Mr. Sensitive

February 26, 2014

Greatest German Political and Military Leaders Part 1

I couldn’t find a list of greatest German political & military leaders I considered comprehensive and objective, so I made one.  Before I get to the list, there are two questions I need to preemptively answer.

Question #1: Who is German?  It’s necessary to be somewhat arbitrary in deciding which historical figures count as German in a political and military context, especially for the period prior to German unification in 1871.  For this list, I consider leaders affiliated with the state that came into being in 1871 as the German Reich, and with its predecessor states, the Kingdom of Prussia (1701-1871) and the Margraviate/Electorate of Brandenburg (1157-1701).  I exclude leaders affiliated with other ethnically and culturally German states, most notably the Habsburg dominions (Austria/Austria-Hungary).  The reason for that key exclusion is that the Habsburgs ruled a multinational empire; ethnic Germans were a minority, although they held the highest political and military offices in that empire.  For the period 1949-1990, both West German and East German leaders were considered.

Question #2: Is there a necessary moral component to greatness?  My short answer is no.  As I define it, greatness measures the scale, scope, breadth, and depth of a leader’s achievements, as well as the extent to which those achievements were both transformative and enduring.  Good and evil aren’t part of the equation.

So, in ascending order, here’s the first half of the list.

10.  Angela Merkel (born 1954)


Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, 2005-present.  First woman to govern Germany; led her country through the financial crisis of 2008-2009, cementing Germany’s position as unquestioned leader of the European Union.

9.  Albrecht von Roon (1803-1879)


Prussian/German Minister of War, 1859-1873.  Along with Moltke, modernized the Prussian Army and made it the most efficient military force in post-Napoleonic Europe; played a critical role in the Wars of German Unification (1864-1871).

8.  Helmut Kohl (born 1930)


Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, 1982-1998.  Longest-serving German Chancellor since Bismarck; presided over the stunningly smooth reunification of formerly-Communist East Germany and West Germany in 1988-1990.

7.  Gerhard von Scharnhorst (1755-1813)


Born in Saxony, entered the service of Prussia in 1801.  Most important figure in the resurrection and reformation of the Prussian Army after its annihilation at Jena (1806).  Hero of the Wars of Liberation (1812-1814) against Napoleonic France; died of wounds received at the Battle of Lutzen in 1813.

6.  Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891)


Field Marshal and Chief of the Prussian/German General Staff, 1857-1888.  Created the modern military staff system; revolutionized military transport and logistics to achieve the rapid movement and concentration of forces; architect of the Prussian victories in wars against Denmark (1864), Austria (1866), and France (1870-71) that led to the establishment of the modern German state (under Prussian control) in 1871.  Often referred to as Moltke the Elder to distinguish him from his imbecile nephew of the same name; the latter was Chief of the General Staff at the outset of World War I in 1914.



  1. I like that you’re getting into the tags.
    I know Angela (and you know I choose to pronounce her name). And I secretly/not so secretly believed Helmut was in charge until a couple years ago when Angela arrived in my mind. I’m not 100% sure I knew who the other 3 were, though I feel like I’ve heard of Moltke. Or maybe I just like his name.

    Comment by euregirlsandboys — February 26, 2014 @ 10:50 | Reply

    • I’m not getting into the tags so much as they’re getting into me. If it suggests a tag, I add it. What’s the harm?

      Comment by lbej — February 26, 2014 @ 16:25 | Reply

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