German History Textbook—Grooming the Minds of Students for World War III?

It’s no secret that the facts of history can be manipulated. Can they also steer nations toward a dangerous future?

Admirably, Germany has faced up to its wartime atrocities and has apparently borne full responsibility for Nazi crimes. The nation strictly enforces laws banning Holocaust denial and it outlaws discussion of Nazism in any manner that glamorizes it. Yet when it comes to assigning blame for starting World War ii, there is a disturbing proclivity in some corners of German education to point the finger away from Berlin.

One example comes from Kursbuch Geschichte, a history textbook commonly used in German high schools (Jager, Dr. Wolfgang, et al. Kursbuch Geschichte; translation by Rebecca Bennette):

[T]he determinations of the postwar order [after World War i] were shaped by the interests of the three main powers: U.S.A., Great Britain and France. … The conquered powers [including Germany] did not take part in the negotiations; the decisions of the peace conference were pronounced to them. Proceeding in this manner, and the great size of the reparations, precipitated great outrage, especially in Germany, which could always be mobilized for political purposes in the domestic realm. The call for revision of the Versailles “humiliation and dictate peace” developed into a battle cry with great popular appeal and became a heavy burden for the young democracy of Weimar. … [T]he economic and social problems of the Weimar period could easily be blamed solely on the reparations obligations.

This account—taught to numerous German students—says the victors of World War i punished Germany excessively for what it had done during that war, and they are therefore largely to blame for causing World War ii. The reasoning is that the harsh reparations ordered in the Treaty of Versailles forced Germany into the belligerent expansionism that ignited World War ii.

The textbook says another reason World War i victors are to blame is because they redrew Europe’s borders, which, in a way, forced Germany to take action:

[T]he victorious powers dissolved Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, took parts from the old Russian Empire, and created totally new states. … [M]any people in the new and old states did not identify with the sociopolitical states and border delineation. For example, many Germans did not come to terms with the new borders of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria. … Especially scandalous was the disregard of the right of self-determination of the Germans in Memelland, in upper Silesia, in the Sudetenland and in German-Austria ….

It can be argued that the Allied powers were somewhat too heavy-handed toward Germany in the interwar years. But the emphasis and omissions in this textbook are designed to exonerate Germany from its true role as instigator of World War ii. The revisionism implies that unfair treatment by the United States, the United Kingdom and France basically caused Germany to throw support behind Adolf Hitler and to wage a war that became the bloodiest in all of mankind’s history.

In the U.S. and the UK, some educators and other authorities also partly blame the Treaty of Versailles for starting World War ii.

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has said this is a dangerous view of history. In his book Daniel Unlocks Revelation, he wrote:

Was the Treaty of Versailles really humiliating? Perhaps some of the stipulations were too strong but, after all, the world had just witnessed the death of 10 million people! And Germany started that war. For the most part, the Treaty of Versailles was right. Pushing it aside did not restore Germany’s honor! World War ii wasn’t about righting the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty. That war was motivated by the Holy Roman Empire’s desire to rule the world! … The Treaty of Versailles did not sow the seeds of World War ii.

Back in 2009, managing editor Brad Macdonald also discussed the dangers of “reassigning blame for World War ii to the Treaty of Versailles—and therefore the Allies.” He wrote:

[T]he spirit of Nazism, which ultimately transformed Europe into a cauldron of death during the Second World War, was operating inside Germany before the Treaty of Versailles existed. Historical evidence shows that Germany was even preparing physically for World War ii—developing new weapons and restocking armaments—as early as 1921, long before Versailles’ “harsh” and “humiliating” stipulations had the chance to take full effect.

The logic is undeniable: The spirit of Nazism that caused World War ii was not born of animosity among Germans toward the Treaty of Versailles! …

The Versailles Treaty was tough, and it created some hardship in Germany. But it was not the cause of World War ii. The cause of World War ii was the pervasive, war-mongering spirit of Nazism, injected into Germany before Versailles, which used Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party as its mouthpiece and “sold the Second World War to the Germans as righting the wrongs of Versailles” (German historian Wolfgang Mommsen). …

Ridiculing the Treaty of Versailles as “harsh,” “humiliating” and unfair was a Nazi tactic designed to provoke frustration and hostility among Germans toward America, Britain and France. It was a gigantic lie by which the Nazi propaganda machine groomed the minds of Germans for World War ii. …

If this message was used in the interwar years to “groom the minds of Germans” to want to wage and participate in World War ii, then the message’s use in German textbooks today is cause for concern. What does it indicate about the future that the minds of today’s young Germans are being groomed for?

In 1984, author George Orwell explained that the historian’s hand is imbued with great power: “He who controls the past controls the future, and he who controls the present controls the past.” This means authorities who oversee what people are taught about the past can manipulate that information, molding it in order to shape people’s view of their place in the contemporary world. If authorities can use such tactics to shape the view of enough people in a certain group or nation, they may be able to influence the path into the future that group takes. Authorities wielding the pen can revise history to suit their agenda.

The fact that Kursbuch Geschichte is a popular high school textbook is also significant. In their 2004 book History Lessons, Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward say that reading high school history textbooks is the best way to see how a given nation sees its past and wishes to portray its history to its people. “History textbooks … typically represent the most widely read historical account in any country, and one encountered during formative years,” they write.

What history textbooks teach students is a “state-sanctioned version of history,” Lindaman and Ward say. “In nearly all countries, the government takes some role in setting the standards for an acceptable cultural, political and social history—i.e., what the authorities want the next generation to learn about its own national heritage—enfolding them, as it were, into a collective national identity” (emphasis added).

Textbook versions of history are far from objective, Lindaman and Ward say, because they “are typically written by national authors with a national audience in mind, leading to a sort of insularity on any given historical topic.”

Why would German authorities wish to deflect blame for igniting World War ii? It seems they feel that the young generations have been fed on a diet of guilt for long enough. Now, it is time to move on—at least in regard to the question of who deserves blame for starting the war. Such deflection helps to instill pride and nationalism in the minds of the young generations. By replacing guilt with pride in the minds of the youth, the authorities can prepare young Germans to be ready to rise up against other nations again.

We should be wary of a world that widely practices historical revisionism, because the trend will have global ramifications.

The perversion of history hides its precious and vital truth. It breeds ignorance. Historical ignorance prevents the world from learning from past mistakes, which dooms us, as George Santayana famously said, to repeat them.

As students in Germany, Japan and other nations are educated in a way that is designed to make them more nationalistic, it will soon lead to a time of trouble darker than any the world has ever endured. Matthew 24 and Daniel 12:1 make clear that this terrible destruction will be far worse than World Wars i or ii. But the Bible also says this darkness will break to the brightest dawn in all of history: the return of Jesus Christ to usher in an age of truth and peace.

To understand more about the past and future of Germany, and about the peace in store for all of mankind, read Mr. Macdonald’s book The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy.