First Know Your Enemy
Comprehending Imperial German war aims and deciphering the enigma of Kultur
By John A Moses, with Peter Overlack
Published by Australian Scholarly Publishing
RRP $39.95 in paperback • ISBN 9781925801613
John Moses, an Australian (and German-educated) historian, with the assistance of Peter Overlack, has written this book with the aim of challenging a number of prevailing views on Australia’s role in the First World War and especially on Australia’s confrontation with the German Empire.
He takes issue with the ‘presentist’ writers who seek “… to dominate the historical-political consciousness of citizens” through a selective reading of the past.
Moses is adamant that Australia’s and New Zealand’s participation in the Great War was both necessary and inevitable.
Necessary because Germany, through its naval power, had designs on neutralising the flow of key raw materials from Australia to Britain. Inevitable because of Australia’s membership of the British Empire.
Peter Overlack reveals how “… an examination of the German naval records for the Pacific region reveal the extent of the threat posed to Australia and New Zealand by the German Navy’s East Asia Squadron”.
The German Pacific cruiser squadron planned to “… raid Australian shipping, loot remote ports in Western Australia and Queensland, and even bombard Sydney”.
It was acknowledged at the time that “… the tyranny of distance in the age of great navies was no defence against a determined hostile great power bent on despoiling the British Empire.”
Moses emphasises how Australia was “… thoroughly integrated into the economic security and systems of the Empire …” and had no choice but to join Britain and its allies. Moses believes the ‘presentist’ writers willfully ignore the depth of religious sentiment and the sense of belonging that Australians felt to the British Empire in 1914.
This is a genuinely thought-provoking book from an author with a deep understanding and knowledge of German history and society. For students of World War I history, this book will be a refreshing and interesting take on a much-studied subject.
FOOTNOTE: Back in 1958, at the age of 83, my wife’s paternal grandfather wrote of the family’s experience in emigrating from Germany in the 1860s. One of the principal reasons he mentioned for the family leaving Germany was Prussian aggression. He mentioned this specifically. So the extended family sold up and headed for Australia to make a new life. They feared what Germany might become and they wanted no part of it.
Let’s hope that modern Germany does not revert to type.