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Repeating Historical Myths: The Trump Administration and the “Stab in the Back”

stab-in-the-back

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In light of the many flagrant lies, historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by President Trump and his supporters  is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens.

It is true that some myths can be positive and inspiring so long as they remain recognized as myth. But myths which are believed as truth lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others. The vast majority of the time this is done for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents, or to justify indefensible polices at home or abroad.

Myths also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them. There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.  Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive.

A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

Just two days ago President Trump’s Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of “stabbing President Trump in the back” following the G7 meeting in Quebec. The choice of words was not only unfortunate but buttresses every action that the President has taken to delegitimatize faithful allies and partners since long before his inauguration.  In doing so he embraced an infamous term used so often by the Nazis and others on the German right following the defeat of Germany in the First World War.

After the war the belief that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left.  Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth, there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and even mutiny on elements of the German High Seas Fleet and Army units stationed in Germany. However the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918 the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.  The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the looming crisis which included Ludendorff’s collapse and relief, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted on his abdication.  The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages. Ordered to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle and pay massive reparations the legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to the fact that the German army was collapsing, the U-Boat campaign had failed, and the Navy’s High Seas Fleet was hopelessly outnumbered and incapable of defeating the Royal Navy and breaking the blockade that was strangling Germany.

The Stab in the Back was a fundamental belief of Hitler and was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.  The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.  Thus for him Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey notes Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.”(Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel record the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295) Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth. Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events. The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

Today the President leads the way in promoting lies patently false myths in the name of his personal greatness which he shrouds himself while conflating that with making America great again all the while endangering the country. He has been promoting conspiracy theories for nearly a decade and has never stopped doing so or offered an apology for those words.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.  The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world.

Sadly, it appears that the United States led by President Trump is following the path of Hitler’s Germany in terms of how it views the world and treats other nations and history will not be kind to us.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war one

Busting National Myths

In light of the many historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by pseudo “historians” like the infamous David Barton it is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens. Some myths can be positive and inspiring, but others can lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents. They also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them.

A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.

Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive. Such was the case in Germany following the First World War.

After the war the certain parts of the German political right posited that the German Army was not defeated by the Allied powers, but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left. But such was not the case the German Army was on the verge of collapse.

Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth. It is true that there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II, including the mutiny  of the German High Seas Fleet, as well as Army units stationed in Germany. However, in truth, the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918, the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.

The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the crisis which Ludendorff suffered what could be called an emotional collapse and  was relieved of his duty. His successor, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted that the Kaiser Wilhelm abdicate his throne.

The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages because to not sign was to have the Allies resume the war against Germany.

The treaty required the Germany to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle, and pay massive reparations to the Allies. The  legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany during the chaotic years of the Weimar Republic.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to battlefield losses or the entry of the United States.  He made the “stab in the back” a staple of his attacks on the Republic. This was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.

The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.

Thus for Hitler, the Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey noted Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.” (Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel wrote about the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295)

Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth.

Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events.

The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.

The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world. Sadly in the case of the United States, a portion of the political Right,  mostly found in the conservative Christian elements of the Tea Party movement are spreading their own version of the “stab in the back.” They blame Democrats, liberals, atheists, racial and religious minority groups, educators, labor unions and a host of others for the calamities that those that they have supported: the big banks and financial instructions that collapsed the economy in 2008, the politicians of the Republican Party who took the country into an unwise, unjust and illegal war in Iraq that not only cost many American lives and treasure but brought on the crisis that has led to the advance and power of the Islamic State, and the list can go on and on, and includes social issues, race, education, and even religion. But ignoring the responsibility of those they support,mother create myth, and cast blame on everyone but themselves.

That myth that they preach has become a staple of our political crisis. It is little differnt in tenor and intent of those who promoted the stab in the back myth during the Weimar Republic.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Stab in the Back: The Destructive Power of Myth in the Life of a Nation

stab-in-the-back

In light of the many historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by pseudo “historians” like the infamous David Barton it is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens. Some myths can be positive and inspiring, but others can lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents. They also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them. A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.  Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive. Such was the case in Germany following the First World War.

After the war the belief that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left.  Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth, there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and even mutiny on elements of the German High Seas Fleet and Army units stationed in Germany. However the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918 the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.  The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the looming crisis which included Ludendorff’s collapse and relief, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted on his abdication.  The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages. Ordered to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle and pay massive reparations the legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to battlefield losses or the entry of the United States.  This was a fundamental belief for him and was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.  The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.  Thus for him Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey notes Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.” (Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel record the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295) Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth. Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events. The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.  The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The End of an Empire: The Abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II

NYTimes-Page1-11-11-1918

Imperial Germany in 1918 was a nation in a state of collapse. Four years of war had cost it the flower of its manhood had bled the nation dry. Over 2 million men had died and another 5.6 million wounded and nearly a million more take prisoner. “One German soldier had died nearly every minute, 55 every hour, and 1331 every day of the war.” (1)

Revolution was in the air. The effects of the war and shortages of nearly every commodity including basic foodstuffs caused by the Allied blockade of German ports had taken their toll. Communists and members of the radical Independent Socialist Party agitated for revolution in key industries and in the military. Units of the Army and the High Seas Fleet whose ranks had been filled with conscripts who were “undisciplined youths, already indoctrinated with the defeatist propaganda of the extreme Leftist parties, to which they adhered more from the fear of combat than from political conviction.” (2)

Even in the spring of 1918 when German troops were winning spectacular victories on the Western Front revolts were occurring at home. 

As Germany’s allies collapsed around her, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria and finally the Astro-Hungarian Empire it was apparent to the High Command that an Armistice with the Allies was imperative. On October 29th the Kaiser left Berlin for the last time and arrived at the headquarters of the Army High Command in Spa, Belgium. In the next few days plans devoid of reality were suggested that the Kaiser should either lead the Army back to Germany to crush the revolts or die at the head of a regiment in battle. 

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-B0527-0001-810,_Berlin,_Brandenburger_Tor,_Novemberrevolution

Revolting Troops in Berlin

Then in early November the red flags of revolution were raised aboard the battleships of the High Seas Fleet in its bases of Kiel and Wilhemshaven. Soon workers, sailors and soldiers councils were “springing up everywhere to take over power.” (3) The authority of Naval Officers on their ships was gone, many were prisoners of their crews. “From the ports the torch of revolution was carried to western and southern Germany.” (4) Soon the royal dynasties that made up Imperial Germany were toppled one by one. In spite of this Wilhelm who had lived in a dream world throughout most of the war, shielded from the truth by advisors, military and civilian believed that the German people would rally to his cause. 

441px-bundesarchiv_bild_183-r10386_wilhelm_groener_mit_frau

Groener

General Wilhelm Groener who had replaced General Erich Luddendorff as the First Quartermaster of the Army was now showing himself to be the “most clear headed and determined of the army’s leaders.” (5)  After a brief visit to Berlin in the first week of November Groener became convinced that the Kaiser must abdicate if there was any hope of preserving the monarchy and transitioning to a constitutional monarchy an idea supported by the Majority Socialists and their leader Friedrich Ebert. 

Facing the unrealistic ideas of the Kaiser Groener called an emergency meeting of 50 senior commanders of which 39 arrived in time to take part in the council. In answer to Groener’s questions as to whether the Army would stand beside the Kaiser only one commander “guaranteed that the soldiers stood squarely behind the Kaiser.” (6)

That morning Admiral von Hintze an emissary of Prince Max of Baden, the Chancellor and the Army headquarters in Berlin brought new messages warning “that unless the Emperor abdicated at once, a revolution would sweep him and the monarchy away.” (7)

With that news and the results of his poll of the army leadership at Spa Groener took action. Hintze and Groener convinced Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg that the Kaiser must be informed. Hindenburg wanted to offer his his resignation and remained silent in the background as Groener told Wilhelm “The Army will march home in peace and under orders from its leaders and commanding generals, but not under the command of Your Majesty for it no longer stands behind Your Majesty!” (8)

Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung über die Grenze in das holländische Exil

Wilhelm II Arriving in Holland

The Kaiser was stunned and by the morning of the 10th he departed by his royal train to Holland where he went into exile. Several years later in recounting the day the former monarch still lived in a dream world writing in his memoirs:

“The decision as to my going or staying, as to my renunciation of the Imperial Crown and retention of the Royal Crown of Prussia, was summarily snatched from me. The army was shaken to the core by the erroneous belief that its King had abandoned it at the most critical moment of all.”  (9)

Of course he was wrong. He had helped lead his nation and the world into a war that swept his monarchy and other great monarchies away. It was a war that ultimately led to another war of even greater destruction. It changed the world order which had existed from the time of Metternich and the Congress of Vienna. 

Groener was instrumental in preserving the unity of Germany and helped establish the Weimar Republic working with the leaders of the Majority Socialists. Unfortunately their efforts to establish a working republic were frustrated by the actions of the vengeful Allied powers, the terrible political polarization of the country and the effects of several economic crisis which doomed the Republic. 

The abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II was to many in Germany, especially the Officer class and nobility “the end of the world.” That being said had more leaders had the foresight and leadership of Groener and Ebert the republic might have survived. Had Ebert not died unexpectedly it is possible that the center might have held. But it was not to be. 

Peace 

Padre Steve+

1 Herwig, Holger The First World War, Arnold a Member of the Hodder Headline Group, London 1997 p.446

2 Gordon, Harold J, The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey 1956 p. 4

3 Ibid. Gordon. p.6 

4 Carsten, F. L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933, Oxford University Press, London 1966 p.7

5 Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army, Oxford University Press, London 1955 p.345

6 Ibid, Herwig p. 445

7 Dorpallen, Andreas, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1964 p.17

8 Ibid. Herwig p.445

9 Wilhelm II, The Kaiser’s Memoirs Translated by Thomas R. Ybarra, Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York and London 1922, pp.287-288

 

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The Coming Egyptian Civil War: Disaster Beckons

Cairo protesters

History has a strange way of playing itself out in the lives of individuals, nations and peoples. I wish that I was wrong bit as I look at the situation in Egypt today I see a situation which is as fluid as the shifting sands of the desert and as dangerous as the legendary Biblical plagues of the time of Moses.

When the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was overthrow by the military in 2011 it was hoped by many that Egypt would defy he odds of history, not Islamic or Egyptian history, but human history in that a revolution of a people without their own history of freedom and representative democracy seldom in its initial stages produces freedom and representative democracy.

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In Europe alone Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Russia have endured bloody civil wars following the overthrow of autocratic regimes. Likewise the same is true of the history of South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East the history of most successful oppressed peoples who do not have practical experience in democratic government tend to fight things out and even endure more oppressive governments before eventually, often at great cost to themselves and their neighbors achieve peaceful, stable and representative democratic rule.

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Egypt has great potential, many of its people have exactly in temperament, education and wisdom what is needed to become a leading democracy in the region. That being said there are many obstacles to this. First is the longstanding tension between the radical Islamists of the Moslem Brotherhood, secularist military leaders, Social Democrats and others. Second the underlying religious and social tensions between rival Islamic denominations as well as Coptic Christians with generations of internecine bloodshed being played against one another by outside powers, the Ottoman Turks, the French, the British and even to a lesser extent the Soviets and Americans.

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The fact is that Egypt as much as I do not want it to admit is that I believe that there is little that can save Egypt from a bloody civil war with unknown outcomes. The only thing that is sure is that thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of Egyptians will die before the end of it and that Egypt’s instability will exponentially increase the violence and instability of the region.

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I think the best outcome is that a coalition of Social Democrats and militarists will cobble together enough of a government to stabilize the situation, but it will not be without much bloodshed. It will likely be like the early days of Weimar Germany when an unlikely coalition of military leaders and Social Democrats fought a Civil War against the extreme Soviet style Communists and then resisted Right wing extremist putsch attempts. Unfortunately that democracy died as the economies of the world melted down and the cost of reparations levied by Allied Powers at Versailles and radicals of the extreme Right and Left eventually leaving Hitler in power. It took another World War to eventually end that tyranny.

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I guess that a best prospect is pretty much as bad as the worst prospect.

The ouster of the Moslem Brotherhood’s elected President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military follow the protests of the vast majority of the Egyptian electorate is as much of a bad thing as it is a good thing. Morsi was to be sure democratically elected but he governed as an autocrat with increasing dictatorial tendencies. The reaction of the people and the Army was a natural reaction, as one Egyptian boy put it we did not overthrow a dictatorship to replace it with a dictatorial theocracy.  In effect both sides killed the democratic process, Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood for the sake of Islamic religious power, the military for the sake of their place in society, stability and control and the protestors and democrats the sake of democracy and freedom.

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The situation is much like the days following the the Army High Command’s forced abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, when in the face of a Communist revolution the German military establishment represented by Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg wrote to the new Socialist Chancellor Friedrich Ebert:

“I am convinced that only the following measures can help us overcome the present difficulties: 

  1. Summoning of the National Assembly in the course of December.
  2. Until then, or until the decision of the National Assembly can be carried out, conduct of the administration solely by the government and legitimate administrative organs. 
  3. So as to fulfill the justified wishes of the working class… qualified people of working class origin should be attached to the administrative authorities in an advisory capacity….
  4. The security service must be solely in the hands of the legal police organs and of the armed forces.
  5. Safeguarding of the orders of government by a reliable police force and, after the restoration of discipline, by the army.   

   In your hands lies the fate of the German nation. It will depend on your decision whether the German nation will rise once more. I am persuaded, and with me the whole army, to support you without any reservation…” (Letter from Field Marshal Hindenburg, likely written by General Groener to Chancellor Ebert December 8th 1918. In The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten, Oxford University Press, London 1966 pp.13-14)

The unfortunate thing is that no one will be happy until they achieve their goals and that will probably not only mean bloodshed, but a full scale civil war. No matter what the talking heads and experts say this has little chance of ending well. Centuries of injustice, dictatorship, colonialism, religious intolerance and economic inequities argue against other eventualities.

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The fact of the matter is that whether or not advocates of democracy like it at the present time no elected government in Egypt can survive without the support of the military. Like Weimar Germany, the fate of Egypt’s democracy will in large part lie in the hands of a military that at its heart is not democratic. It is a conundrum that we would rather not see, but it is reality.

All that being said there is always hope that things can turn out differently and we had better hope, for the people of Egypt, the region and the world that it does, because an Egyptian Civil War now will be disastrous.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month: The Continuing Legacy of the Armistice of World War One

“Armistice Day is a constant reminder that we won a war and lost a peace.” General Omar Bradley

Germany was in pre-revolutionary turmoil. The High Command of the Army had told Kaiser Wilhelm II that military resistance was no longer possible and that the Army would not follow him back to Germany to put down the revolutionaries.

After four long years of war in which around 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians were killed and another 20 million wounded the guns fell silent. In the end it was also the end of an era. It was then end of empires. The Russian Empire had collapsed in 1917 and been initially been replaced by a republic and then by a Soviet State and Czar Nicholas II and his family became victims of the revolutionary violence. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and in its place a hodge-podge of new states as well as liberated areas came into existence. The Ottoman Empire was carved up with its various parts being granted “independence” by the allies under the leadership of tribal leaders supported by the French or British.

Britain survived the war but not without crisis due to the massive losses in manpower and economic losses sustained during the war. France nearly fell in 1917 when the Army, demoralized by the unrelenting losses of years of brutal warfare mutinied. Belgium was devastated as was much of northern and eastern France.

Most surprisingly Imperial Germany collapsed. After knocking Russia out of the war in 1917 the Germans attempted a knockout punch against France. The offensive, code named Michael was successful at first and nearly succeeded, but in the end ran up against obstacles that could not be overcome, including the arrival of a massive and still fresh American Expeditionary Force. By the summer the tide had changed and the allies were on the offensive and threatening to break through the now vulnerable German lines. At home revolution was in the air, fed by the starvation of the German people and rising unrest units of the High Seas Fleet mutinied, as did units of the Army stationed in Germany proper. Workers and Soldiers Soviets took control of local and state governments.  Finally with everything on the line the Kaiser left Berlin to meet with his High Command at their headquarters in Spa, Belgium.

It was in Spa that the Kaiser found out that his reign was over. On November 9th General Wilhelm Groener, the Quartermaster General and the de-facto second in command of the Army told the Kaiser that the Army no longer supported him. It was a seminal moment. The Kaiser abdicated his throne and to prevent a communist takeover the leadership of the Social Democratic party proclaimed a republic that day. Hurried negotiations between the Socialists and the Army produced an alliance which averted the threatened Soviet takeover, but also doomed the new Weimar Republic. A hated state, it was blamed by monarchists and other conservatives for the German defeat and the humiliation of Versailles and hated by the communists, who viewed it as illegitimate.

The Germans send a peace delegation to France which agreed to the armistice at about  5 AM on November 11th which stipulated that hostilities were to cease at 1100. The firing stopped and German troops withdrew to a nation totally unprepared for defeat. The allies maintained their naval blockade of German ports until the Treaty of Versailles was signed the following year, wracked by starvation, the great Influenza epidemic, economic collapse and civil war Germany never came to terms with its defeat. Eventually, a crippled Weimar Republic would fall in 1933. Adolf Hitler , a decorated veteran of the war in the trenches became Chancellor and and with an year the undisputed dictator of Germany in 1934.

During the interregnum between the wars the victors cobbled together states from the the former empires. Borders were drawn without respect to racial, tribal or religious divisions. The victors, particularly the British, French and Italians expanded their overseas empires at the expense of the former empires and the newly acquired lands.

The war that was to end all wars only brought about another even more bloody war that would end with the dropping of Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan in August 1945. Hitler, who led Germany to ruin died by his own hand in his bunker. The remnants of empires that had not collapsed in the immediate aftermath of the First World War did not survive the second. By the 1970s most of the former colonies of the great empires were independent, but not necessarily free. Tribal and religious conflicts as well as genocide followed in Africa and Asia. A “Cold War” between the former allies of the Second World War followed, only ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th 1989, which was exactly 71 years to the day that Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated his throne.

Today, though it is nearly a century later the ramifications of that war, a war that was “to end all wars” are still with us. War and more revolution threatens in the Middle East even as former colonies wracked by tribal, religious or ethnic divisions within their artificially drawn boundaries continue to implode. Europe, buoyed by the hope of economic integration following the end of the Cold War is again being torn apart by ethnic and nationalist divisions as the Euro crisis deepened.

On November 11th 1918 few thought that the end of that war would still be felt today. After all, it was the “war to end all wars.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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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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