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Militarism in a Global Age

Naval Ambitions in Germany and the United States before World War I

by Dirk Bönker

Publication Year: 2012

At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States and Germany emerged as the two most rapidly developing industrial nation-states of the Atlantic world. The elites and intelligentsias of both countries staked out claims to dominance in the twentieth century. In Militarism in a Global Age, Dirk Bönker explores the far-reaching ambitions of naval officers before World War I as they advanced navalism, a particular brand of modern militarism that stressed the paramount importance of sea power as a historical determinant. Aspiring to make their own countries into self-reliant world powers in an age of global empire and commerce, officers viewed the causes of the industrial nation, global influence, elite rule, and naval power as inseparable. Characterized by both transnational exchanges and national competition, the new maritime militarism was technocratic in its impulses; its makers cast themselves as members of a professional elite that served the nation with its expert knowledge of maritime and global affairs.

American and German navalist projects differed less in their principal features than in their eventual trajectories. Over time, the pursuits of these projects channeled the two naval elites in different directions as they developed contrasting outlooks on their bids for world power and maritime force. Combining comparative history with transnational and global history, Militarism in a Global Age challenges traditional, exceptionalist assumptions about militarism and national identity in Germany and the United States in its exploration of empire and geopolitics, warfare and military-operational imaginations, state formation and national governance, and expertise and professionalism.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I have accrued a great many debts during the writing of this book. Its completion offers a welcome opportunity to express my gratitude to those who have provided assistance throughout the process. ...


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Maritime Militarism in Two Modern Nation-States

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pp. 1-20

“Navalism, or naval militarism, is the twin brother of militarism on land and bears its repulsive and virulent traits. It is at present, to a still higher degree than the militarism on land, not only the consequence but also the cause of international dangers of a world war.” ...

Part I: Military Force, National Industry, and Global Politics: Naval Strategies of World Power

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Chapter 1. World Power in a Global Age

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pp. 23-46

At the beginning of the twentieth century, American and German naval elites used the language of “world power” to describe their own nations’ changing places in the world. “Either by reason of our material wealth, force of circumstances, or manifest destiny, we have become a world power,” ...

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Chapter 2. Big-Power Confrontations over Empire

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pp. 47-72

In the German naval elite’s collective imagination, the United States figured as an exemplary world power. Admiral Diederichs, the chief of the German Admiralty Staff, noted admiringly in 1900 that America had “quietly” built so powerful a navy that it was now “well-entitled” to “have a powerful say in matters of global politics.” ...

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Chapter 3. Maritime Force, Threat, and War

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pp. 73-98

In his history of the war at sea, published in 1906, Vice-Admiral (ret.) Curt von Maltzahn, the former director of the German Naval War College, the Marineakademie, wrote that an “armed peace” characterized the “state community of naval powers” in the current age. ...

Part II: The Cult of the Battle: Approaches to Maritime Warfare

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Chapter 4. War of Battle Fleets

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pp. 101-124

No other navy invited comparison to the German navy as much as the U.S. navy, noted Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz in a special presentation to the emperor in March 1902. Both navies had “reached the same conclusions about strategy and tactics,” regardless of diverging attitudes toward “organization, training, and administration.” ...

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Chapter 5. Planning for Victory

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pp. 125-148

The decisive battle between the German and U.S. battleship fleets took place off the coast of New England. A German battle force of twenty-two battleships, five battlecruisers, forty-four torpedo boats, and about fifty submarines had rapidly crossed the North Atlantic after the declaration of war. ...

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Chapter 6. Commerce, Law, and the Limitation of War

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pp. 149-172

After World War I, the German political theorist Carl Schmitt was quick to argue that maritime warfare had helped to pioneer so-called total war, a new practice of war among the great powers.1 The conduct of such “total war” had dissolved the boundaries between combatants and noncombat-ants, soldiers and civilians: it was built around the potentially unlimited ...

Part III: The Quest for Power: The Navy, Governance, and the Nation

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Chapter 7. Naval Elites and the State

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pp. 175-199

In 1904, the Republican assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, Charles H. Darling, appeared before the House Naval Affairs Committee to denounce a plan for a change in the organization of the Navy Department. This plan, Darling argued, “savors too much of militarism to be consistent with the spirit of our institutions, even in the administration of the Navy Department.” ...

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Chapter 8. Manufacturing Consent

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pp. 200-223

In an important article on German-American naval competition before World War I, published in 1939, Alfred Vagts, a German émigré historian in the United States, insisted on the commonality of the two navies’ approaches to politics and propaganda. ...

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Chapter 9. A Politics of Social Imperialism

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pp. 224-248

In an oft-cited letter from December 1895, Alfred von Tirpitz wrote that Germany needed to create a powerful navy and promote its maritime interests “not the least so because in the new great national goal and the associated economic gain lies a strong palliative against educated and uneducated Social Democrats.”1 ...

Part IV: A Militarism of Experts: Naval Professionalism and the Making of Navalism

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Chapter 10. Of Sciences, Sea Power, and Strategy

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pp. 251-274

In his Science of the Army, published in 1872, the German historian and administrative scholar Lorenz von Stein proclaimed the transformation of the officer corps into a corporate body of experts. The corps had become “the holder and representative of the real military professional education and in the latter lies its true and higher justification.” ...

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Chapter 11. Between Leadership and Intraservice Conflict

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pp. 275-300

In his memoirs, written in 1918, Alfred von Tirpitz stressed the harmonious relationship among the navy, nation, and parliament that had existed during his tenure as secretary of the navy before World War I. “Almost all differences between Reichstag and government” had vanished early on as the cause of the fleet had become a “natural property of the nation.” ...

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Conclusion: Navalism and Its Trajectories

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pp. 301-310

In his polemic The Navy: Defense or Portent? (1932), the eminent radical historian Charles Beard offered a scathing critique of the so-called naval expert. Beard traced the rise of this “new creature of modern civilization” back to the making of navalism in the United States and Imperial Germany before World War I. ...


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pp. 311-376


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pp. 377-412


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pp. 413-422

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463884
E-ISBN-10: 0801463882
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450402
Print-ISBN-10: 0801450403

Page Count: 421
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 785782371
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Militarism in a Global Age

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Subject Headings

  • Sea-power -- Germany -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sea-power -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • Sea-power -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sea-power -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Militarism -- Germany -- History -- 19th century.
  • Militarism -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • Militarism -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Militarism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Germany -- History, Naval -- 19th century.
  • Germany -- History, Naval -- 20th century.
  • United States -- History, Naval -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History, Naval -- 20th century.
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