Journal Article

Fighting for Another Fatherland: The Polish Minority in the German Army, 1914–1918

Alexander Watson

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXVI, issue 522, pages 1137-1166
Published in print October 2011 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online October 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cer262
Fighting for Another Fatherland: The Polish Minority in the German Army, 1914–1918

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This article examines the Polish-speaking soldiers who served in the German Army during the First World War in order to resolve a longstanding interdisciplinary debate on the importance of patriotic ideology for performance in combat. Current research is divided on whether patriotic commitment is essential to motivate men in mass conscript armies, or whether purely military factors, especially so-called ‘primary group’ solidarity, can suffice. While most work has been hindered by its focus on soldiers who served in their own national armies, and who therefore possessed both ‘primary group’ and patriotic allegiances, this article overcomes the problem by investigating a minority fighting for a foreign Fatherland. Drawing on Prussian military and civil documentation, soldiers’ personal testimony and Allied intelligence records, it investigates Polish-speaking troops’ loyalties, their treatment by the German Army and their consequent conduct in battle. The article demonstrates, through comparison of the behaviour in 1914-15 of three distinct groups within the minority, the Polish nationalists of Posen and West Prussia, nationally-neutral Upper Silesians and the ‘Polish-speaking Germans’ of Masuria, that a close correlation exists between soldiers’ identification with the nation they defend and their willingness to fight. Yet by analysing the effect of military reforms in 1916-18 on the conduct of the most alienated group, Posen and West Prussian Poles, it also shows that such identification is not indispensible. The article argues that while patriotic ideology is a powerful motivator, a judicious mix of coercion, assimilation and military-identity building can induce from even reluctant minorities operationally acceptable performance.

Journal Article.  15504 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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