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Christian Culture Warriors Versus Pope Francis and Boarding the Wrong Train

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“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It has been amazing for me to watch and listen to influential leaders of the Christian Right vilify Pope Francis for “being liberal” and “surrendering in the culture war.” I find it amazing because for the past 30 years I have been watching the culture warriors fight this war.

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It was in 1992 when Pat Buchanan announced at the Republican National Convention that “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

I had deep ambivalence that speech back then and I was a conservative Republican and moderately conservative Christian. I had already seen how vicious the politically driven Christian conservatism was when I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the early part of the Fundamentalist takeover of that school.

When I was ordained as a Priest in a more conservative Episcopal denomination back in 1996 I became part of a denomination at the time that had fully embraced the ideas of the culture war. When we went to clergy conferences our textbooks were those of Buchanan, Robert Bork, and Thomas Sowell as well as many others which espoused the necessity and rightness of the religious and culture war. Leadership indoctrinated us in this.

However as a military chaplain I had deep qualms about what was going on in this because I was already seeing the practical effects this was having on those who I served. I remember talking to some of the other chaplains in the denomination, a number who had similar concerns.

Gordon Klingenschmitt

So for many years I operated in the nether world of representing a denomination which by the day was growing more deeply aligned with the culture warriors. It began to come to a head in 2006 when Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Navy Chaplain on active duty began a campaign which ended caused a great uproar among religious conservatives and caused chaplains from many conservative denominations great grief as people in our churches looked to Klingenschmitt as a some kind of hero. In fact he was not. He was and is a pathological liar who has been on a Jihad since even before he entered the Navy as a Chaplain in 2003. I saw the unbridled vicious and unethical behavior exhibited by Klingenschmitt and his allies in the extreme Christian right and the right wing political hacks and pundits who use the Christian faith and unwitting but sincere Christians to advance an agenda which is neither Christian nor faithful to the vision of our founding fathers.

It was after that that I deployed to Iraq where what I saw and experienced changed me in profound ways. Suffering from chronic and severe PTSD I suffered a collapse of faith and for two years was for all intents and purposes an agnostic just hoping that God existed. Only my strong sense of vocation and the grace and mercy of God kept me going. But when faith returned it was different and as I began to write about it I realized who much I had changed. In September 2010 I was told by my Bishop that I needed to leave the church because I was “too liberal.”

So now when I see the same right wing political hacks, pundits, preachers and politicians who have been stoking this Christian version of Jihad against a plethora of enemies, Moslems, Gays, women, Liberals, progressives in fact anyone that they want to label as different then them or “enemies” of God or “America” I get my hackles up.

When I heard Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin condemning Pope Francis for his alleged liberalism I realized that no Christian leader was safe from their foolish and shortsighted agenda. Pope Francis has chosen the way of Jesus, he is embracing people that conservative Christians have not only marginalized, but have persecuted for years and are still attempting to do so in the United States and elsewhere. There are times that I fear for the life of Pope Francis because there are people who believe so strongly that they would kill him if they believed that God wanted them to, and when people like Buchanan accuse Francis of surrendering in the culture war they help justify people wo will kill in the name of God.

What seems to me that most of these people lack is a real sense of historical context, not only of the importance that the founders of the United States placed on the freedom of religion and freedom from religion as well as the history of other countries.

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One of my special areas of study is the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period of German history. Religious conservatives were often willing partners with Hitler and the Nazi movement because of their opposition to socialism and what they saw as an atheistic movement in Germany, which many lamed on the Jews. Martin Niemöller was a prominent pastor in that era. His writings reflected the feelings of many. He wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

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Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.

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All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against inGermany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat toGermany.  Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked inGermany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well inGermany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

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When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they leftGermany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

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Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Homosexuals, and “Liberals” who are the targets of the xenophobic and ideological rage vocalized by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.

Their support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible Project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities as did Timothy Rollins of “The American Partisan.”

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….”

Glenn Beck made this comment about a people reacting against Moslems:

“When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”

Doug Giles a seminary educated columnist for Townhall.com a leading conservative opinion site made this comment

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants especially those from Mexico or Latin America.  I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican.   Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals and even deporting them. Some Christian political action groups are going overseas to Russia and Africa to help enact laws against homosexuals and recently the same people have been hosted by members of Congress to promote their ideology.

These actions and proposed laws are so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

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This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

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I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

What the good people who suggesting these “collective guilt” actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but ultimately for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.

So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place.  It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems, Gays, Secularists and others and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political or religious affiliation, sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Christian culture warriors have become so enamored with political power and using the state to enforce their beliefs. They  have forgotten that the people are not converted by religious laws enforced by the police power of the state but on the love shown by God’s people to others. They have forgotten that the sword that they desire to use against those that they despise can easily be turned against them. Many German Christians found this out far too late.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If Christians would only learn that lesson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, History, nazi germany, Political Commentary, Religion

The German Revolution 1919-1922: A Warning from History

The Spartacus League brought armed mobs onto the streets of the new and fragile Weimar Republic 

In light of the increasing revolutionary rhetoric from both the political right and left, the ongoing demonstrations in many American cities that are part of the Occupy Wall Street Campaign I felt that it was important to remind people of what can happen when a society enters a revolutionary period. When a nation is in turmoil and is besought by political division and ineffective and out of touch government, a massive economic problems, wars that are believed to be lost and veterans that feel abandoned by their government and isolated from their fellow citizens and what some see as massive economic inequities, or lack of respect for their political, social or religious views then it is facing real danger. It is my belief that we need as individuals and as a nation take a step back from the brink. 

Peace, Padre Steve+

The German Revolution of 1919 and civil war is important for those who study highly developed states when they enter a period of social and political upheaval. Often such upheavals occur following military defeats or economic crisis that cause the society to question or even overthrow the established order.  The end of Imperial Germany and the establishment of the WeimarRepublicon November 9th 1918 is a prime example.  Following the declaration of the Republic the Majority Socialists who had assumed power had no military force of any caliber to support it. The Army had melted away following the end of the war and the units which remained were unreliable and heavily infiltrated by Soviet style “workers and soldiers councils.”

Chaos ruled the streets, Communists and Independent Socialists of The situation being chaotic the Majority Socialists under the leadership of Friedrich Ebert joined forces with German General Staff to create a military force capable of bringing order the Germany.  To do this they allowed for the formation of Freikorps to quell revolutionary chaos and avert the establishment of a Soviet State.

The study begins with the establishment of the Republic and concludes with the Kapp Putsch.  This is an era that is seldom referenced by political or military leaders in western states and historians themselves are often divided in their interpretation of the subject.  The study of this period is vital to those who study politically polarized societies which are either war weary or have suffered the shock of military defeat coupled with a government which is blamed for the events.  Thus, it is important to study the relationship of the military to the government and in particular the military’s relationship to politicians who have little connection to or affinity for the military, its traditions and culture and the often adversarial relationship of these politicians to military leadership which often sees them as adversaries.  The period also shows how actions of those who in their antipathy to the military create a climate where the military loathes the civilian leadership and the government.  The results of such conditions can endanger the society as a whole and ultimately usher in periods of great tragedy.  This occurred inWeimarGermanywith the result that the military in the later years of the Republic neither the military nor the Majority Socialists could not work together against the Nazi takeover of the state.  However, the first years of the relationship set the tone and foredoomed the Republic.

Freikorps troops battle Leftists in the streets

The history of Weimar, particularly that of the military and Freikorps in their relationship to the Republic is complex.  Not only is the relationship between the military and government complex, but the Freikorps themselves, their organization, leadership and political affiliation were not monolithic as is sometimes maintained,[i] nor were the Freikorps the direct ancestors of the Nazi SS/SA organizations despite often similar ideology,[ii] nor can they dismissed by saying that they were composed of “former soldiers and officers ill-disposed to return to civilian life.”[iii] The Freikorps’ association with the Army and Republic is more complex than some historians assert.  Despite the right wing leanings of many of units and fighters and future association of some to the Nazis, the blanket claim that the Freikorps were forerunners of the Nazi movement is not supportable.[iv] It is true that without Freikorps support in Munich, along with support of the Thule Society, business leaders and others “that the transition of the DAP into the Hitler party could not have taken place.”[v] It is also true that elements of the Freikorps branded too revolutionary and unruly for service in the Army continued as secret societies and affiliated themselves with various right-wing political groups.[vi] Likewise a case can be made that the fierceness of many Freikorps veterans, younger leaders of the Army laid the foundation for the brutality of both the Army and Waffen SS as they prosecuted the Second World War.[vii]

Yet simply because certain aspects of a subject are true does not make for a broader “truth.”  Heinz Höhne argues the reverse of what some have written in regard to the relationship of the Freikorps and Reichswehr to the Nazis, that in fact the Nazis did not issue from the Freikorps, but rather that many former members of the Freikorps, Imperial Army or the Reichswehr were attracted to the Nazis, particularly to the SS by its “philosophy of “hardness” and its attitude of bellicosity per se, basically unconnected with ideology.”[viii] Others historians state similar views especially those that study the relationship of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  Thus the thesis of this paper is that the historiography like the period itself is complex; that the composition, leadership and motivations of the Freikorps were not monolithic, nor were they beloved by the Reichswehr, nor were they the “trailblazers” for the Nazi movement.  The focus of this article is on the relationship of the Reichswehr and the Freikorps to the Republic to the Kapp Putsch and the dangers of a relationship built on necessity without mutual trust.  Such a relationship is dangerous and can lead to unintended consequences.   This paper will explore the first years of theWeimarRepublic and specifically look at several key events that were pivotal in the relationship between the Army and Freikorps and the Majority Socialists.

The Leftist “Volksmarine” Division which terrorized Berlin in late 1918 and early 1919 

The literature covering this period ranges from well written and researched academic histories and poorly researched and badly done works which attempt to present particular views of the Freikorps which often border on myth. Additionally there are biographical works which shed some light on the subject. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926 by Harold Gordon Jr. is perhaps the best study of the Freikorps and their relationship to the state and the army.  Gordon’s work is exceptional in documenting the numbers, types, political affiliation, action and ultimate disposition of the Freikorps.  Other works which provide exceptional treatment of the relationship between the military and the Republic include The History of the German General Staff by Walter Goerlitz; The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 by John Wheeler-Bennett, The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten and The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640-1945 by Gordon A. Craig.

The best of the general histories of the period, which focus on the National Socialist state are The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher, and Richard Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich. Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart is one of the best for telling the story of the fall of the Empire and the revolution in Germany.  Watt’s account is well written and documented work and touches on other factors affecting the new republic including Versailles and Allied political actions. The final chapter of Holger Herwig’s The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 gives a good account of the Army’s role in the end of the Empire and beginning of the Republic.  Andreas Dorpalen’s Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic adds an interesting dimension of Hindenburg’s role in the republic’s formation and negotiations between Groener, Noske and Ebert while Steven Ozments’ history of Germany A Mighty Fortress is superficial in its treatment of the period.  Nigel Jones’ Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler is an interesting and somewhat entertaining but poorly documented work. Jones tends to “broad brush” the Freikorps in sometime as “sensationalist” manner. His book has none of the detail or nuance of Gordon, Craig, or Carsten on the Freikorps. Nor does Jones have the depth of Goerlitz or Wheeler-Bennett on the Republic’s relationship with the Army, or the attitude of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Gerald Reitlinger’s The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922-1945 and Heinz Höhne’s The Order of the Death’s Head.  All of these works add some information which details Nazi involvement in the early part of theWeimarRepublic but are limited in their coverage of the subject.

Of other works, Kenneth Macksey’s Why the Germans Lose at War has an insightful but short chapter dealing with this period and Wolfram Wette’s The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality offers an interesting and at times provocative look at anti-Semitism in the German military in the years following the First World War.  Carlos Caballero Jurado’s The German Freikorps 1918-1923 is a short but very detailed study of Freikorps organizations and actions.  B.H. Liddell-Hart has a small chapter on General Von Seeckt in The German Generals Talk which hasinteresting commentary on later actions of former Reichswehr officers who served the Nazi state.

Freikorps Von Hulsen being sworn into the Provisional Reichswehr

A number of biographies touch on actions of German Officers who played key roles in World War Two.[ix] Most auto-biographies gloss over the Weimar period; however Admiral Reader’s memoir Grand Admiral offers the insight of a naval officer with some direct observation of the revolution and the Kapp Putsch.  Guderian in Panzer Leader omits his service in the Baltic “Iron Division.”

The relationship of the Republic to the Army was born in the moment of crisis of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the armistice discussions with the Allies.  Beset by revolts in key naval bases and mutinies aboard ships of the High Seas Fleet and unrelenting Allied pressure on the German armies in the west the situation continued to deteriorate as the “red flag was flying in all the principle cities, soldiers behind the front were electing soldiers councils Russian fashion.”[x] Revolutionary and defeatist propaganda spread by the radical left wing of the Independent Socialists and Spartacus League spread through the country and even affected combat units,[xi] while the “Majority Socialists had found out that the militant factions of the Independents had secretly armed themselves out of funds supplied by the Soviet ambassador and adopted the slogan “all or nothing.””[xii] The situation had deteriorated so badly that Karl Liebknecht, leader of the Spartacus League “was announcing the establishment of a Soviet regime from the steps of the Imperial Palace.”[xiii]

Under these dire conditions, General Wilhelm Groener who had succeeded General Ludendorff as Quartermaster General called an emergency meeting of fifty “of his most senior army commanders.”[xiv] In response to his question of whether the troops would follow the Kaiser and oppose the revolts only one answered in the affirmative, and eight responded that “there was no hope of using regular Army units to quell unrest at home.”[xv] On November 9th Groener went to the Kaiser on behalf of the Supreme Command and in response to a suggestion that the Kaiser lead the Army back and suppress the revolts boldly stated “The Army will march home in peace and under its leaders and commanding generals, but not under the command of Your Majesty, for it stands no longer behind Your Majesty.”[xvi] The Emperor abdicated fleeing to Holland and Friedrich Ebert leader of the Majority Socialists was named Chancellor on November 9th.  Upon hearing the news Philipp Scheidemann a leader in the Social Democrats announced that Ebert was Chancellor proclaimed “Long live the great German Republic!”[xvii] It was an ill conceived act as Scheidemann had not consulted Ebert and his act prevented Ebert from working toward an orderly transition of power.

The mobs in the street were not placated by the announcement and the far left organizations aligned with the Independents “had no intention of letting the revolution stop there.”[xviii] In the streets of Berlin soldiers sold their weapons and vehicles officers were attacked by crowds on the streets and whenever “crowds found an Army officer, they tore off his epaulettes and medals.”[xix] Everywhere mutual recrimination was in the air, soldiers “blamed revolutionaries for the betrayal and stab-in-the back while revolutionaries blamed officers for all the costs and losses of the war.”[xx]

Groener called Ebert promising the Army’s support of the new government in return for the government’s assistance to the Army in the maintenance of discipline and supply.[xxi] He also drafted a letter signed by Hindenburg pledging the Army’s loyalty and telling him that “the destiny of the German people is in your hands….”[xxii]One source notes: “Thus, in half a dozen sentences over a telephone line a pact was concluded between a defeated army and a tottering semi-revolutionary regime; a pact destined to save both parties from the extreme elements of revolution but, as a result of which the Weimar Republic was doomed at birth.”[xxiii]

The High Command was able to bring the Army home in good order following the armistice but upon arriving most units “melted away like snow under a summer sun,”[xxiv] those which remained were often shells of their former selves beset by soldier’s councils and leftist revolutionaries.  To support the government the High Command issued a directive stating that it “put itself as the disposal of the present government led by Ebert without any reservation.”[xxv]Yet in December delegates of the National Assembly continued to sow resentment in the military by military discipline be placed in the hands of soldiers’ councils, that all badges of rank be removed with all decorations of insignia and honor.[xxvi] Reaction was heated,[xxvii] but despite this Groener, Colonel Walter Reinhardt, the Prussian Minister of War and the Republic’s Defense Minister, Gustav Noske endeavored to find forces to combat the growing revolution and rebellious military units.  The choice was not hard, the Army was of no use, so called “democratic forces” were in most cases both unreliable and ineffective, while only the Freikorps “provided suitable material for the immediate creation of an efficient, combat-ready army.”[xxviii] Thus the Freikorps became the instrument of necessity to ensure that the government was not swept away by a Soviet style revolution.

Gustav Noske, of the Majority Socialist party “saw himself as a patriot, a man of action…who had no time for theories…and was one of the few Socialists that the Supreme Command trusted.”[xxix] He had already distinguished himself by helping to bring under control the sailors revolts in Kiel by forming a loyal “Naval Brigade”[xxx] and he  “realized that the government must have a dependable military force behind it if it was to survive and rule Germany” and the “old Officer Corps must be the backbone of any such force.”[xxxi] The Army had melted away and units of the workers and soldiers councils were poorly trained, organized and led “”fought against the government as often as for it” and “were of little practical value to either the government or the rebels.”[xxxii] In the chaos of a Spartacus, now called the German Communist Party uprising and vacuum of political leadership of January 1st 1919 agreed to become defense minister stating “Someone must be the bloodhound, I won’t shirk the responsibility!”[xxxiii]

Noske helped by the High Command helped organize volunteer units led by officers and NCOs composed of reliable veterans.  Freikorps varied in size from divisions to companies and were led by Generals down to Sergeants and even a Private First Class.  Their greatest success was in early 1919 when the Republic was beset by “Red” revolutions in many major cities.  Without the use of the Freikorps by the government it is unlikely that the Republic would have survived.[xxxiv] On January 4th Ebert and Noske reviewed the troops of General Maercker’s Freiwillege Landesjaegerkorps and Maercker informed them that every volunteer had pledged loyalty to the government, seeing the discipline and order Noske told Ebert “Don’t worry. Everything is going to turn out all right now.”[xxxv]

On January 5th 1919 the leftist mobs attacked the Chancellery and the officers of the Socialist Vörwarts newspaper. Noske led the Freikorps back into Berlin [xxxvi] to regain control of the city for the government [xxxvii] and crushed the revolt.  Among the casualties were Spartacus leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg who were lynched by the officers of the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division.[xxxviii]

In March 1919 after a period of uneasy calm the Freikorps, now reinforced by the 2nd Naval Brigade, or Ehrhardt Brigade[xxxix] were called upon to put down the revolt of the leftist “People’s Naval Division.”[xl] Making liberal use of heavy weapons including tanks the Freikorps inflicted heavy losses on the leftists who lost over 1500 dead and 12,000 wounded in the uprising.[xli] Other revolts were crushed and the Freikorps reached their zenith in Württemberg where Freikorps led by Lieutenant Hahn, a Social Democrat put down leftist revolts[xlii] and in Bavaria where Independents and Communists had taken the city with their “Bavarian Red Army” which numbered nearly 25,000 men[xliii] on April 7th.

After failed attempts by the Socialist led Bavarian government to retake Munich, they asked for Berlin’s help.  Violence and massacres of citizens by the various leftist groups inflamed the Freikorps, including the Ehrhardt Brigade and the revolt was crushed by May 2nd.[xliv] Dorpalen called the Freikorps ruthlessness “completely unwarranted in view of the weakness of the opposing forces” and noted though they broke the leftist powers they deepened the nations’ cleavages”[xlv] while Macksey wrote that “where Freikorps’ brutality stained the pages of history there was invariably a forgoing or simultaneous record of excess by their sworn opponents.”[xlvi]

There was a tension between many in the Reichswehr and those on the German left and this came out in many ways as officers were caught in between various political camps while attempting to conduct their duties. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring recounted with great bitterness his experience:

“My cup of bitterness was full when I saw my devoted work rewarded by a warrant for my arrest for an alleged putsch against the socialist-influenced command of my III Bavarian Army Corps. Notwithstanding the degrading episodes during my imprisonment after 1945, I do not hesitate to describe this as the most humiliating moment of my life.”[xlvii]

The end of the Freikorps era began when the Provisional Reichswehr was established on March 6th 1919. The High Command assembled from Freikorps, remaining Army units and Republican defense forces. There was a great distrust between many in the Army, the remaining Freikorps and the Socialists. When the German delegation to Treaty of Versailles signed the treaty under threat of invasion it provoked a crisis. Noske and others threatened resignation over the war guilt clauses, but Groener warned that if the treaty was rejected the Army could not win against the Allies if hostilities were renewed.[xlviii] The treaty imposed harsh limitations on the German Army which many bitterly resented, however, Seeckt, the Chief of Staff of the Army felt that it was “more important to keep the Army in being and preserve the possibility of a military resurrection.”[xlix] Yet by signing the treaty the government lost the support of many officers who looked to General Walther von Lüttwitz, the Reichswehr’s senior commander, and commander of troops in the Berlin area for leadership.[l]

Revolution from the Right: The Kapp Putsch

Lüttwitz, leaders of certain Freikorps, right-wing groups and individuals made plans to overthrow the government.  They favored revolt against the government, but “their political aims were hazy.”[li] Army leadership recognized the threat posed by disaffected Freikorps and their leaders. Seeckt and Reinhardt felt it necessary to demobilize Freikorps who’s ill-discipline and political radicalism was a “danger to the consolidation desired by the army command.”[lii] The plotters sensed a threat to their plans for a putsch and Lüttwitz found a willing co-conspirator in Wolfgang Kapp, a failed politician.  Lüttwitz took action when the High Command ordered the 2nd and 3rd Naval Brigades be demobilized in compliance with Versailles treaty limitations and their radical views.[liii] Over the opposition of his chief of staff Von Lüttwitz began planning a coup, in his mind, to save Germany.[liv] The key unit in Lüttwitz plan was the 2nd Naval Brigade Commander by Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) Ehrhardt.

Lüttwitz and his fellow conspirators showed “little regard for coordination of effort” and demonstrated “a quite amazing ability to work at cross purposes.”[lv] On March 12th without consulting Kapp, Lüttwitz and Ehrhardt launched the Putsch and Ehrhardt’s brigade in full battle dress entered Berlin. At this point the Reichswehr command froze; officers refused to condone the putsch but at the same time refused to support Noske and Reinhardt who demanded armed opposition to the coup,[lvi] while most Navy officers openly supported it.[lvii] Seeckt who did not want to see the army set against itself refused to deploy troops to counter Ehrhardt’s men.  He declared that “Troops do not fire upon troops!” and “When at occurs, then the true catastrophe, which was avoided with so much difficulty on November 9, 1918 will really occur.”[lviii] Despite the lack of support by the army the coup died amid massive strikes by workers and lack of popular support. However the damage done to the Reichswehr’s relationship to the government, especially the more moderate Majority Socialist was severe.

In the wake of the putsch Noske resigned, many officers in were discredited[lix]and dismissed including Lüttwitz and Admiral Von Trotha, head of the Navy, who openly supported the coup.[lx] Admiral Erich Raeder in his memoirs says that Von Trotha and the Navy staff only” thought of anything of complete loyalty to the government.” [lxi]

However the actions of the Navy leadership showed otherwise. The uncomfortable relationship which had endured the dire days of the Republic was ended.  The Reichswehr would emerge a lean and highly trained organization and remain a power broker in the Republic.  However the animosity between the Army and the Socialists was now so great that they could not stand together against the Nazis despite their mutual interest in doing so.[lxii]

Conclusion

The period was a critical and complex and should be studied by anyone living in a state with a powerful military tradition and institutions in crisis.  Unlike popular notions, the Freikorps were diverse and not the seed-bed of the Nazi movement and though many former members would become Nazis.  Several, including Ehrhardt narrowly escaped death at Nazi hands.[lxiii] Freikorps were viewed by Army leadership as an expedient force that could not remain in the service once the Army was functional.

Key lessons include that the military cannot become a “state within a state,” and that both military and civilian leaders must seek to bridge any gulf that separates them in times of crisis.  In Weimarboth the military and the Socialists thoroughly distrusted one another with the result that they eventually, despite early success [lxiv] worked against each other in later years.  Actions by both Socialists and the military ultimately subverted the Republic and ensured its demise and Seeckt’s policy of separation from politics “tended toward a renunciation of the soldier’s potential restraining influence on adventurous statesmen.”[lxv] Such is the fateful lesson for today for those who suggest a military coup to overturn a government that they oppose in much the same manner as those who supported Lüttwitz, Kapp and Ehrhardt.  Such actions only undermine democratic institutions, especially if they are weak and the nation is in crisis.  Often such actions bring about regimes far more dangerous than what they seek to overthrow and compromise the integrity of the military.


[i] Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd.London,U.K. 1987 and 2004.  This is Jones assertion and he attempts to make the tie using careers of some individuals who served both in Freikorps and either in the Nazi Party or Military and attitudes common in many Freikorps with similar attitudes found in the Nazi movement.  The 2004 edition of his work includes an introduction by Michael Burleigh echoing his sentiments.

[ii] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Group.London,U.K. andNew York,NY. 2003. pp.227-229.  Evans discusses the fact that the Nazis did have a number of Freikorps veterans but at no point makes the connection that the Freikorps are a direct ancestor.

[iii] Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People.Harper-Collins Publishers,New York,NY 2004 p.246

[iv] Gordon, Harold J. Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926.Princeton University Press,PrincetonNJ 1957.  Gordon’s work is perhaps the most detailed study involving the Freikorps and the Reichswehr. He is exceptional in discussing the relationship of both with the various political parties including the Nazis.  He refutes this assertion throughout the book.

[v] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship. Translated by Jean Steinberg. Praeger Publications, New York, NY 1970. Originally published asDie Deutsche Diktatur: Enstehung, Struktur, Folgen des Nationalsozialismus.Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch,Koln undBerlin. 1969. p.101

[vi] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press,New York,NY 1954 pp. 91-92

[vii] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans.HarvardUniversity Press,Cambridge,MA andLondon,U.K. 2004. p.28

[viii] Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf.Verlag der Spiegel,Hamburg, 1966. p.54.

[ix] These include Macksey’s biographies of Kesselring and Guderian , Richard Giziowski’s The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Peter Padfield’s Dönitz: the Last Führer, David Fraser’s biography of Field Marshal Rommel Knight’s Cross, Messenger’s work on Von Rundsedt, The Last Prussian, and Höhne’s Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy all provide brief but interesting views of the actions and attitudes of these officers during the revolution and during the Weimar period.

[x] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945.Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  FirstU.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.200

[xi] Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926.Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957 pp.4-5 Gordon recounts the story of an entire replacement train revolting when it reached the front which had to be disarmed by a shock battalion.

[xii] Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon andSchuster,New York, NY 1968. p.186

[xiii] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press,New York,NY 1954. p.18

[xiv] Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group,London,UK andNew YorkNY 1997 p.445

[xv] Ibid. Herwig. p.445

[xvi] Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press,Oxford,UK 1966 p.6.  It is noted by a number of author’s that Groener did this, to maintain the unity ofGermany and prevent its division.

[xvii] Ibid. Watt. p.196  Watt notes Ebert’s reaction as being enraged as the proclamation of the Republic technically “invalidated the existing constitution;Germany was now technically without a government.” (p.197)

[xviii] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xix] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xx]Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc.New YorkNY, 1997. p.65

[xxi] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press,Oxford,UK 1955 pp.347-348.  Craig gives an interesting account noting the Groener’s call to Ebert shows recognition of the legitimacy of the new government and notes that the offer was somewhat conditional.

[xxii] Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar RepublicPrincetonUniversity Press,Princeton,NJ. 1964 p.26

[xxiii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.21

[xxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxv] Ibid. Carsten. p.11. This was of critical importance as Carsten later notes that the Army realized that the government could not survive without its support.  Groener was perhaps the officer who most recognized the situation and endeavored to ensure that “the best and the strongest element of the oldPrussia, was saved for the newGermany, in spite of the revolution.” (p.12)

[xxvi] Ibid. Carsten. p.18 Carsten produces the bulk of the English translation of these points and notes that the anti-military feeling had become widespread.

[xxvii] Ibid. Giziowski. p.66  Giziowski recounts the speech of Hermann Goering in response to the announcement. This shows how such treatment can breed anger and resentment in a military that feels it has been betrayed after serving its country in a long and difficult war: For four long years we officers did our duty and risked all for the Fatherland. Now we have come home, and how do they treat us? The spit on us and deprive us of what we gloried in wearing. I will tell you that the people are not to blame for such conduct. The people were are comrades…for four long years.  No, the ones who have stirred up the people, who have stabbed this glorious army in the back…. I ask everyone here tonight to cherish a hatred, a deep and abiding hatred, for these swine who have outraged the German people and our traditions.  The day is coming when we will drive them out of ourGermany.”

[xxviii] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxix] Ibid. Watt. p.168

[xxx] Ibid. Gordon. pp. 19 and 24.  This was the 1st Marine Brigade, or Brigade Von Roden of which elements would later serve in under the command of other Freikorps such as the Guards Calvary Rifle Division.

[xxxi] Ibid. Gordon. p.14

[xxxii] Ibid. Gordon. p.18

[xxxiii] Ibid. Watt. p.239

[xxxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426

[xxxv] Ibid. Watt. p.247

[xxxvi] Thee forces included the Landesjaegerkorps and Guards Cavalry Rifle division.

[xxxvii] Ibid. Gordon. p.30

[xxxviii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.36

[xxxix] This was one of two additional Naval Brigades formed by Noske after the success of Naval Brigade Von Roden.  It was one of the most combat effective but unfortunately violent and radical of the Freikorps, it would as we will see be a key unit in the Kapp Putsch but would not be absorbed into the Reichswehr.

[xl] This unit was not a Navy unit at all but was composed of many who were criminals and other rabble. See Gordon, Carsten and Watt.

[xli] Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing,Oxford,UK 2001 p.12

[xlii] Ibid. Gordon. p.42  His units were known as Security Companies.

[xliii] Ibid. Jurado. p.13

[xliv] Ibid. Gordon. pp.47-49. An estimated 550 people including 200 innocent bystanders were killed in the fighting.

[xlv] Ibid. Dorpalen. p.29

[xlvi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing,New York,NY 1975 p.45

[xlvii] Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum,Bonn,Germany 1953 pp.18-19

[xlviii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. pp.57-59

[xlix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.216

[l] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.61

[li] Ibid. Carsten. p.74

[lii] Ibid. Carsten. pp.74-75

[liii] Ibid. Carsten. p.76  Another consideration is that Noske, Reinhardt and Seeckt all were seeking to retire Lüttwitz.

[liv] Ibid. Gordon. p.97

[lv] Ibid. Craig. p.376

[lvi] Ibid. Carsten. pp.78-79

[lvii] Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper SquarePress,New York,NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published inGermany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976. p. 78.  Canaris also had been suspected of complicity in the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht but was acquitted. (pp.56-71)

[lviii] Ibid. Gordon. pp.114-115

[lix] Among them Maercker who had been such a strong supporter of the Republic in the early days.

[lx] Ibid. Carsten. p.98

[lxi] Raeder, Erich. Grand Admiral. Translated from the German by Henry W. Drexell.United States Naval Institute,AnnapolisMD, 1960. Da Capo Press edition published 2001. p.111. This is interesting as almost all histories implicate the Navy High Command of either some complicity or at least agreement with the Putsch participants.

[lxii] The final part in the drama would come when General Kurt Von Schleicher became the last Chancellor before Hitler.  Schleicher had assisted Groener and Noske in the early days of the Republic and often attempted to use the Army’s influence in politics. He was fatally short sighted and was a victim of the SS “night of Long Knives” which was directed against the SA.

[lxiii] Ibid. Jones. p.266  Others such as Gerhard Rossbach had similar experiences.  Korvettenkapitän Löwenfeld of the 3rd Naval Brigade became an Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris , who was implicated in the Kapp Putsch but kept his career would later head the Abwehr and die in a concentration camp.

[lxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426  Gordon has a good discussion of this topic in his conclusion.

65 Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications,New York,NY. 1979. p.18 Liddell-Hart’s analysis of the results of the Reichswehr’s disconnection from the larger society and political process is remarkable due to current trends in the American military which like the Reichswehr has become somewhat more conservative and disconnected from society, exceptionally technically proficient but not adept in politics or grand-strategy.

Works Cited

Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Effects of National SocialismTranslated from the German by Jean Steinberg with an introduction by Peter Gay.  Praeger Publishers, New York, NY. 1970 Originally published in Germany as Die deutsche Diktator: Entstehung, Struktur, Folgen den Nationalsozialismus by Verlag Kiepenheuer und Witsch.Koln undBerlin.

Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933OxfordUniversity Press,Oxford,UK 1966

Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. OxfordUniversity Press,Oxford,UK 1955

Dorpalen, AndreasHindenburg and the Weimar RepublicPrincetonUniversity Press,Princeton,NJ. 1964

Evans, Richard JThe Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Books,New York,NY andLondon,UK. 2003

Giziowski, RichardThe Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books Inc.New YorkNY, 1997

Goerlitz, WalterHistory of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  FirstU.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. PrincetonUniversity Press,Princeton,NJ 1957

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books,New York 1957

Herwig, Holger HThe First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group,London,UK andNew YorkNY 1997

Höhne, HeinzCanaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper SquarePress,New York,NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published inGermany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976.

Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlagder Spiegel,Hamburg, 1966.

Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed the Way for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd.London,UK 1987

Jurado, Carlos CaballeroThe German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing,Oxford,UK 2001

Kesselring, AlbrechtThe Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published asSoldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum,Bonn,Germany 1953.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications,New York,NY. 1979

Macksey, KennethGuderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing,New York,NY 1975

Macksey, KennethKesselring: The German Master Strategist of the Second World War. Greenhill Books,London,UK 2000.

Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People.Harper-Collins Publishers,New York,NY 2004

Shepherd, BenWar in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans.HarvardUniversity Press,Cambridge,MA andLondon,U.K. 2004

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press,New York,NY 1954

Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon andSchuster,New York, NY 1968

Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, UK  2006. Translated from the German by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskrieg, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag Gmbh,Frankfurt am Main,Germany 2002

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Taking the Wrong Train

Martin Niemöller

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Martin Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.  After the war he said:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later theConfessingChurch. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maaswas a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maastoo was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maaswas the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israelin 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maasas one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer inMunichwho opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.

All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against inGermany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years ofWeimarand been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat toGermany.  Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement inGermanyand both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Unionwere Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked inGermany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well inGermany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest.  Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they leftGermany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems who are the targets of the xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.  Their popularity in voicing support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities as did Timothy Rollins of “The American Partisan.”

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….”

Glenn Beck made this comment about a people reacting against Moslems:

“When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”

Doug Giles a seminary educated columnist for Townhall.com a leading conservative opinion site made this comment

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants especially those from Mexico or Latin America.  I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” inTexasto show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican.   Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals and even deporting them.

This is so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know.  The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

What the good people who suggesting these “collective guilt” actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but ultimately for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.  So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement o the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place.  It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political or religious affiliation, sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

A Christian Defense of the Rights of Moslems and Others in a Democracy (or Constitutional Republic)

Martin Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.  However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.  Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bishop Galen of Münster and Father and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.

All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat to Germany.  Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in the Soviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked in Germany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well in Germany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest.  Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they left Germany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews, but Moslems who are the targets of xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.  Their popularity in voicing support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers as the enemy that they have forgotten the Gospel and become simply an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.

These men and women have found new grist in the wake of the traitorous terrorism of the disaffected and possibly psychotic Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood where he killed 13 and wound 30 Soldiers and military civilians.  Why Hasan was allowed to continue to serve after numerous reports of his Anti-American and pro-Jihadist is the question that needs to be investigated.  However the reaction of some is to treat all Muslims as suspect in a collective manner.  This is troubling.  I have posted just a few of the comments by various “conservatives” some who are Christians to demonstrate the point.

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association is demanding that Moslems be removed from the military or other security related positions in government.  His position is that until we can prove which Moslems are not going to commit acts of terrorism that we should ban them from the military.  His comments are here:

“It it is time, I suggest, to stop the practice of allowing Muslims to serve in the U.S. military. The reason is simple: the more devout a Muslim is, the more of a threat he is to national security. Devout Muslims, who accept the teachings of the Prophet as divinely inspired, believe it is their duty to kill infidels. Yesterday’s massacre is living proof. And yesterday’s incident is not the first fragging incident involving a Muslim taking out his fellow U.S. soldiers. Of course, most U.S. Muslims don’t shoot up their fellow soldiers. Fine. As soon as Muslims give us a foolproof way to identify their jihadis from their moderates, we’ll go back to allowing them to serve. You tell us who the ones are that we have to worry about, prove you’re right, and Muslims can once again serve. Until that day comes, we simply cannot afford the risk. You invent a jihadi-detector that works every time it’s used, and we’ll welcome you back with open arms. This is not Islamophobia, it is Islamo-realism.”

Pat Robertson of the 700 Club and Regent University said:

“Islam is a violent–I was going to say religion–but it’s not a religion. It’s a political system. It’s a violent political system bent on the overthrow of governments of the world and world domination.”

“They talk about infidels and all this. But the truth is, that’s what the game is. You’re dealing with not a religion. You’re dealing with a political system. And I think you should treat it as such and treat it’s adherents as such. As we would members of the Communist party and members of some Fascist group.”

Dave Gaubatz, author of Muslim Mafia said:

Politicians, Muslims, and law enforcement are concerned about a ‘backlash’ against Muslims. Now is the time for a professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders.” The post was redacted later by the website that it was on to change “backlash against the Muslim community” to “backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood.”  I guess the website realized that the use of the term community went a bit far.

Brigitte Gabriel of the American Congress for Truth told students at the Joint Forces Staff College  in response to the question “Should we resist Muslims who want to seek political office in this nation?”

“Absolutely. If a Muslim who has — who is — a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”

Tell that to the Moslem Soldiers and Marines who have given their lives for this country and their fellow warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Some of those include: U. S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, U.S. Army Specialist Rasheed Sahib who was accidently shot to death by a fellow soldier in Iraq, U.S. Army Major James Ahearn, killed by a bomb in Iraq, Army Captain Humayun Khan, who lured a suicide car bomb away from the men in his charge, saving their lives but giving up his own, Army Spc. Rasheed Sahib, an American Muslim from Guyana, Army Spc. Omead Razani, a son of Iranian immigrants or Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, who was killed in a helicopter crash, and sadly many more.

Popular Talk Radio host and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck made this comment back in December 2006:

“I’m telling you, with God as my witness… human beings are not strong enough, unfortunately, to restrain themselves from putting up razor wire and putting you on one side of it. When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”

Timothy Rollins of the American Partisan suggests in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings:

“While the dust is still settling and everything starts getting sorted out with the usual deflections away from the truth that this administration is notorious for doing, there is no better time than now to improve the safety of our military, and this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities. To keep them employed in these positions places our food, water, and other essential services at unacceptable risk.”

Of course there is Doug Giles an unabashed “Christian” columnist for Townhall.com using scripture to justify torture making this delightfully Christian comment in one of his columns about the practice of water boarding:  “Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

This is so similar to the Nurnberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted. In Iraq I met many good Moslems fighting on our side against jihadists and terrorists many of whom have great respect and appreciation of the Christian faith and are more tolerant to Christians than many Christians are to Moslems.  These men put their families at risk to side with us to try to free Iraq from Al Qaida terror.  Almost all had lost family and friends to extremists.

As for the suggestions or demands that all Moslems be investigated and removed from the military these people insist that such action is necessary in the name of “security” and “protecting the Constitution.” All Moslems, even those who are loyal American citizens as well as those from Iraq and other nations who fight and die alongside Americans are placed on the same level as the fanatics and terrorists.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know.  The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum unfortunately there are Americans such as Marine Reservist Jasen Bruce have gone “terrorist hunting” and misidentifying a Greek Orthodox Priest as a Jihadist attacking him because of he didn’t speak English. http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/article1050707.ece Admittedly people like Bruce are idiots, but it doesn’t take much to push some people over the edge.

The fact that so many people are suggesting such actions against American Moslems is troubling on a number of levels especially when those doing so claim to be Christians.  First is that it is the Church, or member’s thereof adopting a non-Christian worldview and attempting to use the state to enact legislation and laws against minority groups that they oppose, in this case the Moslems.  The fact that we live in a secular state, something that many of our Nation’s founding Fathers intended it to be, especially in regard to religion being mandated by the state is a point lost on many of these people.  Many Christians have completely embraced the mythology of the United States being a “Christian Nation.” With some even regarding the Constitution as a God inspired document.  For a more detailed critique of the Christian Nation mythology see Jared Holloway’s article on his Saepe Nihil Cogitamus website: http://jzholloway.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/did-the-founding-fathers-usa-found-the-nation-as-a-christian-nation/

Thankfully there are some, including the daughters of one of the men killed by Major Hasan who said on CBS The Early Show Kerry Cahill said:

“You can’t blanket a whole group of people. There’s extremists in every religion, and there’s extremists all over the world…when this man was obviously ill, I think.” Her sister Keely Vanacker said, “The death of our father or any of these victims shouldn’t be an excuse or a reason to begin to hate an entire group of people.”

There are also leaders of the Religious Right who have taken a stand against such action, Reverend Rob Schenck, President of the National Clergy Council, comments in regard to the Moslem prayer vigil in Washington D.C. earlier this year:  “With over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, it is important that Christians have an open dialogue with the Islamic community. The church must never be timid in reaching out to peoples and groups with differing beliefs and traditions. Too much is at stake for future generations not to begin this historic conversation. This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.”

And the Reverend Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition states:

“The heart of Christ is to reach out and build bridges to all peoples regardless of what their faith traditions or beliefs might be. Several years ago the Christian Defense Coalition began reaching out to the Muslim world which resulted in a prayer delegation going to Baghdad to pray for the nation of Iraq and Prime Minister Maliki. Since then we have had many conversations and discussions with Islamic leaders in Washington, D.C. and around the world. This news conference gives us another chance to dialogue and share with our Islamic neighbors. It also gives us the platform to celebrate the greatness of America where everyone is allowed to practice their faith tradition in the public square free from government interference of harassment. The prayer vigil on the lawn of the Capitol this Friday highlights that timeless truth. Since 9/11, the church should not run from Muslims in America but begin reaching out with God’s love.”

What the good people who suggesting these punitive actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.  Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.  So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement o the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place.  It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious or ethnic groups be  targeted for punitive action on the basis of extremists and fanatics like Major Hasan sets a precedent that is chilling.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Peace,

Padres Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, philosophy, Religion

The Uneasy Alliance: The Army and Government during the German Revolution and Civil War 1919-1922

Introduction

bundesarchiv_bild_146-1970-051-65_kapp-putsch_berlinThe Kapp Putsch

The German Revolution of 1919 and civil war is important for those who study highly developed states when they enter a period of social and political upheaval. Often such upheavals occur following military defeats or economic crisis that cause the society to question or even overthrow the established order.  The end of Imperial Germany and the establishment of the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1918 is a prime example.  Following the declaration of the Republic the Majority Socialists who had assumed power had no military force of any caliber to support it. The Army had melted away following the end of the war and the units which remained were unreliable and heavily infiltrated by Soviet style “workers and soldiers councils.”

Chaos ruled the streets, Communists and Independent Socialists of The situation being chaotic the Majority Socialists under the leadership of Friedrich Ebert joined forces with German General Staff to create a military force capable of bringing order the Germany.  To do this they allowed for the formation of Freikorps to quell revolutionary chaos and avert the establishment of a Soviet State.

The study begins with the establishment of the Republic and concludes with the Kapp Putsch.  This is an era that is seldom referenced by political or military leaders in western states and historians themselves are often divided in their interpretation of the subject.  The study of this period is vital to those who study politically polarized societies which are either war weary or have suffered the shock of military defeat coupled with a government which is blamed for the events.  Thus, it is important to study the relationship of the military to the government and in particular the military’s relationship to politicians who have little connection to or affinity for the military, its traditions and culture and the often adversarial relationship of these politicians to military leadership which often sees them as adversaries.  The period also shows how actions of those who in their antipathy to the military create a climate where the military loathes the civilian leadership and the government.  The results of such conditions can endanger the society as a whole and ultimately usher in periods of great tragedy.  This occurred in Weimar Germany with the result that the military in the later years of the Republic neither the military nor the Majority Socialists could not work together against the Nazi takeover of the state.  However, the first years of the relationship set the tone and foredoomed the Republic.

spartacistsSpartacists Attempt to Overthrow the Republic

Thesis


The history of Weimar, particularly that of the military and Freikorps in their relationship to the Republic is complex.  Not only is the relationship between the military and government complex, but the Freikorps themselves, their organization, leadership and political affiliation were not monolithic as is sometimes maintained,[i] nor were the Freikorps the direct ancestors of the Nazi SS/SA organizations despite often similar ideology,[ii] nor can they dismissed by saying that they were composed of “former soldiers and officers ill-disposed to return to civilian life.”[iii] The Freikorps’ association with the Army and Republic is more complex than some historians assert.  Despite the right wing leanings of many of units and fighters and future association of some to the Nazis, the blanket claim that the Freikorps were forerunners of the Nazi movement is not supportable.[iv] It is true that without Freikorps support in Munich, along with support of the Thule Society, business leaders and others “that the transition of the DAP into the Hitler party could not have taken place.”[v] It is also true that elements of the Freikorps branded too revolutionary and unruly for service in the Army continued as secret societies and affiliated themselves with various right-wing political groups.[vi] Likewise a case can be made that the fierceness of many Freikorps veterans, younger leaders of the Army helped lay the foundation for the brutality of both the Army and Waffen SS as they prosecuted the Second World War.[vii] Yet simply because certain aspects of a subject are true does not make for a broader “truth.”  Heinz Höhne argues the reverse of what some have written in regard to the relationship of the Freikorps and Reichswehr to the Nazis, that in fact the Nazis did not issue from the Freikorps, but rather that many former members of the Freikorps, Imperial Army or the Reichswehr were attracted to the Nazis, particularly to the SS by its “philosophy of “hardness” and its attitude of bellicosity per se, basically unconnected with ideology.”[viii] Others historians state similar views especially those that study the relationship of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  Thus the thesis of this paper is that the historiography like the period itself is complex; that the composition, leadership and motivations of the Freikorps were not monolithic, nor were they beloved by the Reichswehr, nor were they the “trailblazers” for the Nazi movement.  The focus of this article is on the relationship of the Reichswehr and the Freikorps to the Republic to the Kapp Putsch and the dangers of a relationship built on necessity without mutual trust.  Such a relationship is dangerous and can lead to unintended consequences.   This paper will explore the first years of the Weimar Republic and specifically look at several key events that were pivotal in the relationship between the Army and Freikorps and the Majority Socialists.

The Literature

The literature covering this period ranges from well written and researched academic histories and poorly researched and badly done works which attempt to present particular views of the Freikorps which often border on myth. Additionally there are biographical works which shed some light on the subject. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926 by Harold Gordon Jr. is perhaps the best study of the Freikorps and their relationship to the state and the army.  Gordon’s work is exceptional in documenting the numbers, types, political affiliation, action and ultimate disposition of the Freikorps.  Other works which provide exceptional treatment of the relationship between the military and the Republic include The History of the German General Staff by Walter Goerlitz; The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 by John Wheeler-Bennett, The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten and The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640-1945 by Gordon A. Craig.

The best of the general histories of the period, which focus on the National Socialist state are The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher, and Richard Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich. Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart is one of the best for telling the story of the fall of the Empire and the revolution in Germany.  Watt’s account is well written and documented work and touches on other factors affecting the new republic including Versailles and Allied political actions. The final chapter of Holger Herwig’s The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 gives a good account of the Army’s role in the end of the Empire and beginning of the Republic.  Andreas Dorpalen’s Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic adds an interesting dimension of Hindenburg’s role in the republic’s formation and negotiations between Groener, Noske and Ebert while Steven Ozments’ history of Germany A Mighty Fortress is superficial in its treatment of the period.  Nigel Jones’ Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler is an interesting and somewhat entertaining but poorly documented work. Jones tends to “broad brush” the Freikorps in sometime as “sensationalist” manner. His book has none of the detail or nuance of Gordon, Craig, or Carsten on the Freikorps. Nor does Jones have the depth of Goerlitz or Wheeler-Bennett on the Republic’s relationship with the Army, or the attitude of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Gerald Reitlinger’s The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922-1945 and Heinz Höhne’s The Order of the Death’s Head all add some information which details Nazi involvement in the early part of the Weimar Republic but are limited in their coverage of the subject.  Of other works, Kenneth Macksey’s Why the Germans Lose at War has an insightful but short chapter dealing with this period and Wolfram Wette’s The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality offers an interesting and at times provocative look at anti-Semitism in the German military in the years following the First World War.  Carlos Caballero Jurado’s The German Freikorps 1918-1923 is a short but very detailed study of Freikorps organizations and actions.  B.H. Liddell-Hart has a small chapter on General Von Seeckt in The German Generals Talk which hasinteresting commentary on later actions of former Reichswehr officers who served the Nazi state.

A number of biographies touch on actions of German Officers who played key roles in World War Two.[ix] Most auto-biographies gloss over the Weimar period; however Admiral Reader’s memoir Grand Admiral offers the insight of a naval officer with some direct observation of the revolution and the Kapp Putsch.  Guderian in Panzer Leader omits his service in the Baltic “Iron Division.”

The Uneasy Alliance: The Majority Socialists, Freikorps and Reichswehr

volksmarine divisionThreats to the Republic: The People’s Naval Division Terrorized Berlin

The relationship of the Republic to the Army was born in the moment of crisis of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the armistice discussions with the Allies.  Beset by revolts in key naval bases and mutinies aboard ships of the High Seas Fleet and unrelenting Allied pressure on the German armies in the west the situation continued to deteriorate as the “red flag was flying in all the principle cities, soldiers behind the front were electing soldiers councils Russian fashion.”[x] Revolutionary and defeatist propaganda spread by the radical left wing of the Independent Socialists and Spartacus League spread through the country and even affected combat units,[xi] while the “Majority Socialists had found out that the militant factions of the Independents had secretly armed themselves out of funds supplied by the Soviet ambassador and adopted the slogan “all or nothing.””[xii] The situation had deteriorated so badly that Karl Liebknecht, leader of the Spartacus League “was announcing the establishment of a Soviet regime from the steps of the Imperial Palace.”[xiii]

441px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R10386,_Wilhelm_Groener_mit_FrauGeneral Wilhelm Groener Who Worked with Socialist Leaders Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Noske to Save the Republic against a Soviet Style Revolution

Under these dire conditions, General Wilhelm Groener who had succeeded General Ludendorff as Quartermaster General called an emergency meeting of fifty “of his most senior army commanders.”[xiv] In response to his question of whether the troops would follow the Kaiser and oppose the revolts only one answered in the affirmative, and eight responded that “there was no hope of using regular Army units to quell unrest at home.”[xv] On November 9th Groener went to the Kaiser on behalf of the Supreme Command and in response to a suggestion that the Kaiser lead the Army back and suppress the revolts boldly stated “The Army will march home in peace and under its leaders and commanding generals, but not under the command of Your Majesty, for it stands no longer behind Your Majesty.”[xvi] The Emperor abdicated fleeing to Holland and Friedrich Ebert leader of the Majority Socialists was named Chancellor on November 9th and upon hearing the news, Philipp Scheidemann, without consulting Ebert announced that Ebert was Chancellor and “Long live the great German Republic!”[xvii] The mobs were not placated by the announcement and far left organizations with the Independents “had no intention of letting the revolution stop there.”[xviii] In the streets of Berlin soldiers sold their weapons and vehicles officers were attacked by crowds on the streets and whenever “crowds found an Army officer, they tore off his epaulettes and medals.”[xix] Everywhere mutual recrimination was in the air, soldiers “blamed revolutionaries for the betrayal and stab-in-the back while revolutionaries blamed officers for all the costs and losses of the war.”[xx]

hans von seecktGeneral Hans Von Seeckt Creator of the Reichswehr Believer that it Needed to be Apolitical

Groener called Ebert promising the Army’s support of the new government in return for the government’s assistance to the Army in the maintenance of discipline and supply.[xxi] He also drafted a letter signed by Hindenburg pledging the Army’s loyalty and telling him that “the destiny of the German people is in your hands….”[xxii]One source notes: “Thus, in half a dozen sentences over a telephone line a pact was concluded between a defeated army and a tottering semi-revolutionary regime; a pact destined to save both parties from the extreme elements of revolution but, as a result of which the Weimar Republic was doomed at birth.”[xxiii]

The High Command was able to bring the Army home in good order following the armistice but upon arriving most units “melted away like snow under a summer sun,”[xxiv] those which remained were often shells of their former selves beset by soldier’s councils and leftist revolutionaries.  To support the government the High Command issued a directive stating that it “put itself as the disposal of the present government led by Ebert without any reservation.”[xxv] Yet in December delegates of the National Assembly continued to sow resentment in the military by military discipline be placed in the hands of soldiers’ councils, that all badges of rank be removed with all decorations of insignia and honor.[xxvi] Reaction was heated,[xxvii] but despite this Groener, Colonel Walter Reinhardt, the Prussian Minister of War and the Republic’s Defense Minister, Gustav Noske endeavored to find forces to combat the growing revolution and rebellious military units.  The choice was not hard, the Army was of no use, so called “democratic forces” were in most cases both unreliable and ineffective, while only the Freikorps “provided suitable material for the immediate creation of an efficient, combat-ready army.”[xxviii] Thus the Freikorps became the instrument of necessity to ensure that the government was not swept away by a Soviet style revolution.

freikorps-hulsen-noskeGustav Noske Reviewing Freikorps Hulsen Which was Formed out of Existing Army Units by General von Hulsen

Gustav Noske, of the Majority Socialist party “saw himself as a patriot, a man of action…who had no time for theories…and was one of the few Socialists that the Supreme Command trusted.”[xxix] He had already distinguished himself by helping to bring under control the sailors revolts in Kiel by forming a loyal “Naval Brigade”[xxx] and he  “realized that the government must have a dependable military force behind it if it was to survive and rule Germany” and the “old Officer Corps must be the backbone of any such force.”[xxxi] The Army had melted away and units of the workers and soldiers councils were poorly trained, organized and led “”fought against the government as often as for it” and “were of little practical value to either the government or the rebels.”[xxxii] In the chaos of a Spartacus, now called the German Communist Party uprising and vacuum of political leadership of January 1st 1919 agreed to become defense minister stating “Someone must be the bloodhound, I won’t shirk the responsibility!”[xxxiii]

Bild 183-1989-0718-501Noske with General Von Luttwitz

Noske helped by the High Command helped organize volunteer units led by officers and NCOs composed of reliable veterans.  Freikorps varied in size from divisions to companies and were led by Generals down to Sergeants and even a Private First Class.  Their greatest success was in early 1919 when the Republic was beset by “Red” revolutions in many major cities.  Without the use of the Freikorps by the government it is unlikely that the Republic would have survived.[xxxiv] On January 4th Ebert and Noske reviewed the troops of General Maercker’s Freiwillege Landesjaegerkorps and Maercker informed them that every volunteer had pledged loyalty to the government, seeing the discipline and order Noske told Ebert “Don’t worry. Everything going to turn out all right now.”[xxxv] On January 5th 1919 mobs attacked the Chancellery and the officers of the Socialist Vörwarts newspaper and Noske led the Freikorps[xxxvi] to regain control of the city[xxxvii] and crush the revolt during which “Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were lynched by the officers of the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division.”[xxxviii] In March after a period of uneasy calm the Freikorps, now reinforced by the 2nd Naval Brigade, or Ehrhardt Brigade[xxxix] were called upon to put down the revolt of the “People’s Naval Division.”[xl] Making liberal use of heavy weapons including tanks the Freikorps inflicted heavy losses on the leftists with over 1500 dead and 12,000 wounded in the uprising.[xli] Other revolts were crushed and the Freikorps reached their zenith in Württemberg where Freikorps led by Lieutenant Hahn, a Social Democrat put down leftist revolts[xlii] and in Bavaria where Independents and Communists had taken the city with their “Bavarian Red Army which numbered nearly 25,000 men[xliii] on April 7th. After failed attempts by the Socialist government to retake Munich, they asked for Berlin’s help.  Violence and massacres of citizens by the various leftist groups inflamed the Freikorps, including the Ehrhardt Brigade and the revolt was crushed by May 2nd.[xliv] Dorpalen calls the Freikorps ruthlessness “completely unwarranted in view of the weakness of the opposing forces” and noted though they broke the leftist powers they deepened the nations’ cleavages”[xlv] while Macksey writes that “where Freikorps’ brutality stained the pages of history there was invariably a forgoing or simultaneous record of excess by their sworn opponents.”[xlvi]

Bild 146-1971-037-42Lieutenant Commander Ehrhardt Commander of the 2nd Naval Brigade during the Kapp Putsch, although a Hard Line Conservative Ehrhardt would Suffer under the Nazis

There was a tension between many in the Reichswehr and those on the German left and this came out in many ways as officers were caught in between various political camps while attempting to conduct their duties. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring recounted with great bitterness his experience:

“My cup of bitterness was full when I saw my devoted work rewarded by a warrant for my arrest for an alleged putsch against the socialist-influenced command of my III Bavarian Army Corps. Notwithstanding the degrading episodes during my imprisonment after 1945, I do not hesitate to describe this as the most humiliating moment of my life.”[xlvii]

Bild 102-00206President Friedrich Ebert with Von Seeckt and other Military Leaders

The end of the Freikorps era began when the Provisional Reichswehr was established on March 6th 1919. The High Command assembled from Freikorps, remaining Army units and Republican defense forces. There was a great distrust between many in the Army, the remaining Freikorps and the Socialists. When the German delegation to Treaty of Versailles signed the treaty under threat of invasion it provoked a crisis. Noske and others threatened resignation over the war guilt clauses, but Groener warned that if the treaty was rejected the Army could not win against the Allies if hostilities were renewed.[xlviii] The treaty imposed harsh limitations on the German Army which many bitterly resented, however, Seeckt, the Chief of Staff of the Army felt that it was “more important to keep the Army in being and preserve the possibility of a military resurrection.”[xlix] Yet by signing the treaty the government lost the support of many officers who looked to General Walther von Lüttwitz, the Reichswehr’s senior commander, and commander of troops in the Berlin area for leadership.[l]

Bild 119-2815-20Freikorps Rossbach During the Kapp Putsch. One of the Most Extreme Freikorps it was Demobilized and Broken up a number of its Leaders including Rossbach Found Their Way to the Nazis

Lüttwitz, leaders of certain Freikorps, right-wing groups and individuals made plans to overthrow the government.  They favored revolt against the government, but “their political aims were hazy.”[li] Army leadership recognized the threat posed by disaffected Freikorps and their leaders. Seeckt and Reinhardt felt it necessary to demobilize Freikorps who’s ill-discipline and political radicalism was a “danger to the consolidation desired by the army command.”[lii] The plotters sensed a threat to their plans for a putsch and Lüttwitz found a willing co-conspirator in Wolfgang Kapp, a failed politician.  Lüttwitz took action when the High Command ordered the 2nd and 3rd Naval Brigades be demobilized in compliance with Versailles treaty limitations and their radical views.[liii] Over the opposition of his chief of staff Von Lüttwitz began planning a coup, in his mind, to save Germany.[liv] The key unit in Lüttwitz plan was the 2nd Naval Brigade Commander by Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) Ehrhardt.

Bild 183-H25109The Ehrhardt Brigade During the Kapp Putsch

Lüttwitz and his fellow conspirators showed “little regard for coordination of effort” and demonstrated “a quite amazing ability to work at cross purposes.”[lv] On March 12th without consulting Kapp, Lüttwitz and Ehrhardt launched the Putsch and Ehrhardt’s brigade in full battle dress entered Berlin. At this point the Reichswehr command froze; officers refused to condone the putsch but at the same time refused to support Noske and Reinhardt who demanded armed opposition to the coup,[lvi] while most Navy officers openly supported it.[lvii] Seeckt who did not want to see the army set against itself refused to deploy troops to counter Ehrhardt’s men.  He declared that “Troops do not fire upon troops!” and “When at occurs, then the true catastrophe, which was avoided with so much difficulty on November 9, 1918 will really occur.”[lviii] Despite the lack of support by the army the coup died amid massive strikes by workers and lack of popular support. However the damage done to the Reichswehr’s relationship to the government, especially the more moderate Majority Socialist was severe.

von trothaAdmiral Von Trotha head of the Navy was Sacked for Supporting the Putsch

In the wake of the putsch Noske resigned, many officers in were discredited[lix] and dismissed including Lüttwitz and Admiral Von Trotha, head of the Navy, who openly supported the coup.[lx] Admiral Raeder in his memoirs says that Von Trotha and the Navy staff only” thought of anything of complete loyalty to the government”[lxi] however the actions of the Navy leadership showed otherwise. The uncomfortable but relationship which had endured the dire days of the Republic was ended.  The Reichswehr would emerge a lean and highly trained organization and remain a power broker in the Republic but the animosity between the Army and the Socialists that they could not stand together against the Nazis despite a mutual interest in doing so.[lxii]

Conclusion

The period was a critical and complex and should be studied by anyone living in a state with a powerful military tradition and institutions in crisis.  Unlike popular notions, the Freikorps were diverse and not the seed-bed of the Nazi movement and though many former members would become Nazis.  Several, including Ehrhardt narrowly escaped death at Nazi hands.[lxiii] Freikorps were viewed by Army leadership as an expedient force that could not remain in the service once the Army was functional.

Key lessons include that the military cannot become a “state within a state,” and that both military and civilian leaders must seek to bridge any gulf that separates them in times of crisis.  In Weimar both the military and the Socialists thoroughly distrusted one another with the result that they eventually, despite early success[lxiv] worked against each other in later years.  Actions by both Socialists and the military ultimately subverted the Republic and ensured its demise and Seeckt’s policy of separation from politics “tended toward a renunciation of the soldier’s potential restraining influence on adventurous statesmen.”[lxv] Such is the fateful lesson for today for those who suggest a military coup to overturn a government that they oppose in much the same manner as those who supported Lüttwitz, Kapp and Ehrhardt.  Such actions only undermine democratic institutions, especially if they are weak and the nation is in crisis.  Often such actions bring about regimes far more dangerous than what they seek to overthrow and compromise the integrity of the military.


[i] Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd. London, U.K. 1987 and 2004.  This is Jones assertion and he attempts to make the tie using careers of some individuals who served both in Freikorps and either in the Nazi Party or Military and attitudes common in many Freikorps with similar attitudes found in the Nazi movement.  The 2004 edition of his work includes an introduction by Michael Burleigh echoing his sentiments.

[ii] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Group. London, U.K. and New York, NY. 2003. pp.227-229.  Evans discusses the fact that the Nazis did have a number of Freikorps veterans but at no point makes the connection that the Freikorps are a direct ancestor.

[iii] Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2004 p.246

[iv] Gordon, Harold J. Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1957.  Gordon’s work is perhaps the most detailed study involving the Freikorps and the Reichswehr. He is exceptional in discussing the relationship of both with the various political parties including the Nazis.  He refutes this assertion throughout the book.

[v] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship. Translated by Jean Steinberg. Praeger Publications, New York, NY 1970. Originally published as Die Deutsche Diktatur: Enstehung, Struktur, Folgen des Nationalsozialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Koln und Berlin. 1969. p.101

[vi] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954 pp. 91-92

[vii] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, U.K. 2004. p.28

[viii] Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlag der Spiegel, Hamburg, 1966. p.54.

[ix] These include Macksey’s biographies of Kesselring and Guderian , Richard Giziowski’s The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Peter Padfield’s Dönitz: the Last Führer, David Fraser’s biography of Field Marshal Rommel Knight’s Cross, Messenger’s work on Von Rundsedt, The Last Prussian, and Höhne’s Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy all provide brief but interesting views of the actions and attitudes of these officers during the revolution and during the  Weimar period.

[x] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.200

[xi] Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957 pp.4-5 Gordon recounts the story of an entire replacement train revolting when it reached the front which had to be disarmed by a shock battalion.

[xii] Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1968. p.186

[xiii] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954. p.18

[xiv] Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group, London, UK and New York NY 1997 p.445

[xv] Ibid. Herwig. p.445

[xvi] Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1966 p.6.  It is noted by a number of author’s that Groener did this, to maintain the unity of Germany and prevent its division.

[xvii] Ibid. Watt. p.196  Watt notes Ebert’s reaction as being enraged as the proclamation of the Republic technically “invalidated the existing constitution; Germany was now technically without a government.” (p.197)

[xviii] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xix] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xx]Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.65

[xxi] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1955 pp.347-348.  Craig gives an interesting account noting the Groener’s call to Ebert shows recognition of the legitimacy of the new government and notes that the offer was somewhat conditional.

[xxii] Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1964 p.26

[xxiii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.21

[xxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxv] Ibid. Carsten. p.11. This was of critical importance as Carsten later notes that the Army realized that the government could not survive without its support.  Groener was perhaps the officer who most recognized the situation and endeavored to ensure that “the best and the strongest element of the old Prussia, was saved for the new Germany, in spite of the revolution.” (p.12)

[xxvi] Ibid. Carsten. p.18 Carsten produces the bulk of the English translation of these points and notes that the anti-military feeling had become widespread.

[xxvii] Ibid. Giziowski. p.66  Giziowski recounts the speech of Hermann Goering in response to the announcement. This shows how such treatment can breed anger and resentment in a military that feels it has been betrayed after serving its country in a long and difficult war: For four long years we officers did our duty and risked all for the Fatherland. Now we have come home, and how do they treat us? The spit on us and deprive us of what we gloried in wearing. I will tell you that the people are not to blame for such conduct. The people were are comrades…for four long years.  No, the ones who have stirred up the people, who have stabbed this glorious army in the back…. I ask everyone here tonight to cherish a hatred, a deep and abiding hatred, for these swine who have outraged the German people and our traditions.  The day is coming when we will drive them out of our Germany.”

[xxviii] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxix] Ibid. Watt. p.168

[xxx] Ibid. Gordon. pp. 19 and 24.  This was the 1st Marine Brigade, or Brigade Von Roden of which elements would later serve in under the command of other Freikorps such as the Guards Calvary Rifle Division.

[xxxi] Ibid. Gordon. p.14

[xxxii] Ibid. Gordon. p.18

[xxxiii] Ibid. Watt. p.239

[xxxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426

[xxxv] Ibid. Watt. p.247

[xxxvi] Thee forces included the Landesjaegerkorps and Guards Cavalry Rifle division.

[xxxvii] Ibid. Gordon. p.30

[xxxviii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.36

[xxxix] This was one of two additional Naval Brigades formed by Noske after the success of Naval Brigade Von Roden.  It was one of the most combat effective but unfortunately violent and radical of the Freikorps, it would as we will see be a key unit in the Kapp Putsch but would not be absorbed into the Reichswehr.

[xl] This unit was not a Navy unit at all but was composed of many who were criminals and other rabble. See Gordon, Carsten and Watt.

[xli] Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK 2001 p.12

[xlii] Ibid. Gordon. p.42  His units were known as Security Companies.

[xliii] Ibid. Jurado. p.13

[xliv] Ibid. Gordon. pp.47-49. An estimated 550 people including 200 innocent bystanders were killed in the fighting.

[xlv] Ibid. Dorpalen. p.29

[xlvi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.45

[xlvii] Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum, Bonn, Germany 1953 pp.18-19

[xlviii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. pp.57-59

[xlix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.216

[l] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.61

[li] Ibid. Carsten. p.74

[lii] Ibid. Carsten. pp.74-75

[liii] Ibid. Carsten. p.76  Another consideration is that Noske, Reinhardt and Seeckt all were seeking to retire Lüttwitz.

[liv] Ibid. Gordon. p.97

[lv] Ibid. Craig. p.376

[lvi] Ibid. Carsten. pp.78-79

[lvii] Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper Square Press, New York, NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published in Germany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976. p. 78.  Canaris also had been suspected of complicity in the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht but was acquitted. (pp.56-71)

[lviii] Ibid. Gordon. pp.114-115

[lix] Among them Maercker who had been such a strong supporter of the Republic in the early days.

[lx] Ibid. Carsten. p.98

[lxi] Raeder, Erich. Grand Admiral. Translated from the German by Henry W. Drexell. United States Naval Institute, Annapolis MD, 1960. Da Capo Press edition published 2001. p.111. This is interesting as almost all histories implicate the Navy High Command of either some complicity or at least agreement with the Putsch participants.

[lxii] The final part in the drama would come when General Kurt Von Schleicher became the last Chancellor before Hitler.  Schleicher had assisted Groener and Noske in the early days of the Republic and often attempted to use the Army’s influence in politics. He was fatally short sighted and was a victim of the SS “night of Long Knives” which was directed against the SA.

[lxiii] Ibid. Jones. p.266  Others such as Gerhard Rossbach had similar experiences.  Korvettenkapitän Löwenfeld of the 3rd Naval Brigade became an Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris , who was implicated in the Kapp Putsch but kept his career would later head the Abwehr and die in a concentration camp.

[lxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426  Gordon has a good discussion of this topic in his conclusion.

65 Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications, New York, NY. 1979. p.18 Liddell-Hart’s analysis of the results of the Reichswehr’s disconnection from the larger society and political process is remarkable due to current trends in the American military which like the Reichswehr has become somewhat more conservative and disconnected from society, exceptionally technically proficient but not adept in politics or grand-strategy.

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