In Our Time

Culture and Kultur

The historical controversy over who was “responsible” for the outbreak of war in 1914 will doubtless never be settled, so clearly did so many of the participants contribute to igniting the catastrophe.  German rearmament and the kaiser’s determination to build a navy equal to Great Britain’s, as well as the country’s territorial ambitions on the Continent and abroad and her overall “militaristic” spirit, have for a century been cited as being among the war’s principal causes.  In a more general way, German Kultur—which German writers and politicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sharply and proudly distinguished from world Zivilisation—was more important than any of these things; indeed, Kultur was fundamental to all of them.  The essential importance of the myth of Kultur and of the “special path” its adherents and promoters believed it offered the German people is emphasized by Willi Jasper, a modern German scholar, in his excellent new book Lusitania: The Cultural History of a Catastrophe, in which the author examines the moral and cultural atmosphere conducive to the murder-by-U-boat of 1,197 innocent civilians aboard a great British liner with an international passenger list.  (See Books in Brief, p. 24.)

While the great majority of Europeans in 1914 greeted the war with...

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