Remember Prussia?

The improbable ascent, sudden collapse and subsequent re-imagination of Prussia.

Issue: Sept-Oct 2007

Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2006), 800 pp., $35.00.

RUDYARD KIPLING's 1897 poem Recessional warned of the transience of greatness with the lines "all our pomp of yesterday/Is one with Nineveh and Tyre." While imperial decline marks a recurring cycle, rarely have nations truly landed in history's graveyard. Many nations-partitioned like Poland or dominated by foreign empires for centuries like Serbia-eventually regained their independence. Prussia, however, met the fate of which Kipling warned. Its official dissolution in 1947 ratified the consequences of defeat and ethnic cleansing that left no chance for revival. Prussia's legacy brings to mind the scene of Percy Shelley's Ozymandias where a traveler encounters ruins that mock the pretensions of a long-forgotten imperious ruler who had warned rivals: "Look on my works, ye mighty and despair."

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