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 www.ncobrief.com)