Confiscating Colonies: Humanitarianism and the End of Germany’s Colonial Empire

Publikation: KonferencebidragKonferenceabstrakt til konferenceForskningfagfællebedømt

This paper will examine the instrumentalities of nascent humanitarianism in the takeover of Germany’s colonies after the First World War. Except for East Africa, Germany’s colonies had quickly been conquered during the war and were eventually transferred to the victors as mandates as part of the Versailles settlement. Britain’s Dominion allies, especially Australia and the Union of South Africa, had fiercely advocated for Germany to relinquish its colonial empire, partly for security reasons but also arising from Dominion insistence on asserting regional hegemony.
But stripping Germany of colonial possession was by no means straightforward. As one Foreign Office official noted in May 1917, ‘unless justification could be proved’ the war would seem to have been fought for ‘purposes of aggrandizement’. Furthermore, annexing Germany’s colonies became ever more fraught with difficulty in the wake of Wilson’s 14 points. In order to legitimate the confiscation, the Foreign Office publicized so-called atrocity narratives that emphasized German colonial brutality and misconduct, most notably in German Southwest Africa against the Herero and Nama. By denouncing Germany as a brutal colonizer unable to govern colonial subjects, confiscating the German colonial empire could be depicted as an act, not of imperialist greed, but of humanitarian intervention – decades before the term itself was formally coined.
This paper argues that the confiscation of Germany’s colonies not only rested on pre-war precedents such as the Congo scandal, but also set a new precedent with powerful repercussions for the years ahead. By legitimating the confiscation of colonial possession on humanitarian grounds, violence and misconduct became the prism through which empire henceforth could be scrutinized. Thus, the unintentional consequence of delegitimizing German colonialism was the authorization of ethical standards that would lay the groundwork for the ‘moral disarmament of empire’.
StatusAccepteret/In press - 2019
BegivenhedHumanitarianism and the Greater War, 1912 – 1923 - University College Dublin, Dublin, Irland
Varighed: 5 sep. 20196 sep. 2019


KonferenceHumanitarianism and the Greater War, 1912 – 1923
LokationUniversity College Dublin

ID: 223361815