Militarism was fundamental to the values of Wilhelm II’s Germany, and as such, one cause of World War One. Militarism was so important that generals and admirals often had more authority than politicians. This made defence spending a top priority, leading to the arms race that would push European nations to arm themselves to the teeth.
The story of ‘The Captain of Kőpenick’ is often used to illustrate the importance of militarism to Germany. ‘The Captain of Kőpenick’ was a cobbler called Wilhelm Voigt. Past criminal convictions made it difficult for Voigt to find employment and a place to live.
Voigt was very poor, but he saved to buy a second hand German officer’s uniform, which he wore to Berlin. He found that the uniform gave him enormous authority. His identity was never questions and everybody did what he told them.
As he marched to a railway station in the city, more and more soldier joined him. Here they unquestioningly caught a train to Kőpenick, a small town outside of Berlin. Here Voigt ordered three policemen fall in behind him and join the soldiers. The whole group then marched on the town hall.
Vought the demanded 4,0002 Marks, which he received without any hassle. He the ordered the arrest of the mayor. The mayor was taken by the soldiers to a police station in Berlin. Voight pretended to be an officer for six hours, before he was finally arrested.
Voigt was sentenced to four years in prison but only served two years. Wilhelm II, who apparently saw the funny side, gave him a pardon.
His prank had gained him celebrity status, so on his release he went on tours of Europe dressed as a German army captain. A play was even written about him and his exploits were made into a film.
The story shows the influence of the military over Germany. The officer’s uniform gave Voigt free reign as people blindly followed him. His character also featured in a play and film.
The true story shows the importance of the military in Germany before the war. Officers were given the utmost authority and all orders were carried out unquestioningly.
"Germany and Militarism". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.