German Atrocities 1914: Fact, Fantasy or Fabrication?

John Horne looks at what lay behind allegations of brutality on both sides in the opening months of the Great War.

In August 4th, 1914, German troops invaded neutral Belgium. Within days, rumours of atrocities against civilians were rife. They followed the entire German advance through Belgium and into France, and continued (with diminishing incidence) until October 1914. The issue was picked up on each side by newspapers, cartoons and official reports, until by spring 1915, ‘atrocities’ had become a defining issue of the war. German atrocities might be explained in three ways. They happened, they were imagined to have happened, or they were invented in order to manipulate opinion. We shall look at each of these possible explanations in turn, in reverse order, looking first at  atrocities as propaganda.

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