ON THIS DAY: 27 JULY 1900: Why the Germans were called “huns” for years

Most people have come across an incident of the German people being called “the hun” – a derogatory nickname applied to the German army by allied soldiers in both world wars. But where did the nickname come from?

On July 27th, 1900, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor (he was deposed at the end of WW1 and spent the rest of his life in exile in Holland) gave a speech to German soldiers heading off to fight Chinese rebels in the Boxer rebellion.

The speech was widely criticised, even then, because of how it seemed to urge German soldiers to be brutal and merciless. In one paragraph, the Emperor urged German soldiers to emulate Attila the Hun:

“Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German.”

As it happened, the German soldiers arrived to China late, and only after Peking (modern day Beijing) had fallen to the French and the British. Their allies regarded the German soldiers as poorly disciplined, poorly trained, and disorganised, in contrast with the Kaiser’s speech comparing them to “huns”.

The nickname stuck – and that’s why the phrase “hun” is used to describe Germans in most of the World War one and two films you see on television.

On this day, in 1900.

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