Artists of Defeat? Interview with Holger Afflerbach

“The Surrender of the Finns (1940)” – Painting by Ivan Vladimirov

In his book “The Art of Defeat,” historian Holger Afflerbach examines the history of surrender and efforts to contain violence in war. But what about the “art of defeat” in present-day conflicts?

Mr. Afflerbach, it seems that the art of defeat, which you have described in such detail, is not really coming into play in the current wars. Neither in Ukraine, nor in Gaza, nor in the civil wars that we can observe at the moment. Would you agree with me?

It would be easy to say “yes” now. The feeling that things are getting out of hand and that every law of moderation and control of violence in war is currently not working, is quite common. And yet I would differentiate here. An example: The breach of law that Russia committed with its invasion of Ukraine is clear, all Russian attempts to cover it up by, for example, speaking of strategic threats or the denazification of Ukraine, cannot discuss it away. But: The Russians are not using their full arsenal. As cynical as it sounds: They could still be much more brutal, for example by indiscriminately bombing civilian cities or using nuclear weapons.

At least in the exchange of blows between Iran and Israel, the ‘invisible hand of war’ was briefly visible, wasn’t it?

Yes, apparently both sides do not want to escalate. Israel violated rules by bombing the embassy in Damascus; Iran responded, but was not effective – the greatest damage was financial, the defense against the 300 Iranian missiles was extremely expensive – and the Israeli response to that was also extremely moderate – at least so far. However, I would only partly agree: The Iranian attack was massive, and perhaps it was only ineffective because it was skillfully repelled. Perhaps other plans were made, but fortunately for all involved, they did not work out. If Israel had responded promptly and massively to this Iranian strike, escalation would have been almost unstoppable. Then the entire Middle East would be fighting now.

Do you also see the ‘invisible hand’ of war at work in Gaza?

No. The “invisible hand of war” describes moderation in war: the loser wants to stay alive, the winner does not want to make future wars more difficult for himself by using excessive force, causing the next opponent to engage in an uncompromising fight to the death. Currently, none of this is evident in Gaza. The Israelis persist, and so does Hamas; neither side cares enough about the victims their stance demands.

Afflerbach’s “History of Surrender,” published by Oxford University Press in 2012. Until now, it stands out as the sole in-depth historical inquiry into the methods of ending warfare.

I guess you find yourself constantly reminded of your book when watching the news …

As a historian, it is encouraging and flattering that you attribute relevance to my historical considerations. But it’s true. I want to mention an aspect that may not be so obvious, and that is my discussions on siege warfare. Throughout military history, the greatest atrocities have almost always occurred in connection with sieges, especially when the besieged did not surrender in time. The siege also becomes so costly and costly for the attacker that any sense of moderation disappears. That is what we are currently seeing in Gaza. Hamas does not give up, and the besieger, Israel, is escalating into a frenzy of violence.

The US-American political theorist Michael Walzer also speaks of a siege warfare. But the new thing is, he says: Here, for the first time, an ‘underground city’ is being besieged.

That sounds plausible, but in reality there are many examples where tunnels were used to undermine enemy positions during sieges, or positions were established underground to be bulletproof. I would speak of a variant, not something fundamentally new.

Are we dealing with a systematic or unsystematic war in Gaza? Considering Israel’s excesses and violations of rules, one would actually have to state the latter, wouldn’t we?

There are also mixed forms, but I agree with you, Gaza has the character of an unsystematic war that disregards established rules.

In your book, you describe the imbalance of the two warring parties – here the terrorist, there the state – which necessitates different types of warfare. Can one paraphrase you to say: Hamas saw its only chance in disregarding the rules of war that favor Israel. The result was what happened on October 7.

Unfortunately, I have to say “yes”. I believe Hamas saw in this act of violence the opportunity to break the unbearable status quo. They probably thought: If we do nothing, nothing will happen, and Israel will establish clear conditions in Palestine according to its own discretion and in disregard of countless UN resolutions. But: Such a consideration does not justify such a crime. I have absolutely no sympathy for the leadership of Hamas. These are fanatics and murderers who obviously do not care about the suffering of their own people.

Holger Afflerbach is a German historian and writer at the University of Leeds. Afflerbach delved into history, studying at the University of Düsseldorf in the ’90s. His focus? Erich von Falkenhayn, a Prussian military leader. His journey continued, exploring the Triple Alliance between Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Germany.  Afflerbach received scholarships from the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation for his dissertation on Erich von Falkenhayn, as well as from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for his research on the Triple Alliance. Additionally, he obtained a research scholarship from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation to compile a collection of sources on Wilhelm II. He was recognized with honors such as a Research Fellowship at the Historisches Kolleg, Munich (2012/2013), and membership at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (2014/2015). His books, like “On the Razor’s Edge” and “The Art of Defeat,” offer captivating insights into history’s defining moments.

The Israeli state is now resorting to means that are not legal. German historian Herfried Münkler had already observed this with the USA, which, with their new security doctrine, have partially departed from the “international legal order”. Israel is doing the same.

The problem with strong military inferiority on one side is that the weaker side has no chance if it adheres to the rules and therefore resorts to breaking the rules to set things in motion or keep them flowing. But this has a very high price: The other side then also does not adhere to the rules, and the conflict radicalizes and escalates. Without the Hamas attack in October, Israel would not have leveled the entire Gaza Strip to the ground, killing over 30,000 people.

This ‘radicalization’ of the Israeli army also recalls how the Americans radicalized themselves in World War II … when it came to the Japanese, who also broke all the rules of war.

Correct – or the fighting on the Eastern Front, like the huge death rates in German and Soviet prisoner-of-war camps, and the much lower rates for British and French prisoners in Germany.

Could one speak of a ‘mutual terrorist war’?

Yes.

The German press and German politics do not see it that way, but your assessment has just been confirmed by international law, which says one should not apply double standards here. First, by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court with his requests for arrest warrants against Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and several Hamas leaders, and now also by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, which has called on Israel to immediately cease its military offensive in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip.

Israel is clearly crossing all boundaries now: Radical settlers attack aid convoys, and the military stands by and does nothing! Even Israel’s friends like me can no longer excuse or dismiss this. The reaction of Israel’s allies – the USA, Great Britain, Germany – all of whom criticize the International Criminal Court for the indictment against Netanyahu, must be reproached by the global south for applying double standards. When Putin is indicted, the West applauds; when the Israeli leadership – and, note, also the Hamas leadership – are indicted, there is relativization and rejection. The principle must be that the same principles apply to everyone equally.

The German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said, “Israel, like every state in the world, has the duty to protect its citizens and defend itself against attacks.” Do you consider what Israel is doing in Gaza to be self-defense?

That would be too elastic an understanding of “defense.” I would speak of defensive overreaction, of excessive self-defense, i.e., an action that, while understandable in principle and at the outset, completely overdoes it in execution.

The magnitude should by no means be ignored – the roughly 1,000 deaths from the Hamas attack are contrasted with the more than 35,000 victims of Israeli assaults. Speaking of reciprocity here, a term that is very important for your research on war, doesn’t really make sense, does it?

According to the figures available to me – I checked online again – about 1,139 people were killed and 248 hostages were taken during the Hamas attack on Israel in October. So far, about 35,000 people have died in Gaza, including about 70% women and children. This means that the Israeli actions cause such glaring collateral damage that it is difficult not to believe in intentionality. However, the whole thing is complicated and reminds me of a discussion between Churchill and “Bomber Harris” after the bombing of Dresden in February 1945. Churchill felt that the Allies were going too far in their fight against the Nazis; in Dresden, about 25,000 people, many of them civilians, died in the Allied air raid, and the entire city was destroyed. Arthur Harris argued that the attacks were intended to shorten the war, weaken the still fighting Germany, and thus also save the lives of Allied soldiers. He also said: If you don’t want to bomb anymore, what are you going to do with Japan? Japan surrendered after the air raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is an inherent logic of war to inflict as much damage as possible on the enemy through brutal acts of war and render them incapable of fighting. Nevertheless, Israel is not doing itself any favors with its strategy. It multiplies the number of future fanatical Hamas fighters who want to avenge their dead parents or siblings and hold Israel responsible for the destruction of their happiness. In Germany and Japan, there was no desire for revenge after 1945, because both nations realized that they themselves had triggered the conflict. This sense of guilt is of course missing among the Palestinians; they fight for what they consider their just right and will hold Israel responsible for their misfortune.

An important point would of course be whether the populations distance themselves from their radical and war-supporting leaders. That would be a real chance. But it seems to be the case that the majority of Israelis currently support a hardline stance against Hamas. I also don’t hear Palestinians distancing themselves from Hamas. Perhaps the bond between Hamas and the population is even strengthened by the events; but here I would have to speculate.

If I may invite you to speculate a little further … and follow the thesis of John Mearsheimer, who assumes a Greater Israel, ‘from the river to the sea,’ which wants to get rid of the Palestinians. Because a two-state solution is out of the question for the leadership, a democratic Israel is also not an option because it would no longer be a Jewish state. And the apartheid management, so to say, has failed. So ethnic cleansing is being carried out now. As many Palestinians as possible are being killed. If we assume for the sake of argument that this is indeed the case – the extent of the destruction and the number of killed make it plausible – how would the military historian then view the events? Speaking of a siege warfare would no longer make much sense. 

That is an invitation to walk into a minefield, and if I were a politician or diplomat, I would decline to answer or waffle around to avoid a clear statement. Still, I am a historian and I can try. It is a very harsh claim to say that Israel does deliberately ethnic cleansing because it is running out of acceptable political options for its political future. What is true is that political alternatives are absent because the goodwill on both sides is not existing, and you need goodwill to find and accept a compromise. I would agree that Israel’s government deserves very harsh criticism for the way it treats civilians in Gaza. Still, as it stands now, I would not speak about deliberate ethnic cleansing in Gaza. What I can see is a merciless attitude to achieve victory in the fight against Hamas and to accept any collateral damage on this way. There is a fine line between reckless pursuit of military victory and intentional genocide, even if this line can become practically invisible, especially from the victim’s perspective. No question, there are fanatics in Israel as well as among the Palestinians who’s political ideas would result, if implemented, in genocidal actions.

We could also approach the situation from a completely different perspective and say, the blame is on the weaker party, which continues the unequal struggle senselessly.

This is an area that is too often overlooked in public debate. Hamas could try much more energetically to end the fighting, for example, by immediately releasing all hostages. But they continue and hide behind – more precisely: under – their civilian population, whose suffering they accept. Apparently with stoic indifference, as Ismail Haniyeh showed when three of his sons and several grandchildren were killed in an Israeli air strike and he only said he was proud of their martyrdom. He himself lives in Qatar, where he is said to be doing very well.

You mention in your book opera singer Anna Netrebko, who dreamed of hero’s death as a child …

Just like the commander of the Bismarck, Ernst Lindemann. If children are raised in a certain spirit, you find this phenomenon. This is of course also the case with the Palestinians.

The leader in Gaza itself, Yahya Sinwar, seems to be a ruthless fanatic. This is of course a fight to the death, and most of the leaders of Hamas have spent many years in Israeli prisons or survived Israeli assassination attempts, some with serious injuries; or their family members were killed. These are people whose lives have been shaped by this conflict. Unfortunately, these are not people of the caliber of Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, but fanatics who walk over corpses and reject compromise. The Israeli leadership, however, is also anything but trustworthy. Netanyahu is referred to by his own countrymen as a “crook,” a criminal who belongs in prison, and who is also being held hostage by his right-wing political friends, whom he needs to govern. How can anything useful come from such leaders on both sides?

The official language regulation in Germany was: One may criticize Israel, but must first mention the Hamas attack. How do you classify such language regulations?

It is necessary to establish who started, just as it is necessary to determine that the Israelis are reacting disproportionately.

The German Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann once said during World War I that the war was lasting so long because there was an ‘International of War Prolongers’ who mutually held each other in power and thereby suppressed peace advocates in their own countries by always referring to the bad intentions of the opposing leadership. We currently have something similar in the Middle East. To achieve peace, we need political leaders who genuinely want it.

Conversely, after Iran’s counterattack, it was not allowed to say in Germany that Israel ‘started’, or that it had previously carried out an illegal attack on the Iranian embassy in Syria.

This is political semantics that only contributes to the confusion of terms. I am a great advocate of clearly assigning responsibilities, and I see no reason to conceal the responsibilities of either side.

Could one say: The USA have made such breaches of international law somewhat ‘socially acceptable’? Think of the murder of Aiman al-Zawahiri, ironically referred to by German journalist Thomas Fischer as a ‘temporary execution,’ or the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

From the perspective of the ‘global south,’ it certainly seems that the West applies a double standard: one for its own actions and one for foreign actions. We also see this in the international response to the war in Ukraine. The outrage over the Russians is much stronger in the West than in the global south, for which it is just ‘more of the same’ and not a breach of civilization.

Just as the USA lost the battle for public opinion in Vietnam, the Israelis are now also losing it – at least worldwide.

Yes, that’s happening – especially in the global South, which instinctively always stands on the side of the oppressed.

And at US universities.

Also at my university in Leeds, the main building was occupied for several days by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. They put up posters: “From the river to the sea – Palestine will be free.” Would I, as an Israeli, feel good about this? Even if these are not politically responsible groups, there is still a mood here that rejects compromise.

How do you see the situation in Ukraine?

Here we have the situation of a military stalemate so far. Neither side can militarily force an end to the war, and both sides are far from a political compromise. This will continue until both sides are willing to negotiate. Or until one side gains military advantages that force the other side to compromise. Here we can quote Clausewitz, who said that a war ends when the continuation of the fight is more disadvantageous for one side than the sacrifice demanded by the victor. An example would be if the Russians achieve military advantages that prompt Ukraine to abandon the territories annexed by Russia, and peace would then be established on this basis. Conversely, I can only imagine that internal unrest breaks out in Russia, forcing the leadership to seek peace; this too is Clausewitz, who said that Russia can only fall due to internal discord.

A friend editor from German newspaper taz, after I sent him an initial version of the interview, said: “I find it difficult to compare the Russia war with Israel. Israel is being attacked by Hamas, a terrorist organization, or a proxy of Iran.”

Yes, Israel was attacked by Hamas, Ukraine by Russia. That’s comparable. Ukrainians also speak of the Russian criminal and terrorist state. I don’t understand the objection.

He also said: The Russian war is “by far the most dehumanized conflict”.

More dehumanized than Gaza? What exactly is the question aiming at? I could ask the question: Would you rather be a civilian in Gaza or in Donbass? In Donbass, you have the chance to evade; you have to leave your house, but you can save your life. The population in Gaza has nowhere to go. That’s a difference.

If we broaden our view, we can apply the popular saying in the Rhineland “It could always be worse”. We just have to go back to the Second World War, then we see, for example on the Eastern Front, or in the Japanese war in China, what constitutes a dehumanized conflict – no rules, brutal slaughter, millions of war prisoners and civilians are killed, women are raped en masse, and so on.

Even in Ukraine at the moment, despite numerous violations of rules, it’s not like that. I believe that the Russians are trying something that the Americans call “effects-based operations”: to paralyze the enemy through targeted air strikes, for example on power plants, traffic routes, etc. But this doesn’t work because the Russians seem to lack the necessary air superiority and military means. They also often miss their targets and destroy civilian facilities. Is it incompetence or intention? I don’t know, the result is the same. But the Russians do not carry out massive carpet bombing like in the Second World War or the Americans in Vietnam.

How do you see the chance of a return to the ‘art of defeat’ being employed here? Ukraine is exhausted, Russia is making territorial gains. Mearsheimer had predicted this development, simply because Russia can draw on so many more soldiers.

This is also what Viktor Orban says. In interviews, he speaks of the poor Ukraine; Russia is simply stronger and will win, and Western aid only exacerbates the disaster and prolongs the suffering. That could happen. If we compare the whole thing to the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939/40: The Finns initially cleverly held off the Soviet attack, but in the end had to give in to the pressure and end the war by ceding Karelia. That was painful – Finland tried in vain to regain these territories from 1941-44 in the so-called “Continuation War” – but Finland survived as a state and society – as the only one of Germany’s allies in World War II. History does not repeat itself; but this would be a possible outcome of the war that seems plausible to me, namely a compromise: Ukraine cedes territory, retains its independence, and Russia relinquishes political control of the remaining Ukraine, which can then also join NATO to guarantee its future security. The Russian maximal goal – to bring Ukraine into complete dependency AND force territorial concessions – seems to me to be just as unattainable as the complete liberation of the Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia. This would be a compromise that both sides hate and that even Western purists would describe as capitulation to the Russian aggressor and an act of appeasement; but I see the greatest evil in a years-long war that consumes lives and devastates territories. The sooner it ends, the better. Fighting for justice and a better future, for ideal political conditions or punishment of the aggressors, would probably cost hundreds of thousands of lives, may not bring success, and may even cause an even greater catastrophe. One hope that has often proved true in history is that in a subsequent period of peace, things will normalize and then modify the results of the war. In the end, the question remains, to which I have not yet heard a good answer: How can a major nuclear power be defeated? The USA lost in Vietnam; but they voluntarily withdrew because they had had enough and it wasn’t important enough to them. The Vietcong alone could not have forced them. This is also the best hope for Ukraine: internal politics in Russia.

Is the ‘ideal of humanitarian interventionism’ – the fact that the USA and its allies intervened – responsible for the fact that the killing continues?

Yes and no. The majority of Ukraine, its leadership and people, want to fight and reject a compromise; that is their genuine decision. The West and its deliveries only give them the opportunity to do so.

Russia speaks of a proxy war.

This is a war between Russia and Ukraine; the West is involved, but it is not a proxy war. The West did not send Ukraine to wage war against Russia; the Russians invaded Ukraine, and the West is helping. Western deliveries and sanctions and international condemnation make the war costly and burdensome for Russia; of course, they are not thrilled about it. Western deliveries kill Russian soldiers. Nevertheless, Russia will continue. I believe Putin cannot and will not retreat; he is committed to victory. In addition, the Western sanctions are at best a partial success; Russia is too big, too self-sufficient, and has others who buy from and supply to it.

Now there are a multitude of wars and military conflicts in the world – but the focus of Western media is clearly on Ukraine and Gaza.

That’s true. The willingness to engage, in my opinion, has something to do with proximity – geographical, cultural, political, and religious proximity.

In Sudan, 25 million people are currently suffering from acute hunger. According to the UN Special Representative for Sudan, Volker Perthes, this is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

This is exactly the mechanism I mentioned earlier: Sudan is geographically and culturally far away, and therefore the suffering there is less moving than that in Ukraine and Gaza. I believe that standards are applied differently all over the world, and compassion and solidarity are asymmetrical.

How would you describe the war situations in Sudan, Yemen, and Haiti from your research perspective?

We have civil war situations in these cases, and such conflicts are usually extremely bitter, as a compromise usually ends up with the division of the country – either territorially or politically – and this is difficult to accept. If external powers – like Saudi Arabia in Yemen – intervene, it becomes extremely confusing. The more parties involved in a war, the more complicated it becomes to find a compromise that everyone agrees to. And if religious differences are added to the mix, it gets even worse. This can almost be calculated with a mathematical formula: the more parties and power-political, cultural, and religious fault lines and differences are added, the more difficult it becomes to reach an agreement. Then only the complete military victory of one side could end the conflict, at least for the moment. If this does not happen, a conflict will last a long time.

Wasn’t the situation in the ‘Cold War’ actually the best possible? Two equal, large state adversaries – so the mathematical formula would then be: the easier the agreement?

That’s correct, but the advantage comes at a price: If there are two major pact systems as adversaries, a conflict that brings mutual destruction is unlikely. The price is: If it does happen, the consequences are catastrophic. We had two political alliances in Europe before 1914, the Triple Alliance and the so-called Triple Entente, and it was clear that if there was a war between the Europe-spanning pact systems, it would be terrible. However, it still happened.

There was peace in Yemen for quite a while. After a ceasefire lasting several months between April and October 2022 and a continued relative ceasefire even without a formal agreement, the whole thing flared up again due to Israel’s attacks on Gaza and was then expanded by Houthi attacks on civilian shipping.

Here again, the argument of solidarity comes into play, generated by political, cultural, or religious connections. Benedict Anderson described nation-states as “imagined communities” – I believe we need similar models to adequately describe worldwide solidarity movements. For certain reasons, people sympathize with certain actors in such conflicts. These reasons can be religion, politics, historical, and cultural ties. For example, the United States supported the opponents of fascism massively at a certain point, for reasons of political and ideological solidarity.

Maybe we really need an alien invasion, as Hollywood always hallucinates, so that humanity finally sees itself as an “imagined community”?

I do indeed believe that in all these apocalyptic films, where humans fight against zombies, aliens, Terminators, monsters, and killing machines, it’s to avoid showing people killing other people and enjoying it. Several decades ago, it wasn’t zombies or aliens, but, for example, Indians, or in war movies, Germans or Japanese, who were shot at. That’s almost progress.

Now, siege warfare is certainly nothing new. Do the current wars add anything new to your considerations? Will new terms be necessary?

Unfortunately, yes. After 1945, it seemed for a long time that wars between the major states were a thing of the past, and that war as a means of politics was increasingly discredited and perhaps even overcome. I don’t want to abandon this optimistic expectation, but at the same time, I have to admit that now a counter-model could be discussed: that after very large wars – the Thirty Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars, the two World Wars – a decades-long attitude of disillusioned exhaustion, peace, and war avoidance dominates, which then gradually weakens and then leads back into a new pre-war era. The future will tell.

The future doesn’t look too good right now. The German federal government and media are currently engaged in removing the bad image associated with war, death, destruction, etc. Some are even advocating for civil defense exercises in schools, where an ‘unstrained relationship with the Bundeswehr’ and with warfare would be taught, preferably by Bundeswehr personnel.

Indeed, there is a change in mood in society, which is becoming mentally remilitarized. I see this especially with the Green Party. The SPD, at least the Chancellor, is very cautious. As a historian, I appreciate this caution. Scholz’s hesitation to supply Ukraine may anger many in Ukraine and also in Germany, but it prevents the danger of escalation, which is very high with abrupt maneuvers. One slows down before going into the curve. I miss this caution in our foreign policy, which may be guided more by moral outrage than is good, or in individual politicians like Ms. Strack-Zimmermann. It’s about finding the right balance to help but avoid abrupt escalations. It may be that Europeans will have to do more for their defense in the future. In terms of economic power, the European Union can build up armed forces that are far superior to the Russian ones. The question is whether the population, despite the turning point, will play along. In the 1950s, there was the “Count me out” movement – it exists today too. The Bundeswehr doesn’t find enough volunteers. Especially the turning point doesn’t contribute to making the profession of soldier more attractive.

And what do you think about the idea of ​​reintroducing conscription?

Absolutely nothing. The introduction of conscription across Europe in the early 19th century was the greatest wave of militarization in history. Conscription was the central instrument to make the wars from the French Revolution to the Second World War so costly in terms of casualties – when an army was destroyed, the leadership simply raised a new one with the help of conscription. Universal conscription provided the armies with huge numbers of soldiers, and as military history shows, this leads to a wasteful use of human life. A numerically limited professional army, on the other hand, can only be replaced very slowly or not at all. Moreover, I find conscription not only impractical – we currently do not have the barracks and instructors and equipment and enough space to guarantee conscription fairness, especially if women were to be drafted – but also an imposition on the citizen. So you don’t misunderstand me: I myself am not a pacifist or a military opponent. I am a reserve colonel, but I joined the Bundeswehr voluntarily, and conscription is like temporary state slavery.

We all know the horrors of war at least from the media, see the misery and devastation in Gaza. It seems that this is not enough. Do brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers have to be killed or mutilated first before realizing what war is?

Hopefully not. But it’s clear: experiences fade. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a fundamental trend towards a decrease in violence. Violence still occurs, but, unlike in most of human history, it is no longer a matter of course.

You speak of the “right dosage” in relation to … This is not necessarily given in the South Pacific, where the US Americans provoke China as much as possible.

If China is smart, it should take a leaf out of imperial Germany’s book. Suddenly, in a blunt form, it insisted on equality with the established world powers, the British, French, Russians, offending everyone in the process. Germany paid a very high price for this. And even imperial Germany could say, we only want what the others have.

What about the possibility of a self-fulfilling prophecy? That a war occurs because everyone keeps talking about it happening? Are there examples from history?

That was the thesis of my doctoral supervisor, Wolfgang Mommsen, not mine: war expectation, in this case, it was World War I, was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Everyone believed a disaster would occur, they became fatalistic, and eventually allowed the seemingly inevitable to happen. But I consider that a monumental mistake. If you see something as a disaster, you should always try to prevent it.

Interview: M. Heidingsfelder, lay-out and ‘Google graphics’: Kathy Zhang, proofread and hyperlinks: Bella

An abbreviated German version of this interview has been published here. Thanks to Cicero for permitting the longer version to be published in English on mediastudies.asia.