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Sort order. Aug 16, Michael Kleen rated it liked it. It is a good example of what happens when a historian begins with a thesis and then shoehorns data to fit that thesis. The unlimited application of violence defined that extremism. This made the German military unique among the militaries of other European powers. To prove her thesis, Hull examined the behavior of the German military in Southwest Africa present day Namibia , German military culture, and the behavior of the German military during the First World War.

She drew from a large number of German sources and personal letters, as well as the philosophy of Hannah Arendt. To characterize the behavior of the German military during this period, Hull chose the Herero uprising in Southwest Africa. General Lothar von Trotha absolute authority to put down the rebellion.

Prisoners of war were interned in camps where they were treated inhumanely.

Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany - Videri

Because the idea of a "knock out blow" was so entrenched in German military thinking, Hull argues, the German military was logistically unprepared for a long war, leading it to exploit the resources of occupied territories. Lack of long term planning led to improvised tactics to subdue the enemy population. The military employed violence as a short-term solution, often taking the form of prison camps for civilians that lacked basic supplies.

This gap between the goal of total victory and lack of preparation was a fatal flaw in German strategy. Missing from this analysis is a comparison with other colonial powers during the period. How did the distance between Germany and its African colony affect military logistics?

Contradictions also plague this book. Isabel Hull failed to provide convincing evidence that the unlimited application of violence was unique to the German military during the period. Furthermore, her characterization of the German General Staff as robotically adhering to doctrine regardless of effectiveness during the First World War disregarded the success and ingenuity of German tactics in the face of unfavorable numerical odds.

May 12, Matt rated it really liked it Shelves: wwi , western-front , germany , africa , eastern-front , general-staff , german-spring-offensive , trench-warfare , pre-war. This was largely a solid history with a thesis about continuities in German military culture that led to its practices in WWI.

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Part one, about the Herero and Nama Genocide is especially important, easily the strongest part of the book. Mar 26, Joseph Stieb rated it it was amazing. Hull describes the German response to the Herero Revolts from as escalating towards genocide because of German military culture. Although the Herero resistance was essentially broken, the failure to achieve Vernichtungssieg meant from the German perspective that the Herero still viewed them as weak, which would encourage further rebellion. This mentality led the Germans to rapidly escalate their methods from battle to a host of increasingly violent practices: pursuit of the entire Herero population into the desert, massacres, prisoner abuse, and deliberate starvation.

Isabel V. Hull

After providing a sense of German military culture in action in Part 1, in Part 2 Hull more thoroughly identifies the origins and major traits of German military culture. Hull argues that German military culture emerged from the social and political position of the German Army. The Army had virtually no oversight from civilian authorities, no structural obligation to coordinate policy with civilian agencies like the Foreign Office, and a privileged social status as a symbol of the nation.

In addition, Hull shows how German military culture influenced doctrine. For instance, the Schlieffen Plan reflected military cultural values such as the narrow focus on military factors over a broader political context, an even narrower focus on operations and tactics, the pursuit of total annihilation of enemy forces, the view that all wars were existential conflicts, and the obsession with the offensive. She argues that military culture led the German Army to pursue strategies were needlessly wasteful and ignorant of broader political factors.

The fact that Germans pursued similar scripts of violence against a racial other in Africa and white Belgians in Europe supports her claim that military culture was the essential cause of radicalization. Hull, a senior German historian at Cornell University, successfully supports her argument. The utility of her choice to use military culture to analyze the German army is that it allows her to look at conscious doctrines and practices and the unexamined assumptions underlying those elements.

The fact that German soldiers and officers reacted to different conflicts with highly similar mentalities and practices strongly suggests a pervasive military culture. Furthermore, she bolsters her argument by comparing the German Army to the British Army. She shows that the British Army shared many of the practices and assumptions of German military culture.


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Overall, Hull gives historians an innovative way to understand military atrocities and an excellent account of the power of military culture to shape and ultimately warp the practices of warfare. This is a profoundly interesting and messed-up book. Nov 18, Jessica Injejikian rated it it was amazing Shelves: grad-school.

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Absolute Destruction is the most compelling work I have read about military practice, which typically bores me to tears. Her writing style kept me involved; she is the only historian I have seen utilize lists throughout their work for brevity and clarity. Hull is extremely concise, yet her thesis is well supported. Her writing style should be looked to as a historical standard, Absolute Destruction is the most compelling work I have read about military practice, which typically bores me to tears.

Her writing style should be looked to as a historical standard, IMO. Apr 04, morning Os rated it really liked it Shelves: reviewed , history-general. She gives a nice framework and a new angle to explain what people vaguely stereotype about German soldiers. It is interesting because her argument especially the implicit stickiness of "German" military culture is politically sensitive. I do not buy her clear distinction of 'culture' from ideologies.

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Overall the argument is theory-driven, and I see how sociological theories could be helpful in forming a new historical narrative. May 11, Sam Schulman rated it really liked it. A little dry - but one of those wonderful books that show that what everyone says, but can't be true, is true - in this case, that the Imperial German army was unusually bloodthirsty and cruel, even by white male standards, and that the colonial wars in SW Africa predicted the Hun and the Nazi, and their toleration by bien-pensant German civilian opinion.

Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany

Mar 05, Jur marked it as to-read Shelves: own , wwi. Carried to its extreme, the logic of "military necessity" found real security only in extremities of destruction, in the "silence of the graveyard. The author then moves back to and the war that inaugurated the Imperial era in German history, and analyzes the genesis and nature of this specifically German military culture and its operations in colonial warfare.

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In the First World War the routines perfected in the colonies were visited upon European populations. Hull focuses on one set of cases Belgium and northern France in which the transition to total destruction was checked if barely and on another Armenia in which "military necessity" caused Germany to accept its ally's genocidal policies even after these became militarily counterproductive. Hull concludes by speculating on the role of this distinctive military culture in National Socialism's military and racial policies.

Absolute Destruction has serious implications for the nature of warmaking in any modern power. At its heart is a warning about the blindness of bureaucratic routines, especially when those bureaucracies command the instruments of mass death. Online Buyback Sites. ValoreBooks Loading.. Amazon Trade-in Loading..


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