Some people spend money, others spend lives… Henry Morgenthau, a member of the Roosevelt government, writing a few decades ago, after the end of the second world war, explains why Germans have been so ready to spend our lives. (Copying from his book Germany is our Problem):
Heinrich Heine is remembered chiefly for his love poems (and the Nazi banning of his works because of his Jewish blood) but he was also a keen observer of the contemporary scene. In 1834—it was the year a German customs union under Prussian leadership gave the first impetus to formation of the modern Germany—Heine warned France: “You have more to fear from Germany set free than from all the Holy Alliance with its Croats and Cossacks.” The medieval belief that war was not only the sole profession fit for a gentleman but that it was also the best trade for a common fellow survived in Germany long after it had been outmoded in all the rest of Europe that passed for civilized. It survives today.
To that belief was added and is still added a sedulously fostered conviction that the German is not only a better man than any foreigner—other peoples have indulged the same conceit—but that the German is destined to rule over the inferior people, too. The conception of that rule as a civilizing mission was notable by its absence. Germany was to dominate the world with lash and club for the sole comfort and enrichment of Germans.
Of course other nations have had their share of megalomaniacs. Glorification of war for its own sake, theories of a master race, the blasphemy that God made some peoples as servants for others have cropped up in the writings of almost every country. But outside Germany they were confined to a little-heeded minority, a lunatic fringe. Inside Germany, the same teachings were if anything more lunatic, and they were also official, all-pervading and finally accepted without question.
Hegel, this paladin of German philosophy, taught that the state was the most perfect manifestation of God in the world of men; that the Prussian state was the noblest expression of that heavenly mandate, and that its emergence was the culmination of the historical process.
About the middle of the century one of the Germans whose words were most widely quoted, was Johann Wappaus, a geographer. He was instilling into the German people a belief that the Latin, Negro and Indian races were quite incapable of any sustained effort unless driven to it by their superiors “through the weight of an iron will or the foreman’s lash.” Wappaus left no doubt that both the will and the lash should be German.
By 1862 the means for conquest were beginning to bear some proportion to the German lust for it. The first seizures of territory were to begin in two years, and one of the earliest German “Big Navy” advocates, J. J. Sturz, put out a popular book in which he made the lordly assumption, apparently shared by his readers, that territorial aggrandizement by Germany was a law of nature. The seizure of Schleswig-Holstein after a short war with Denmark in 1864, seemed to Germans to confirm this point of view. If further proof was needed, it was supplied by the Six Weeks War of 1866, by which Austria was ousted from her leadership among German states, and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which added Alsace-Lorraine to a new German Empire.