During the rearmament of Germany operated by Hitler and especially during the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the French Republic stayed by and, in doing so, probably failed to seize the last opportunity to prevent WWII from happening. In France we frequently blame this failure on the trauma of the massacres of WWI and the strength of the pacifist movements in French society that ensued. Incidentally more than a few people tried to justify their own or other's inactivity during the German occupation of France, some their active collaboration with the occupant, with similar anti-war sentiment. The communist party before 1941, Céline, Georges Brassens among others.

My question is this: Kershaw states that the people of Germany overwhelmingly approved of the remilitarization of the Rhineland, down to the German catholic church. Why wasn't there a pacifist movement in Germany in 1936? Sure, if there had been one it would have been suppressed by the regime, but Kershaw implies that this popular reaction to the rearmament was genuine and freely expressed. Had there been one immediately after WWI which had vanished by 1936? If so why wasn't it strong enough to prevent the Nazis to come to power? In France the pacifist-lefists successfully opposed the fascist movements of the 30s. Or is pacifism only for those who win the war with revenge for the losers?

  • This might be an interesting read: engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cgi/…
    – user45348
    Aug 22, 2020 at 11:53
  • 6
    Pacifism is a sort of decadence. Generally evolves in a pampered society, where people do not have to fight for basic necessities and would like to "live and let live" . And German society in Weimar Republic was quite the opposite of that - there was massive unemployment, struggle for daily bread, political chaos. In such circumstances those promoting strong state (with accompanying military) do get large and genuine support. And those promoting weakness do not.
    – rs.29
    Aug 22, 2020 at 12:29
  • post-war pacifism had much to do w/ soviet manipulation, moles, and disinformation (see info from soviet defectors). Left-wing parties, paid or willing journalists, to push politically for weaker defenses. It also fits on the general aim of destabilization by creating artificial issues, special classes, and self-loathing. Also, Stalin helped Germany to rearm, hoping it would wage war w/ the west, and the USSR could take over a weakened Europe afterwards (1945). Besides that, in late 30's, when only the Nazis had organized political power, there could be no organized pacifism.
    – Luiz
    Aug 22, 2020 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


War is sweet to those who have never experienced it

(Pindar, fifth century BC)

Pacifism was pretty strong in arts and literature. Which should not be surprising given that this is the period just after WWI. Proponents were e.g. Carl von Ossietzky, Kurt Tucholsky, or Erich Maria Remarque. In the arts, there were e.g. Otto Dix, Hans Grundig, or Ernst Barlach. A counterexample might be Ernst Jünger, though I am not really familiar with his work. Note that all of these (except Jünger of course) had been silenced by 1936,

During the Weimar republic, large parts of the elites (public servants, teachers, judges etc.) were rather reactionary. Few of them had actually seen the war and so they did not have much sympathy for pacifism. That the inter-war reduction of Germany's military potential had been imposed from the outside probably did not help.

Among the masses it is of course hard to say how far support for pacifism went. The remilitarization of the Rhineland was a matter of national souvereignty and it was quite easy to argue that it was unjust that Germany could not deploy troops there. That there was popular support for this move does not mean there was popular support for waging war against other countries. Indeed, Joachim Fest (in "Hitler") argues quite strongly that the war was unpopular in 1938 (during the Sudeten crisis) and 1939.

rs.29 has pointed to organizations such as Stahlhelm, Reichsbanner, Rotfront and SA. These were what one might call the paramilitary wings of the different political parties. The Reichsbanner was associated with SPD, DDP and other democratic parties, Stahlhelm with DNVP (reactionary/militaristic), Rotfront with the Communist party and SA with the Nazis. These organizations were quite large and to a significant degree staffed by WWI veterans. Reichsbanner was the biggest of these organizations with 1.5 to three million members. The Stahlhelm had about half a million members.

I do not believe that the existence of these organizations invalidates the points I have made above.

  1. These organizations were meant to be used for internal politics. They were never supposed fight Germany's next international war.

  2. Pacifism does not mean I cannot hit you back if you hit me. The Weimar republic had lots of armed power struggles in its first years, and lots of WWI veterans. So it seems somewhat natural that parties would have paramilitary wings.

As I understand it, the question is about pacifism as the rejection of the use of military force as a means of international politics. rs.29s comments seem to be about attitudes re. the use of (para)military force as a means of internal politics.

This is not necessarily the same, see e.g. American attitudes re. use of force abroad or at home. As a counterpoint one might take Afghanistan, which last had significant troops outside its current borders in the 1820s (I think) and had lots and lots of wars in within its own borders since then (Afghanistan does have some border conflicts with Pakistan, however)

Another good point by rs.29 is that field marshal Paul von Hindenburg, one of Germany's de-facto rulers during WWI, was twice elected president of Germany. The second time there were even quite accurate predictions about the political consequences of electing Hindenburg by the communists ("Who votes for Hindenburg, votes for Hitler. Who votes for Hitler, votes for war.". Note, however, that they did not accuse Hindenburg of wanting a war.)

Hindenburg won his first presidential election against a catholic and a communist candidate and his second election against the same communist candidate and Adolf Hitler. Given that elections are decided by mixture of reasons and people do not always get what they expected, I would argue that this is no conclusive proof of Germans wanting another war.

The French also had a president over much of the 1920s who had been an active part of the wartime government, so the correlation between wanting war (or not) and the WWI career of politicians one voted for may not have been particulary strong.

  • "few of them actually seen the war" is not true . Most militaristic organizations like "Der Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten" were staffed by WW1 veterans. Overall, masses on the street were more combative (either National-Socialist or Communist ) than elites. Reason - they didn't have much to lose .
    – rs.29
    Aug 23, 2020 at 9:58
  • @rs.29: I think that Stahlhelm was not really for teachers, judges, public servants etc. But this may be wrong. I would argue quite strongly that large parts of the elites of the Weimar republic had not seen the war due to their age. Obviously that would change to s significant degree over time.
    – Jan
    Aug 23, 2020 at 11:42
  • @rs.29: German wikipedia has a list of prominent Stahlhelm members: de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kategorie:Mitglied_im_Stahlhelm . Obviously this list is not representative of Stahlhelm as a whole. I only checked the entries under "A", which is not representative of the list as whole. Still, I find it interesting that quite a significant share of those people (40%?) indeed had not fought jn WWI.
    – Jan
    Aug 23, 2020 at 11:50
  • Highly unlikely, at first glance everyone being of military age during WW1 did fight in the war . If you exclude those too old and too young, you would get WW1 veterans.
    – rs.29
    Aug 23, 2020 at 12:45
  • Note that elite could mean different things for different people, but majority of Germans did support Paul von Hindenburg for president, and he was de facto ruler in WW1 also .
    – rs.29
    Aug 23, 2020 at 12:48

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