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“Orgies of Ruthlessness”: Bishop Quayle on German Atrocities During World War I

In the early 20th century, German Americans remained the largest immigrant group, as well as one of the most highly regarded. Thus the vicious nativist attack on the loyalty of German Americans that emerged before and during World War I was particularly remarkable. When the German government began submarine warfare, resulting in American deaths, the intensity of attacks increased. Bishop William A. Quayle, a prominent Methodist clergyman, did not directly attack German Americans but insisted that America’s fight was directly with the German people and not just their leaders. In an essay in the Northwestern Christian Advocate, Quale provided lurid (and vastly exaggerated) stories of German atrocities. Such stories heightened the suspicion directed at German Americans.

Let us set down sternly that we are at war with the Germans, not the Junkers [German aristocrats], not autocracy, not Prussianism, not the Kaiser. . . . The German people is what we war with. The German people is committing the unspeakable horrors which set the whole world aghast. The German people is not and has not been conducting war. It is and has been conducting murder. Hold fast to that. The Supreme Court of New York declared the sinking of the Lusitania an act of piracy. Piracy is not war. All decencies, honors, humanities, international agreements, and laws have been smashed by them day and night from the first rape of Belgium to now. The new atrocity which appeared this week was spraying prisoners with burning oil. This is Germany’s most recent jest. It makes them laugh

They have violated every treaty with the United States; they have lied from start to finish and to everybody. . . . This week the Prussian lords have dishonored a prince who was Ambassador to England at the opening of this war because he has published the truth saying that neither France nor England wanted war, Germany brought it on; and the Emperor has sustained the action. In other words, Germany in 1918 has put to public shame the one man among them who has told the truth about Germany—the truth which the whole world knows without any confirmation from Germany.

Germany has ravished the women of Belgium, Serbia, Romania, Poland, Armenia. Germany murdered the passengers of the Lusitania and struck a medal to celebrate that German triumph, dating it two days before the horrible occurrence. Germany had ruined cathedrals and cities in sheer wanton fury, in such fashion as has not been done in all the wars waged in Europe since the days of the building of the cathedrals. Germany has poisoned wells, crucified inhabitants and soldiers, burned people in their houses, and this by system. Germany has denatured men and boys, has wantonly defaced the living and the dying and the dead. An eye-witness tells of seeing women dead at a table with their tongues nailed to the table and left to die. Germany has stolen things little and big: playthings from children, finery from women, pictures of incalculable worth, bank-deposits, railroads, factories. Germany has sunk hospital-ships, has bombed hospitals and Red Cross camps. Germany has disclosed neither decency nor honor from the day it started war, nor has a single voice in Germany to date been lifted up against the orgies of ruthlessness which turn the soul sick and which constitute the chief barbarity of history. Germany remains unblushing and unconscious of its indecency. Germany’s egotism still struts like a Kaiser. And to climax its horrid crimes, Germany has inflicted compulsory polygamy on the virgins of its own land.

Since the first entry of the Germans into Belgium one fiendish atrocity has succeeded another. In the light of recent events the now almost forgotten Lusitania outrage seem venial. Hospitals crammed with our wounded and dying have been purposely blown to fragments, prisoners of war insulted, starved, tortured, and murdered, hospital-ships blazing with Red-Cross lights and emblems wantonly torpedoed, boat-loads of seamen of all nations turned adrift without food or water to face almost certain death, nuns and women of every age ravished, cathedrals and churches uselessly burned. Still the British public shows hardly a sign of indignation.

The ordinary Englishman, totally ignorant as he generally is of the Continent, has not yet realized that long before 1914 Christianity had ceased to exist among the younger generation of Germans. No doubt elderly people still professed Christianity, just as in the reign of Constantine there were doubtless old-fashioned Romans who sacrificed on the sly to Pan or hankered after the pleasant gladiatorial shows of their youth. But since 1870 a new race of Germans has arisen. This race knows neither pity not truth. A thing of beauty is there but to be befouled or destroyed. Chivalry it regards as sentimental rubbish fit only for the mental lumber-room. Murder, lust, and cruelty, and drink alone are worthy of the Berserker race. Is it necessary to support these statements with examples showing the unutterable degradation of the modern German, who seem fouler as he approaches the apex of the social pyramid? The world rings with the details of his crime, which would hardly have been condoned by Ezzelino da Romano or the Marquis de Sade, perhaps the only Frenchman who has ever had a numerous following in the Fatherland.

Let us for once speak out. The German had definitely shown that he is a pariah unfit to associate even with ordinary criminals. We can not extirpate him, but we can so deal with him that he will wail for a century; we can refuse to have any dealings with either him or his produce. If this is not done, let us be under no illusions. He is far more disciplined, efficient, and enduring than any of the races he is fighting. Every man, woman and child beyond the Rhine means to see this business through, food or no food. Their puny army of cranks, pace apostles, and defeatists is long ago either in prison or hanged. . . . Does any sane man believe that this war is to be the last, that democracies are inherently peace-loving, that the much-boomed league of nations is going to change human nature and bring about the millennium? This time the weight of metal is probably too great for Germany to win; but the German race are the strongest, most pertinacious, and dangerous on earth. They stick and will stick, at nothing to achieve their ends. In the long run, unless we and our allies set our house in order and excise the cancer of party warfare, the German will dominate the world. . . .

Source: Excerpt from Bishop William Quayle as reported in “Moral Flabbiness in Peace Talk,” Literary Digest 19 (October 1918): 28–29.

See Also:"The Failure of German-Americanism": Reinhold Niebuhr Blames German Immigrants for Their Problems During WWI