policy.
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