It’s a German word – it means “frightfulness“ – and it was used, if memory serves and a brief internet search conforms – as a sort of shorthand for the reprisals exacted by the German Army against civilians during both wars. If not an actual German military field policy in WWI, it had certainly become one by WWII; brutally persecute, torture and execute civilians, and make certain that such horrors became well-known through extensive documentation within the theater of operations, and outside of it. To encourage the others, as the saying goes, but on a grand scale – to make war on a civilian population, once all effective military have departed the area – in hopes of cowing everyone who sees and hears of what brutality has been meted out on the helpless, and especially the helpless.
Was it an explicit policy of the German armies to apply the principle of schrecklichkeit – by that name or another – in the field in those wars?

Whether or not dictated from the highest levels, it did have the desired effect of discouraging armed resistance … at first, anyway. Acts of extreme cruelty against civilians were definitely committed, beginning in Belgium in 1914 – and had a short-term effect in that Belgian resistance to the German juggernaut was, to put it mildly, discouraged with Teutonic efficiency. However, the long-term result was a black mark against Germany, in its conduct of that war which resounded for years and was revived again with the record of Nazi atrocities in the second.

Which brings me to reports of the horrors being committed by the Islamic radicals of ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever they are calling themselves, as they sweep into Mosul and proclaim the establishment of a renewed caliphate. I have not seen much of this reflected in the mainstream media yet – but the worst excesses are seeping out, through minor publications, blogs and social media. Of course, without all those layers of editors and fact-checkers, such excesses could be really happening, or the work of propagandists of varying degrees of sophistication … but for the fact that ISIS/ISIL make no bones about boasting of what they are doing, and sharing the pictorial and video evidence. This link was posted on Samizdata by M. Simon – and if you have a low nausea threshold, don’t go any farther than a couple of pictures. I post the link only so that readers will have an idea of exactly how horrible this situation has become. I await for the inevitable lefty-luvvie comparison to Abu Ghraib, of course.

There are likely two rationales for practicing the 21st century Islamic version of schrecklichkeit in Northern Iraq; the ISIS/ISIL fighters are extreme sadists with the blessings of an ideology which encourages them to do what they enjoy most – torturing and murdering infidels – and bragging about it. And secondly, this demoralizes those unfortunate enough to be in their way, and discourages resistance. For a time, anyway. But schrechlichkeit has a short shelf life, once those whom it is practiced on realize that there is no way out, and only one way to fight back. Eventually, as the Allies discovered in the Pacific in WWII – there comes the understanding that those who have so relished inflicting cruelty on the helpless deserve no mercy at all, and will receive none, once the tables are turned upon them. Surrender is not an option at this point – and in future neither will mercy.
(Crossposted at

25 thoughts on “Schrecklichkeit”

  1. I think it is a combination of the two and is a product of Islam of the variety practiced by these barbarians. Hamas seems to be executing tunnel diggers they suspect of ratting them out to the Israelis. The last suggests that the Israelis have done a good job of finding tunnels.

    The fact that Hezbollah executed a US Navy diver on the hijacked TWA flight years ago because German for diver is Marine, suggests the Marines were pretty effective in spite of the ridiculous ROE they were operating under.

    Next, we have to have a serious talk about ROE if we are going to put any more US troops in harm’s way.

  2. Robert Stethem – Flight TWA 870, IIRC. Usually called the late-70. I was at Hellenikon when the hijacking happened. Noonish, local time. The det chief and the NCOIC Radio section were just going to drive over to someplace for lunch, and the news about the hijacking came over the teletype. It was the flight that circulated NY-Rome-Athens/Athens-Rome-NY, and I went running out the end of the building to the fire escape and called down to them. That flight was the one that everyone rotated in and out of Greece on. I can still see their faces – just horrified. We spent the rest of the afternoon counting up our friends and family members whom we knew were rotating out of country, PCS or TDY, and wondering if they had been booked on that flight.

    There could have been quite a few AF members on that flight, and their families as well, since Hellenikon and Iraklion were accompanied tours. IIRC, there were a couple of reserve service members on that flight, who had the wits to hide their military ID cards and show only their passports. Poor kid only had his military ID, which was all that was needed at that time. After that – we were all issued passports, and instructed that in case of ANYTHING involving terrorists, to ditch the military ID… in fact, not to have anything on us that would identify us as military.

    My daughters’ first coherent memory is of standing on the steps of the apartment house we lived in, and watching me kneel down and check the underside of my car for a bomb.

  3. Reagan’s two worst mistakes were putting the Marines in Lebanon with bad ROE and no defensible position; the second was pulling them out after the bombing although I understand his reasons. It gave us a “weak horse” problem for years after. I heard a talk by a medical officer on the ship that was expecting the casualties from the bombing. He said it was the worst moment of his life when they stood there with nothing to do. The Marines were all dead.

    The sentries had UNLOADED M 16s and watched the bomber drive in with a big grin on his face.

  4. We haven’t got the capacity to put troops on the ground aside from whatever SOFs we may have coordinating the air drops.
    We can get an idea of how hamstrung our operations are when considering that those air drops originate out of our air base in Qatar. At the same time a lot of money from Qatar finds its way into the hands of ISIS.

    The Kurds are really our best hope. We need to give them whatever they need, unintended consequences be damned. We must also invoke whatever NATO, EU, etc agreements we can to get Turkey involved.

    This situation is beyond awful, and it’s in the best interests of all humanity to wipe these people from the face of the earth.

  5. “there comes the understanding that those who have so relished inflicting cruelty on the helpless deserve no mercy at all, and will receive none, once the tables are turned upon them. Surrender is not an option at this point – and in future neither will mercy.”

    Indeed. Muslim fanatics have worked overtime to prove to us that they deserve only extermination. Not punishment. Not deterrence. Not defeat. Extermination: That old “by any means necessary” that the Left is so fond of until it is applied to its barbaric friends.

  6. You have to understand that you get more of what you reward. Yes, there were limits to what the Germans could do as far as terror. Those limits were imposed, not by any resistance that could come about, even despairing resistance; but by the existence and actions of an armed external, sovereign opposition dedicated to killing the Germans.

    There is heroism in resistance, even hopeless resistance. There comes a time when resistance is all that you can do, and remain true to yourself and your country/people/religion/ethics. But it is the existence of main force units opposing the force governing/ruling by terror that will lead to victory.

    In the world today; that which we call the West, i.e. largely Europe and North America, has been broken by the fear of having to fight. Terror works. Terror has worked. And short of a revolution here, terror will continue to work.

    Our governments will not fight the forces of ISIL, Boko Haram, or other Jihadist movements or government that will fight back; because they fear the cost. Our Governing Class [q.v. Angelo Codavilla’s works] of both parties will not fight for fear of losing their privileged positions. Our political parties will not fight them, will not speak the truth about them, will enslave our own people rather than “offend” Muslims; because they fear the actual terror will be applied to them.

    Our media, aside from being totally controlled by the gutless state, is itself terrorized and broken. Every picture, video, tale of beheadings, mass executions, assassinations, mass rape reinforces that stab of fear in every reporter and editor. They, and the Governing Class, only hope that if they keep their heads down and become functionally good little dhimmi they will be overlooked and spared.

    We have centuries of practical experience in dealing with them. When opposed full force, they cannot face the West. When the West is weak and disunited, they win. We are disunited, in that the Left is, in the West, allied with Islam against Western culture. It is only a small minority of the Governing Class that will even occasionally stand up to Islam. What Codavilla calls the Country Class will stand and fight back if only given a little leadership. But the majority of the Governing Class, led by the Left, stabs them in the back every freaking time.

    We have, arguably, some of the finest citizens in the West in the history of mankind. And they are ruled and subjugated by the worst Governing Class in the history of mankind. A true Kakistocracy.

    Terror works because OUR rulers and their minions are Terrorized by Islam.

    Subotai Bahadur

  7. How much do we delude ourselves when we think we are good people who have put this sort of thing behind us?

    I won’t behead children. I won’t slit the throats of non-combatants.

    Do we want to wage the terrible war, a war of extermination, that will remake us in ways no one wants?

    I’ve seen calls for nuclear war from people who ought to be more restrained (e.g., Scalia), and such calls are something to which I am sympathetic and, I think, inevitable.

    To wage nuclear war against Islam risks handing leadership of the world over to the Russians and Chinese, for any number reasons. I don’t want to live in the world where the tyrant of Beijing speaks as the voice of civilization, conscience, and world opinion.

    To wage non-nuclear war would be worse than WW2 and leave the US and the EU occupying more land than their homelands.

  8. SB – I came to realize how very, very craven our establishment media was, when they caved on publishing the Danish Motoons of Doom. Yes, likely they would have been threatened … but I had always kind of expected better of an establishment who trumpeted their fierce allegiance to the concept of freedom of the press for decades. The first serious challenge to it – and they caved like wet paper bags.

    Eris-Guy – Wretchard at the Belmont Club’s Three Conjectures: his theory was (if I recall correctly) that at some point, we will be cornered in a situation where the West (or the US) will have to act with overwhelming force against jihadists. We won’t really want to, and we’ll be a bit sorry afterwards, but we’ll be alive and they’ll be eradicated.

  9. How much do we delude ourselves when we think we are good people who have put this sort of thing behind us?

    I won’t behead children. I won’t slit the throats of non-combatants.

    Do we want to wage the terrible war, a war of extermination, that will remake us in ways no one wants?

    Then I guess with you making the decisions, we would have simply surrendered in WWII. The world might live in tyranny for hundreds or thousands of years, but you would have no blood on your hands.

    If it comes to Islam or the West then we should fight and kill to defend it. And if that includes nuclear weapons, so be it.

  10. ISIS may have learned from the US EPA’s Region VI Administrator Al Armendariz, who in 2010 discussed his technique for “pacification” of oil companies and power producers who might not be happy with EPA oversight:

    “It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years. And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law. Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them, and there is a deterrent effect there.”

    Not the five worst guys. Not five most dangerous guys. Not five most outspoken opponents. Not five organized resisters…

    The first five random guys you can easily catch and crucify, without regard to whether or not they might even be on “your side”. Five local townsmen, civilians, handy and obvious. CRUCIFIED, tortured and killed in a particularly gruesome way. Because, you’re not wining the battle you’re making an example. And that town becomes really easy to manage for the next few years…

    OF COURSE this is deliberate policy. Romans, Monguls, Vlad the Impaler, Oliver Cromwall, William Tecumsah Sherman, and Che Guevara all promoted such a technique.

    Welcome to the 21st Century.

  11. I was thinking this morning of ISIS and the Japanese in the Pacific – the Marines understood no quarter given – none expected.

    I am sure that they will alienate both the Sunnis and Shias – guerrilla action to start?

  12. Pouncer, that was my point:schrechlichkeit works very, very well, right up until suddenly it doesn’t. And it stops working and rebounds rather catastrophically on those using it once those people they are using it against realize they have no choices left. Yes, no surrender offered or accepted.

  13. “Then I guess with you making the decisions, we would have simply surrendered in WWII”

    Hilarious. Has that obnoxious troll returned using the pseudonym “Michael Hiteshew?”

    WW2 was not a war to exterminate the Japanese or Germans. A war against Islam will be: convert or die. Most won’t be offered a choice.

    Europeans, their toadies, lackeys, and admirers, condemn the USA for using two atom bombs to defeat Japan. A little context is in order. In 1917 in Russia, 1921 in Italy, and in 1933 in Germany varieties of socialism, more-or-less racist and more-or-less totalitarian took power (only in Germany were the National Socialists elected, in other countries the government was captured in a coup or civil war) and, as part of their political plan, re-established slavery in Europe.

    This political order, participated in enthusiastically by academics, scholars, businessmen, scientists, and citizens and subjects of every kind spread across Europe from Portugal to Russia. Variously called fascist, nazi, socialist and communist, it was not ended until the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991.

    In addition to legal slavery, the regimes in Italy, Germany, and Russia fought several wars in Albania, Finland, Poland, and Spain prior to World War Two, whose deaths, when combined with the murders in death camps resulted in over 80 million dead between 1917 and 1991.

    In the settlement of the Americas, Europeans killed between 24 million and 80 million native Americans (depending on whose pre-Colombians populations estimates one uses) before 1650. There is something about European culture that fosters mass murder and genocide on a unique and appalling scale.

    Yet Europeans want to believe they are “good people,” and so criticize the United States for using atom bombs to end in Japan the very type of regime they enthusiastically adopted until their countries were liberated by British and American armies.

    The atom bomb was not developed to annihilate cities in Japan. Its intended targets were in Nazi Germany, and later, in the USSR. For those who dream of world order in which slavery is punished and totalitarians are executed imagine how much better the world would be if the slave capitals of Europe were radioactive wastelands.

    Never again.

  14. We should be careful not to romanticize the Kurds. They are Muslims and have some of the handicaps of Muslim treatment of women.

    I am all for helping them stay independent but they are still Muslims. The Druze may be another group worthy of help but the Israelis are way ahead if us there.

  15. “In the settlement of the Americas, Europeans killed between 24 million and 80 million native Americans (depending on whose pre-Colombians populations estimates one uses) before 1650.”

    Rubbish. Most of the natives who died, died of epidemic diseases. Admittedly pandemic amongst Europeans, but they cannot be lumbered with epidemics they too suffered from.

  16. ErisGuy wrote: In the settlement of the Americas, Europeans killed between 24 million and 80 million native Americans…

    Robert Schwartz wrote: Rubbish. Most of the natives who died, died of epidemic diseases. Admittedly pandemic amongst Europeans, but they cannot be lumbered with epidemics they too suffered from.

    Robert, you beat me to it. In addition, no one has any idea how many native Americans were here. Any number quoted is made up. And further, who did the Navajo or the Apache or the Aztecs kill to establish their bloodthirsty cultures? The previous occupants? There were clearly earlier cultures here that disappeared without a trace. Not to mention the Aztecs in particular were a fanatical, repressive, human sacrificing, slave trading culture who terrorized the entire region.

    But back to the point, I’ve been giving the War with Islam a lot of thought lately. I also recently read Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire which focused my mind on how seriously our parents & grandparents took the idea of DESTROYING the NAZI’s and Imperial Japan. The did not want to live peacefully with them. They did not want a series of cease fires and arms agreements and territory trades. They wanted them destroyed. And they did it. And the world is a much better place for it. I think we may be approaching that moment again. We either destroy Islam or it will destroy us. And if we have to kill tens of thousands of them, or hundreds of thousands of them, or millions of them to do it, I’m OK with that. You, obviously, are not. But I firmly believe that after we destroy the barbaric culture that is Islam, the world will be a much freer, more peaceful place.

  17. “Most of the natives who died, died of epidemic diseases.”

    They gave as good as they got, if not better. Syphilis, especially when it first hit Europe after Columbus first trip was horrific.

    Measles wiped out most Pacific Islanders. The Indians who came to North America wiped out the horses and camels. Isolated populations do not handle exposure to new pathogens well.

  18. “We should be careful not to romanticize the Kurds.”

    We unofficially help the Kurds in Iraq, but officially we classify their militias in Turkey as terrorist organizations.

    Kurdistan overlaps with the Ninevah Plains, which is where Christians have lived. Their interests have not always overlapped, and there has not been much love lost between the groups historically. However, when faced with annihilation by ISIS, they look pretty good in comparison.

    No one should be under any illusions about simple solutions or the unsullied virtuousness of any one group, but Christians have survived in pockets of the Middle East this long by making deals, for better of for worse, with other local powers. We should support the Kurds for a lot of strategic reasons, but for especially protecting Christians there. Their church was founded by the original apostles in the 1st century. They’re a direct link to our Judeo-Christian civilization.

    Obviously, President Obama, being the first Congregational Atheist to ever serve as president, doesn’t care about those concerns. It’s interesting to finally get confirmation that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine doesn’t apply to non-Muslim “People of the Book”. It now gives clarity to his entire presidency.

  19. ^ ^ ^
    In the interest of full disclosure: that Anonymous comment above was mine.
    Also, I’m a Christian, espouse Christian moral values, support addressing Christian persecution with military force because it’s in our best national and moral interests, and I don’t see any dilemma between those positions.

  20. ” support addressing Christian persecution with military force”

    I could also add that Christian militias in Lebanon were the source of the atrocities blamed on Arial Sharon.

  21. Relevant point.
    Of course, anyone who kills, maims, and rapes women and children isn’t a Christian. They aren’t real soldiers. They’re war criminals.

    Those Christian militias lost many commanders – including their top leader – in the long war of attrition (it didn’t help that they weren’t very effective in the first place), and they ended up with some questionable leadership making very bad decisions. They lost whatever moral leverage they might have had with civilian massacres and infighting, and that led to the end of Christian fighting forces in Lebanon.

    A similar trajectory played out in Iraq, as Christians there were mostly aligned with Ba’athists.

    But that was how it should be. Warlords and militias aren’t the natural posture for Christians, so it wasn’t sustainable.
    It cost them power and resulted in grave disruption, but these groups ended up reverting back to their Judeo-Christian values. They’re demilitarized now, law-abiding, and largely peaceful, so deserve our support more than ever.

  22. The first thing to be done is to break islamic unity, to force the mushy middle of Islam to either own the acts of ISIS, Boko Haram, and Hamas or to declare them outside the pale and act like it. If they do the latter, Islam, in some form or other, will likely survive because it will schism.

    Instead of a photo opp with that silly hashtag, Michelle Obama could have, still could, invite prominent american muslim clerics over for tea and record it for web release, asking the questions that should be asked to wedge, in their vernacular provoke a fitna. And over tea and cookies she could establish that as imams they are not only clerics, they are jurists in the islamic faith and ask:

    This horrific act is justified by this group by referring to XYZ scripture. Are they correct? Why or why not? And if they’re not correct, what does that make these people in your faith?
    It’s always better for people inside a community to clean up your own dirty laundry. What is the reason the responsible people have failed to do so in this case? What do they need to succeed?
    How can I, as someone outside your faith, tell the difference between the bad guys and the good guys on this issue?
    How well represented are the bad guys inside america. How could we responsibly keep the bad guys out and fight them if they arrive?
    How is jihad, a holy war, stopped (not put on pause until later) in Islam today?

    The clerics might lie. They might tell the truth. Both would be useful and an improvement on the current situation. Tea and cookies in the White House with the first lady forces no official changes but it creates a situation, an opportunity to sort the sheep from the goats and give the world a better option than genocide, to escape Wretchard’s 3 conjectures.

  23. TMLutas,

    Agreed. There are many additional steps our govt could take along similar lines. The inability to do so, even to see the issue clearly, is one of the West’s great failures since 9/11.

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