Ganze Männer?. Gesellschaft, Geschlecht und Allgemeine Wehrpflicht in Österreich-Ungarn (1868–1914)

Hämmerle, Christa
Krieg und Konflikt
Frankfurt am Main 2022: Campus Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
591 S.
€ 49,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Friederike Brühöfener, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Christa Hämmerle’s Ganze Männer? Gesellschaft, Geschlecht und Allgemeine Wehrpflicht in Österreich-Ungarn (1868–1914) is a meticulously researched and complex study. Published by Campus Verlag’s series Krieg und Konflikt in 2022, the book investigates the introduction, execution, and consequences of mass conscription for men in Austro-Hungary between 1866/67, when the Empire, in the wake of its defeat at the end of the Austro-Prussian War, decided to implement a new recruitment system, and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, which basically represented the system’s first test.

Responding to several different areas of historical scholarship, Hämmerle’s objectives are multilayered. Influenced by early scholarly arguments that Austria was, prior to the First World War, “the least militarized state” (p. 18) in Europe, the author seeks to uncover whether and to what extent the multiethnic Dual Monarchy experienced a “social militarization” prior to the catastrophe of 1914/18. This moves her analysis of primary source materials and discourses beyond a narrow focus on the military. She pursues – as her book’s subtitle indicates – a history that pays close attention to the entanglements of the military, politics, and (civil) society. Hämmerle is particularly interested in the “impact” (Wirkungsmacht) or the “societal meaning and function” of mass national conscription of men (p. 17). To achieve this, the author analyzes the words and actions of the Dual Monarchy’s cultural, intellectual, political, and military elites as well as the documented experiences, activities, and memories of recruits, their families, friends, and communities. Drawing on the pathbreaking scholarship of Karen Hagemann, Ute Frevert, and others, Hämmerle’s analysis furthermore underlines the central role that concepts of sex, gender, both masculinity and femininity, as well as the body played in this history.

To conduct this research, which gauges a period of more than forty years, successfully and “to develop a micro-historical perspective” (p. 16) despite the geographical vastness of the Dual Monarchy, Hämmerle has circumscribed her study. This she clearly outlines in the introduction of her book. As Hämmerle focuses on the Imperial (and) Royal Army (k. (u.) k. Heer), the entire Dual Monarchy and its military are only addressed at the level and in the context of the military laws that were enacted in 1868, 1889, and 1912, with an emphasis on the German-language discourses. To study the enforcement of universal conscription at the local level and the ways that contemporaries experienced its implementation, Ganze Männer? focuses on Cisleithania, the western half of the monarchy.

Hämmerle has organized her findings and arguments clearly into three major parts. The first part, “Regulating Military Service: Laws and Legal Controversies”, traces the discourses and actions that accompanied and resulted in the codification of universal conscriptions in Austria-Hungary. Interested in how the legal framework for mass national conscription developed and why the Dual Monarchy required two new laws in 1889 and 1912, Hämmerle analyzes both the “legitimizing discourses” as well as “critical and dismissive voices.” (p. 51) Read in relation to existing scholarship, this part underlines the importance of “defeat” and “threat” in the history of 19th-century military conscription. Like in other cases, the Dual Monarchy overhauled its armed forces and military practices in the wake of a “fiasco” that was not only interpreted as a military defeat but also as a national defeat. Moreover, the actions of bordering nation-states and empires created another exigency that demanded military reforms. The subsequent introduction of universal conscription for men was cast not just in the language of necessity, but of patriotism, Vaterlandsliebe, or national devotion. Over the course of the long 19th century, Hämmerle shows, the Dual Monarchy witnessed the expansions of the legal framework that regulated recruitment and military service. This process testified to and resulted in the increasing conjunction of politics/government and the military as well as the military and civil society. Despite numerous critics who voiced their objections loudly and in different venues until they by and large abated in the summer of 1914, the process of legal militarization was able to continue. By 1914, the state, the law, and the military were ever more closely connected, and the military service applied to more and more sections of the population.

The second part, “Interpreting Military Service: Images of Men in Motion”, is concerned with contemporary analyses, reflections, and suggestions regarding the status, training, and education of the “ordinary” man who was bound to fight in what some referred to as the “war of the future” (Zukunftskrieg). Hämmerle’s study documents conflicting schools of thought. The “discursive ‘workshops’” (p. 313) of officers and military authors produced both conservative, traditional as well as “modern” or “future-oriented” proposals for the correct training, drill, and discipline of Austro-Hungarian recruits. It is in this chapter that the Ganze Männer? of Hämmerle’s book title and the military as a “people’s school” (Schule des Volkes) are most visible because contemporaries debated whether the changing nature of warfare – its materials, weapons, and tactics – required a new, more dynamic soldier whose disciplined body brimmed with endurance and elasticity, while his heart, mind, and soul were infused with a new form of willpower and awareness. (pp. 235–236) In the case of the Dual Monarchy, Hämmerle’s study shows, these formulations of soldierly ideals and effective military training also involved common ethnic and racial stereotypes. After all, contemporaries agreed, the effectiveness of the Austro-Hungarian military hinged on the cohesion of its troops and the meaningful utilization of ethnic or racial particularities.

While the first two parts of Ganze Männer? are mainly based on the analysis of high-level political, military, cultural, and intellectual discourses as well as military laws and regulations, the third part, titled “Experiencing Military Service: Practices and Memories” moves to the level of recruits and their families as well as local communities. Drawing carefully and methodically on a variety of published and unpublished “ego-documents” such as letters, diaries, and auto-biographies of enlisted soldiers as well as military court documents and the records of (military) medical personnel (p. 320), Hämmerle’s study sheds light on how “ordinary men” perceived salient issues, including the medical exam that would declare them (un)fit for military service, the drill at the hands of military superiors, the exertion of disciplinary punishment, and the multiethnic and multilingual composition of the military units. In addition, Hämmerle provides insights into local or regional experiences by analyzing practices such as the “encouragement system” (Aufmunterungswesen) that accompanied local draft lotteries (p. 337).

In sum, the findings and arguments of Ganze Männer? are not only relevant for a better understanding of the Dual Monarchy’s military and societal history in the 19th century. By consistently linking gender and military history, the study also contributes more generally to existing knowledge about the design, implementation, and significance of universal conscription in Europe during the long 19th century.