Highlighted research

A study into the collective “reception” of military and revolutionary violence between 1914-1919, compared to the reactions in two of the most important warring nations, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Mobilisation. Vereeniging Volksweerbaarheid, app. 1915 (IISG)

Researcher: dr. Conny Kristel, Daan de Leeuw
Duration: 2008-2014
Publication: De oorlog van anderen. Nederlanders en oorlogsgeweld 1914-1918  (De Bezige Bij, 2016).

More information

It is undeniable that for a long time the First World War has been portrayed as irrelevant to Dutch history. After all, the Netherlands hadn't participated militarily.

The historian Maarten Brands even suggested that the Netherlands – unlike most of the surrounding countries – had not lost its innocence and naivety during the First World War. Therefore, according to Brands, the Netherlands was also less well prepared for the Second World War than other European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, the UK).

For the Netherlands, the 20th century started in 1940 when the Germans attacked. For decades the written history of the period 1914-1918 confined itself to political and diplomatic history.

However, slowly but surely, the Great War is creeping out of the shadow of the Second World War in the Netherlands. Since the 1990s, historians and also the general public are experiencing a budding urgency to increase insight into and knowledge about the importance of the First World War for the Netherlands.

Almost all recent studies point in the same direction: the Netherlands was, after all, affected by the First World War. In terms of international politics, political culture and economic development the Netherlands had not been an island within Europe during and after the First World War.

But is this still the case when we turn to the core of the Great War: military violence? This research directly focuses on what was the single essential difference between the Netherlands and surrounding nations during the War: the military violence.

Although the Netherlands may have been affected and changed by the First World War, it was spared the death of an entire generation on the battlefield. Although Dutch men were mobilised, the army didn't take part in military actions. So the Dutch did not lose family members and friends on a mass scale, nor did they see them return physically and psychologically lamed and broken.

This is not to say that war-related violence passed the Netherlands by entirely, literally or figuratively. It's conceivable that the Netherlands did indeed suffer the terrors of war through various channels. This study will address the collective perception of the military and revolutionary violence of the period 1914-1919. The question must finally be answered as to how much the Netherlands, in comparison to other surrounding countries, was genuinely innocent and unworldly.

Debate about the positon of the Netherlands in Europe

In this study, the “reception” of the violence by contemporaries in the neutral Netherlands will be compared to the reactions in two of the most important warring nations, the United Kingdom and Germany. I want this comparison between war mentalities during the First World War to form a contribution to the debate about the position of the Netherlands in Europe:

  • Was the Netherlands actually an island in Europe until 10 May 1940?
  • Did the Netherlands in fact preserve its innocence during and after the First World War?
  • Was the Netherlands really free of the fervor for international power-politics supported by armed action where necessary?
  • Was the majority of the Dutch actually pacifistic and anti-militaristic?