Thursday, July 26, 2012
Defending the German Empire
In East Africa the German settlers established large plantations while others established a beer brewery in China (a tradition that continues today). However, in the early days, there was definitely a brutal element to German occupation, which is not uncommon when new peoples encounter each other. German civil and military officials wanted to set up orderly and efficient governments and immediately begin development. They had little time for dealing with natives and when the German presence was attacked colonial armies were deployed to eliminate all opposition. The most brutal of these were the expeditions against the Herero in German Southwest Africa and the Maji Maji in German East Africa. The armies sent to suppress these rebellions showed little mercy, if any, and all too often their brutality is all that is remembered today. It would be unfair, however, to use these incidents to paint the German Empire as a whole in a negative light. When the German public learned of the details of what had happened they were outraged and registered their anger in the next election which almost brought down the government. This had the effect of bringing the colonial administration to have a change of heart and from then on the native populations would be dealt with in a much more humane way.
The Germans made it official policy to care for the natives under their protection, made forced or any unpaid labor by natives a criminal offense and genuinely determined to look after their welfare. The natives could be advised but never coerced. Slavery was wiped out, ranches and farm communities were established and both native Africans and German settlers profited from the development. Schools were established as were hospitals and rural clinics. Missionaries were also ever hard at work, converting the natives with varying degrees of success and building new church communities. Research laboratories were established, many plantations having their own, to develop new methods of pest control and new fertilizers to increase livestock and farm production. In China, the little town of Tsingtao became a model city with broad streets, German-style housing, electricity, a modern sewage system and purified drinking water. No other area in China had a higher concentration of schools or a more widely educated populace than German Tsingtao. Even the ardently republican Sun Yat-sen referred to Tsingtao under German rule as “a true model for China’s future”.
The German East African army was innovative by the extent to which they integrated German and native African troops in the same units. They found that including a greater ratio of Europeans in African units increased their overall effectiveness by combining the tactical training of the Germans with the knowledge of the terrain and survival skills of the Africans with the result being a highly effective combat force which prevailed over everything the Allies threw at them. Prior to the war, agreements had been made to try to keep Africa uninvolved due to the fear of colonial officials from various countries of the effect on the African populace of seeing Europeans killing each other and using Africans to kill other Europeans. However, General von Lettow-Vorbeck was not about to sit idle and he determined to fight an aggressive war and force the Allies to divert an inordinate amount of men and material to use against him that could have been more decisively employed in more vital areas such as the western front. In that, he succeeded brilliantly and was able to survive for years, totally cut off from outside assistance, displaying a remarkable ingenuity in fabricating what was needed and sustaining his army almost entirely from living off the land and captured enemy stores. It remains one of the most astounding campaigns in military history and one marked by exceptional humanity and gallantry on both sides.