Peace with honor?
Whilst reading the Schivelbusch piece The Culture of Defeat I was constantly reminded of former American President Richard Nixon’s phrase “Peace with honor” that was used to describe the Paris Peace accord that concluded the Vietnam War. While the Vietnam War differed greatly from World War I, particularly in that it was portrayed as an ideological war by the US government, the more I read, the more parallels I began to see between the culture of defeat for both Germans and Americans fighting in their respective wars.
As Schivelbusch describes, the German people, both conservative higher ups in politics (however many members of socialist parties in Germany were in favor of peace and an end to war) and members of the military as well as lower rank soldiers in the Wilhelminian generation felt a burden to uphold “its own historical mission as the expansion of its inheritance” the empire left behind from Bismarck and the legacy of manliness and war heroism of the generations before them. Similarly, soldiers in the Vietnam War had the legacy of World War II “The Good War” as known in the States, to follow. Although there was much resistance to the Vietnam War, many young soldiers and many higher up political and military leaders wanted to keep up the image of the United States as a victorious world power. They also desired to carry on the legacy of duty, honor and manly courage that the generations before them had. For both the Germans of WWI and Americans of the Vietnam war, defeat was unacceptable and honor was crucial.
The parallel here can especially be seen through the efforts of German and American generals and politicians to “save face” when withdrawing from the war and have some form of victory, even if that meant prolonging the suffering of innocent people, by making grandiose or extreme plans and gestures in desperate efforts for success when they knew they had slim or no chance of actually winning the wars. One German idea was to send Wilhelm in himself to sacrifice his life on the battlefield in order to inspire other soldiers to fight as well. Also, Germany’s refusal to admit that they had been defeated by the enemy and the government admitting rather that they had been overwhelmed and outsourced by the enemy was another unique way of prolonging the inevitability of failure of World War I. During the Vietnam War, Nixon’s efforts to preserve American honor and uphold the legacy of The United States being a war victor he resorted to keeping troops in Vietnam long after he and military generals knew the war was lost and even initiated an invasion of Cambodia along with considering even the use of nuclear power.