Idea and reality of a German guerrilla

The Austrian War of 1809 and the German “public war” in Germany

Martin Rink


At the start there was Napoleon - and at his start there was the revolution. Both historical events determined a new kind of war, the „public war“. War and its reference to the people characterized the quarter of the century between 1789 and 1815. The fact that the war was to be made in the name of the people kept on being the decisive legitimating basis for all military actions in the 19th and 20th century. This conception of control over military and war legitimated by the people - whoever was meant by this term - opposed the monarchist-absolutist ideas which had become the guideline for proto-governmental actions since the 17th century. The lifting of the border-line between home and foreign policy due to the French Revolution also radiated to Northern Germany, taking a way over Spain and Austria to Prussia, thus entering the foundation myth concerning the „German Nation“, in the end under the eagle of the Hohenzollern eagle and certainly not under the Habsburg double eagle. Without Austria, though, this way would have been incomplete, for it was the War of 1809 which acted as a catalyst for „modern“ - or „revolutionary“ - conceptions of „public war“. For Austria the result of 1809, the Peace Treaty of Schönbrunn, led to a return to cabinet politics, but for Prussia this „revolutionary“ conception was never left officially until 1813. During the „Storm of 1813“ Prussia was able to shake off Napoleon supremacy only with the help of the German-Nationals, and of Russia, under whose flags many exiled Germans had gathered. From the Germans’ point of view the beginning of Prussia’s German mission. From Prussia’s point of view, however, it was the beginning of gradual decline. From then on the Hohenzollern nation was assimilated by Germany. History between May 1808 and the early summer of 1809 was still in the air. Within this period of time Austria would certainly have had the opportunity to become „German“, but on the other hand, in this case the Germans might belong to the Austrian nation now.