Topic: European Armies
German Soldiers and English Athletes
When we have put an idle loafer through two years of military service we cannot but notice what a self-respecting, well set up young fellow he has become. But we declare that we have found an alternative for military service in our national enthusiasm for athletes.
The Age, Melbourne, Australia, 26 February 1897
Despite our robust insularity, a wholesome fear of our German rivals has (says the British Review) grown throughout the country. Recent speeches by members of both political parties have not been calculated to allay the scare. Yet the average Englishman still finds consolation in two facts which he considers irrefutable. Nothing has shaken his belief in the unsurpassed physique of our working men; everything has pointed to the exhausting nature of the burden which compulsory military service imposes on a rising commercial nation such as Germany. With so heavy a handicap in the race for the trade of the world, she cannot, he thinks, do more than toil after us at a respectful distance.
Every year some 300,000 young Germans join the ranks. Not all their number receive the full military training, but the great majority pass through a military course offering exceptional advantages for developing the physique. From half-starved villages and from close suffocating courts the most miserable are rescued for a time. They are taught to square their shoulders and step out from the hips; to keep clean and know the meaning of discipline. They live in sanitary barracks and are clad in suitable clothing. They have already passed through a strict mental training, which renders their physical education all the more necessary. That the latter is successful is abundantly proved by the military statistics. For the last five or six years the average chest measurement has steadily increased, and the German soldier of the present is the German workman of the future. When we have put an idle loafer through two years of military service we cannot but notice what a self-respecting, well set up young fellow he has become. But we declare that we have found an alternative for military service in our national enthusiasm for athletes. Our athletes, we argue, obtain all the physical advantages of conscription without costing the country a single penny. But as regards any permanent physical benefit to our huge operative class, athleticism is but a broken reed for this country to lean upon. It is an unpleasant fact, which, however, must be faced. The German, on the contrary, is unathletic in his tastes. He objects to all violent and, as he considers it, unnecessary exercise. But his military training, with its physical drill and gymnastic course, saves him from himself. It is a military dictum that, all else being equal, the army which is the heaviest in pounds avoirdupois wins the battle. It will be an ill day for England when in the great commercial struggle the workers who boast the broadest backs as well as the best trained brains are "made in Germany."