Mr. Sensitive

February 26, 2014

Greatest German Political and Military Leaders Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 13:10

My criteria and caveats for this list are laid out in Part 1 below (or above, depending on how you read this thing).  The difference between goodness and greatness I discuss there comes into play now, as you will see.

5.  Prince-Elector Frederick William (1620-1688)

frederickwilliam1

Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia, 1640-1688.  Known as the Great Elector, Frederick William was a masterful navigator of the convoluted diplomatic and military situation in post-Thirty Years’ War Germany.  He secured sovereignty in the Polish duchy of Prussia, providing the basis for the elevation of his house to royal status under his son and successor.  The Great Elector embraced mercantilism and bureaucratic reforms that centralized administrative authority and helped Brandenburg avoid the fate of many less organized German principalities.  He also established the standing army that his great-grandson would use to elevate the then-Kingdom of Prussia to the status of a European Great Power.

4.  Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)

hitler

Führer and Chancellor of the German Reich, 1933-1945.  Absolute dictator, messianic demagogue, and psychopathic mass murderer.  Mastermind of the Holocaust, instigator of World War II, and arguably the most heinous villain in all of history.  Conquered France and the Low Countries in six weeks and by 1942 controlled virtually all of continental Europe.  His 1941 decision to wage war simultaneously against both nascent superpowers (USA and USSR) made his defeat and his nation’s destruction inevitable.  The integration and anti-militarism of 21st Century Europe is a direct response to the madness and carnage wrought by Hitler, and no one man in modern times has had a more profound impact on the course of world history.

3.  Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967)

adenauer

First Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, 1949-1963.  A former mayor of Hamburg marginalized by the Nazis, Adenauer was the man most responsible for rebuilding Germany and restoring its place in the world after the end of Allied occupation and administration in 1949.  Already an old man when he became Chancellor, Adenauer nonetheless led the new Federal Republic for nearly fifteen years, overseeing his nation’s reintegration into Western Europe.  West Germany’s rapprochement with France, membership in NATO and the European Economic Community, and extraordinary post-war social and economic resurgence are key parts of Adenauer’s legacy.  Perhaps his most important achievement was the establishment of a new, conservative post-war identity for Germany, wholly rejecting all aspects of the Nazi regime while embracing responsibility for the unprecedented crimes that regime committed.

2.  Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898)

bismarck

Minister-President of Prussia, 1862-1890; first Chancellor of Germany, 1871-1890.  More than any other individual, Bismarck was directly responsible for the creation of the modern German state.  His political and diplomatic skills were unrivaled in his time, if not for all time.  He engineered the creation of a unified Germany under the rule of Prussian King William I, using both economic and military means to entice, coerce , or compel dozens of smaller German principalities to submit to his will.  He built and maintained an delicate alliance system that isolated a hostile France, led to reconciliation between Austria and Prussia, and preserved an improbable peace in Europe for decades.  He dampened domestic unrest within the rapidly-industrializing empire by enacting labor reforms and instituting a modern social welfare system.  The master manipulator brought about his own political downfall when his radicalization of Prince William backfired on him.  Bismarck intended to use young William as a foil against his liberal-leaning, pro-British father, Emperor Frederick III, but Frederick died of throat cancer after a reign of less than three months.  The new Emperor William II, Bismarck’s former pupil, was too headstrong and volatile for the old man to control.  William II fired Bismarck after less than two years, and the diplomatic balance the Iron Chancellor had established to preserve the peace in Europe was doomed.

1.  Frederick II ‘the Great’ (1713-1786)

Friedrich_II

King of Prussia, 1740-1786.  A sensitive aesthete who was abused by his militaristic father, King Frederick William I, Crown Prince Frederick was an unlikely candidate to become a legendary warrior-king.  Yet when he ascended the Prussian throne at the age of 27, Frederick wasted little time turning the balance of power in fractured Germany on its head.  When the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI of Austria died a few months after Frederick’s accession, Frederick invaded the wealthy Austrian province of Selesia.  Frederick defeated Austria in a series of three wars to retain Silesia; the last of these, better known as the Seven Years’ War, saw Prussia narrowly defeat a coalition of all three of the remaining continental Great Powers—Austria, France, and Russia.  After the war ended in 1763, Frederick the Great spent the remainder of his reign modernizing the civil service and legal systems in his sprawling territory.  In the 1770s and 1780s, Frederick joined his former enemies Russia and Austria in the partitions of Poland, doubling the size of his kingdom.  In modern times, only Napoleon’s generalship excels that of Frederick the Great.  Frederick established Prussia as a great power and ending centuries of Austrian hegemony in Germany.

 

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