Prussian Army Soldiers and the Seven Years' War. The Psychology of Honour

Möbius, Katrin; Möbius, Sascha
London 2019: Bloomsbury
Anzahl Seiten
VIII, 228 S.
£ 85.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Ludger Pries, Fakultät für Sozialwissenschaft, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

The study focuses on the social norms, motivations and social behavior of soldiers in the Prussian army during the Seven Years War (1756–1763). Based on primary historical sources and informed by sociological and psychological perspectives the book presents a broad approach on explaining the discipline and efficiency of the Prussian Army of that time. The authors argue that the success of the Prussian Army during this Seven Year War relies not – as often argued in related research – on the centrality of drill, hard discipline and external control of soldiers’ behavior but on the mechanisms of internal control, on the social norms and values of Prussian soldiers. Möbius/Möbius make a distinction between the English and German language publications on the topic, arguing that in the German based studies the focus on external control is much more considered than in the English written research.

The study is based on primary sources on the official regulations and instructions for officers of the Prussian army, on corresponding publications of military history and on diaries of certain army units. Additionally, the authors analyze diaries and memoirs written by soldiers and officers of the Prussian army (S. 9ff). The basic conceptual approach of the book is explained as “praxeological method of historical anthropology” (S. 11) focusing mainly on the thinking, day-to-day actions and behavior of the soldiers themselves. It consists of three substantial chapters.

In the first chapter, the structure of the Prussian army, the corresponding formal rules and written tactics are explained as the broader context, in which soldiers’ behavior is entangled. In the second chapter the authors present data of diaries and biographical documents that shed light on soldiers’ live concepts, religious beliefs and the emotions in combat. Based on these documents the authors extract some basic elements of the soldiers’ everyday live and social norms. The analysis underlines that, as in all armies all over the world, there were typical feelings and mechanisms between managing "fear" (of death and pain) and "heat" (of mainly nationalistic or religious grounded abrasiveness or even bloodlust). As the analysis mainly of army officials’ writings reveal, the machinery of strategies and tactics of the Prussian army was aware of and accepted such emotions. But, as the authors argue, such emotions were not contained or canalized mainly by mechanic drill, external subordination or menacing with pure punishment. The main elements that explain soldiers’ behavior and "functioning" as part of the Prussian army were religious beliefs, praying to God, concepts of honor, national and "cantonal" proud.

These elements are then developed more in detail in chapter three. The social and qualitative components of soldiers’ behavior are synthesized more explicitly. The authors mention in more detail (S. 129ff): the honor and ethics of professional behavior; religion as the Protestant obligation of good behavior in order to gain access to heaven; nationalism and feeling obligated to defend the Fatherland, combined with stereotypes of the foreign enemy; regional identities were exploited as sources of commitment by organizing the army according to "Kantone" (regional subunits of Prussia) and units of "foreigners’; masculinity in a specific sense of male brave and courageous behavior. After these basic elements of social norms of behavior the authors argue that soldiers interacted with their officers in a much more human and socialized way than only just working as willingly automats, full of fear and drill. Additional elements of motivating were music and musicians as integral part of combatting units; economic and other kinds of explicit incentives like plunder, cash or promotion. The authors conclude that all these mechanisms guaranteed a high level of "selfmotivation" and internal control of Prussian soldiers’ behavior. Direct external control and compulsion by force was important, but not the main element of making soldiers internalizing military strategy and tactics.

The book is mainly based on primary historical documents that were analyzed already in different aspects and in other contexts. But the authors present their work with a strong hypothesis and distill, especially in chapter three, very suggesting factors for explaining soldiers’ behavior. One could question the possible biases of the historical documents that were analyzed. The documents reflect mainly the world views of well situated soldiers and officers, and many historical (also personal) documents were first published by the Prussian General Staff with specific political aims.

The book is an invitation to more interdisciplinary and social science oriented historical analysis. It reflects how important it is and would be to more systematically integrate sociological and in a broader sense social science-based theories and methods in the analysis of historical documents. Much of the social aspects and mechanisms strengthened by the authors were extensively developed by sociologists like Norbert Elias (concepts of honor and profession, external and internal control of social behavior), Alfred Schütz (everyday life and its social practices), Karl Mannheim (concepts of remembrance and experience). Methods of qualitative text analysis well-established in sociology and anthropology could also help to develop more explicit and differentiated analysis of historical documents. In sum, the book is a very interesting and convincing invitation to further develop a more interdisciplinary comprehension of history.

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