General Ludendorff, On Overcoming the Consequences of the Lost War (1922)


[Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) came from relatively humble circumstances.  His mother was of noble birth, but from an impoverished family; his father was a provincial merchant of middling means.  Thus, he could not rely on the social credentials that high-ranking military men could still call upon to bolster their careers during the imperial era.  With no “von” to his name, Ludendorff owed his rise in the peacetime General Staff to hard work and very real abilities.  In the war, he was the “brains” of the Hindenburg-Ludendorff team, the architect of the great victories on the Eastern Front in 1914, the man who by 1916 was making personnel, economic and foreign policy decisions in place of the feckless kaiser.  He determined the strategy on the Western Front that staked all on the massive offensive of the spring of 1918.  Upon its disastrous failure, Ludendorff managed to divest himself of both political and military responsibility.

As a civilian, he continued to shun accountability for the lost war.   The book from which the following excerpt comes is notable for its absolute refusal to admit error.  Filled with images of a violated masculinity and riveted upon the need to find those “truly” guilty for the Treaty of Versailles, the military impotence of Germany, and the moral degeneracy he saw all around him, Ludendorff identified a host of villains:  the vengeful Allies, democrats, socialists, Jews, and the German masses, who had been betrayed by unnamed prewar leaders and then failed in their duty to the Fatherland.   As the cure for Germany’s woes, he advocates preparation for a new war, spiritual and physical rebirth, abandonment of “weak” democratic forms, free rein for capitalists and owners of great estates, curbing of trade unions, and rejection of “Jewish ideas,” such as internationalism and pacifism.  Views such as these, expressed by one still regarded as a national hero, helped draw up the blueprint for the radical right’s assault on the Republic.  Ludendorff was one of Hitler’s co-conspirators during the Munich putsch of 1923.  Once again he escaped retribution, this time for outright treason, but in the remaining fourteen years of his life he gradually lost his political influence, even with rightists, as he sank into bizarre forms of Wotan-worship and völkisch mysticism.

Source:  Erich Ludendorff, Kriegführung und Politik (Berlin, 1922),  pp. 332-42.  Translated by Richard S. Levy.]


TEXT

Internationalist, pacifist, defeatist thinking still predominates in Germany today, even though the world all around us bristles with weapons, sounds the war cry, and fans up hatred against us.  It is apparent that the current World Powers are only pausing for breath before renewing struggles amongst themselves and once again oppressing the weaker.  Clemenceau himself described the Versailles Blackmail as a continuation of the war.  It’s what our enemies want, just as before 1914.  Our thinking hinders us from seeing clearly the way the world really appears and keeps us from recognizing what we must do at home and abroad.

The following outline is intended to contribute to clarity and help us toward acquiring the political education that broad sections of the public of other nations possess.  Until this happens, much work for the Fatherland will be in vain.  Leaders who strive for the best for the German people will find no response in the masses, and the more they must rely upon them, the less real power they will actually be able to wield.

We needs must learn that we live in a warlike period and that war, for the individual being as well as the state, will remain a natural phenomenon, one also grounded in the divine order of the world:

“Every human life is a war in miniature.  Within states, parties struggle for power against one another, just as nations do in the world.  Ever shall it be thus.  It is the Law of Nature.  Enlightenment and higher human morality can ameliorate the struggle for power and  the use of force but never eliminate them.  That is contrary to the nature of man and ultimately Nature itself.  Nature is struggle!  If the Noble and the Good are not victorious, then the Ignoble thrusts forward, compelling the Noble, if it is not to suffer defeat, to defend itself through struggle and force.  The Noble can only survive when it is strong.”  Thus I wrote in my war memoirs.

Fieldmarshal [Count Helmuth] von Moltke, on December 11, 1890,  expressed himself in the same way:

Eternal peace is a dream--and not even a beautiful one.  War is part of God's world order.  Within it unfold the noblest virtues of men, courage and renunciation, loyalty to duty and readiness for sacrifice--at the hazard of one's life.  Without war the world would sink into a swamp of materialism.

And on February 10, 1881: [1]

I hold that war is the last, but wholly legitimate, means by which the state maintains its existence, independence, and honor.

           

If we are to put ourselves on this footing in our world of struggle, then once and for all we must reject the phrases that our enemies and our democrats of all stripes have preached to us, phrases such as eternal peace, disarmament, and the reconciliation of humanity--as though on the strength of these God’s world order could be overturned, the two-faced nature of man be mastered, and all worldly goods be set aside in favor of spiritual values alone.

Waging a war of liberation at the present time is not possible for us.  No one knows this better than I, who himself has waged war and done everything to prevent the defenselessness of Germany.   Our defenselessness before the violent actions of our enemies we owe to the fearsome disaster of Versailles.  Horror overcomes me when I think of it.

This insight belongs to the political education of the German people just as surely as does the knowledge that war will remain the ultimate, the only decisive, means of policy.   This manner of thinking, complemented by a manly enthusiasm for war, cannot be forbidden the German people by the Entente, even though it wants to take it from us.  It is the foundation for comprehending anything political, the foundation of our future, even and especially for the enslaved Nation of the Germans.  Its premise is that [Germany] wants to win back its autonomy, its freedom, its welfare, and its developmental possibilities;  and it resists our enemies’ intention to have us resign ourselves in perpetuity to degradation, to let ourselves be stricken from the stage of world history, while in their customary fashion they base policy on power, violence, and war.

The German people may no longer let themselves be fooled by slogans and empty phrases, as they were before, during, and after the war.  We ought to examine who it is who tells us these things and who broadcasts them, who the author of this advertising campaign is, instead of lightmindedly taking it to be truthful.  Whatever the enemy gives us and whatever he recommends is certainly bad for us.  What he takes from us, what he attacks in our thinking and actions or among our institutions--that is good for us.  Thus the measuring stick of what is good or harmful was and is clear and simple.[2]  Would that we learn to think soberly.

Some will reproach me for provoking the enemy with such words.  Certainly they and their hangers-on in Germany will once again let their venom swell up against “the ruling militarism in our midst.”  It goes without saying that they will forget how before the war our enemies proceeded against us, how, for example, in France the hatred of everything German grew great and how the war of revenge had been preached so loudly and relentlessly…. Their statesmen took human nature into account and did well by their states and peoples.

Certainly it would be better if the German people did not have to be told about their tasks.  It would be better if these were something self-evident, deeply embedded in hearts and minds.  That, unfortunately, is not the case.  Therefore I pose to the German people the following question:  what has France achieved?  And where are we with our concern not to “provoke the enemy,” with qualms about our own courage, with our toadying up to the enemy, our servility, our unmanly, cowardly thinking and spiritless actions?  Has all that protected us from our destiny?  Has the enemy, in spite of all that, still not rendered us defenseless?

Let’s let the enemy do what he thinks proper for his life.  We cannot stop him.  But, without timidity, let us act before our enemies in our own right which none can take from us unless we surrender it voluntarily.  [Let us act] solely as upright men, according to our essential needs and our own healthy dispositions, even at the risk that we will be still more violated.  Let us endure even this in the hope that misery and enslavement will lead to freedom.  Only iron will and manly behavior can call forth the self-respect and the respect of the world that we would regain.  No one would welcome it more than myself if our enemies in the world war would finally accord us justice.  They would thereby contribute  materially to the easing of tension.

To this first building block of our political education must be added others.  Every German must grasp the contours of real war so that he is never again, as he was in the world war, overwhelmed by its immensity.  He must measure its strength according to the demands that engender a war, no matter what shape it assumes.

Once we are clear about our aims and what demands are appropriate to their realization, then we can get down to work.  In the foreground there must be put in place a policy of reconstruction, the safeguarding and consolidation of the state, and the renewal of Nation’s strength and spirit.  Such measures require the purposeful gathering of all the forces necessary to the self-assertion of the state:  that is, the unyielding front of the German Nation in all its regions and callings, unified in deep Christian faith, glowing with love of the Fatherland and readiness for sacrifice to it, and in an optimism borne by consciousness of strength, desire, and duty--a united front like the army created by the Hohenzollern princes--even though bereft of arms!

Just as with the German army of the world war, this united front must be without class conflict, conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, between city and countryside, or any of the other numerous conflicts and differences that weaken the German Nation, such as mistrust of one another.  Within its ranks it must be fully decided who shall do his duty in fighting the enemy, while on the homefront profit will be sacrificed.  Certainly, the frontline soldiers must be accorded first place in the united front, in memory of what service they rendered [in the war] and what was lost through the Revolution [of 1918].

In our united front will rule, according to Ludwig Schemann’s beautiful words,[3] “the sense of heroism, the spirit of order, discipline, and duty--and I would add--the proud, self-aware simplicity and restraint, the comradeship and loyalty--all emanations of ‘militarism,’ and constituting the pillars of German greatness.  These will sustain us in every civilian domain and be regained insofar as they have not been lost.  We require to this end, moral renewal, or rather the courage and decision to act against everything un-German within ourselves.  That is certain.”

Ludwig Schemann, this thoroughly German man, rightly points to the characteristics of the old army as developed under the Hohenzollerns.  This dynasty recognized the virtues necessary to make the army a safeguard for the preservation of freedom and well-being of the Prussian and German people.

The warlike virtues of the Prussian and German army have proved themselves on bloody fields of battle.  The German Nation needs no other character traits for its moral renewal.  The spirit of the old army must bring forth our rebirth.[4]  We must all of us understand that only manly self-control--and by that I mean unconditional subordination to and faith in unselfish, public spirited leaders and the putting aside of one’s own thoughts--guarantees that the moral power of individuals will be combined into a might that will effect the reconstruction of the Nation and the Fatherland.

The un-German in and around us that Ludwig Schemann speaks of lies first and foremost in the lack of race feeling, in the insufficient consideration of the German way in our schools and in law, in the elevation of intellectual training over manual skills, in the self-seeking intellectual tendency spreading among us to value external good living, in internationalist, pacifist, and defeatist thinking, and, finally, in the strong intrusion of the Jewish people inside our borders.[5]   Overcoming this un-German in individuals, in the nation and the state, is the special task of political thinking and of protracted völkisch labor.  This must be carried on unwaveringly by the best of our people in closest cooperation with one another and in mutual trust.

They will have to see to it that the German family once more becomes aware of its mission, to be the bearer and nurturer of German national life and the real German national spirit, to impart to youth modesty and self-respect and show it the life path free from pleasure-seeking, apathy, and slavery.  What children receive from their parents in healthy German will and German sensibilities shall be absorbed in a special seed that shall continually transplant the past into the present and future for the individual, for the Nation and the state.

For fortification of the personality, strengthening of the will, invigoration of the body, and steeling of health and courage, physical exercises--especially man to man combat--hardening oneself, and abstinence are necessary.

The building up of the German Nation will not by itself suffice to meet the coming challenges.  The buildup of the German national economy must also enter into it.  It is sheer delusion to believe, as, unfortunately, several of our economic leaders do, that  the national economy alone can effect the rebirth.  As before the war, they underestimate the value of the national spirit, instead of recognizing and promoting it.  Without the German national spirit, the economy only produces goods.  Elevated by the national spirit, labor reunites the people, leads to recovery, and in turn provides the national spirit with the necessary backing required to compete effectively in all areas with other peoples.  National spirit and the national economy must complement one another and work reciprocally to create ever new powers.

In place of the masses organized to disrespect state authority we need a social construct  based on the spirit of true comradeship and on a personal sense of responsibility for each other and for the German people and Fatherland.   In our national economy we need a feeling for the Nation; we need to take steps to elevate and ennoble agricultural production, to settle broad sectors of the people on their own land and in their own dwellings, to preserve the foundation of both the family and the state.[6]

We need a national economy free from compulsion and without limits on property ownership, which sees in employers only employees in the service of the German people and German state, and which accords to all employees their right to work and to profit.

Only reciprocal understanding for the value of intellectual and manual labor can unite all workers….Only the labor of the entire people, not the easy profits of the stock market, answers to the German character and can create the values that will increase the purchasing power of our money, allowing us both to buy back our freedom from our enemies and to overcome the economic injuries of the war with a suitable standard of living.

We need a governmental authority that stands above the outmoded political parties, one borne  up by the confidence and strength of the German people, and  built upon its self-administration and on an occupational representative body.  We need a government that leads the people, not one that merely rules over it, and one that upholds the law for everyone.  The strength of government lies, not in widening, but rather in narrowing [of participation].   In the pressure of events, as the great Hohenzollern princes and their great advisors knew,  the leadership of a single individual [is necessary] to hold the selfish and refractory part of the people to its duty, and when necessary to do so with force, thereby serving the entire nation.

For the strengthening and lasting preservation of the finished work of reconstruction we require a return to the monarchical form of state, to an imperial federal state, with functionaries, both high and low, adhering to a conception of the state and their duty to it, that Prussianism once imparted.

In this fashion the German character of the Germans will be firmed up and a new German life will unfold within the Fatherland, bearing fruit, drawing in Germans from beyond our borders, and promoting trade with other peoples of the earth.[7]  Nonetheless, we must remain aware that, more than at any time in our history, our development is hindered by inner forces which produce lasting dissension because they insidiously and everywhere intrude themselves, attempting to befog clear and simple thinking with their grandiose ideas.  We should not do these enemies any favors by tearing ourselves apart.  We should be smarter.  We need to win our way, purposefully and confidently, to sober political thinking and willing.  [That will suffice] to rebuff the idea that  we should accustom ourselves to this life of slavery and to de-Germanize ourselves by doing forced labor for foreigners.  Rather this new strength ought decidedly to be utilized to effect a foreign policy that ultimately, if the enemy drives us to it, will resort to the war of liberation as its most extreme means.

Thus we have returned to the observation with which we began and have reached, as a result, a total policy.  War is external politics with other means, or it remains the most extreme means of external politics in the service of the idea of power.  As such, it must be considered the ultimate wisdom in the fulfillment of what is necessary for the state.

It is not a “violent militarist” who speaks thusly, but a man who, more than most, has been instructed by a Fate, mightier than his will, concerning the inner workings of history, a man who sees the compelling need for the Nation and its leaders to gain clarity about the people’s basic requirements, the congruence of politics and warfare, and the essential nature of war.  This simple knowledge is more fruitful than faith in the many promises, so readily heard but so rarely realized because the prerequisites are lacking. 

This labor is thankless.  Life teaches one to dispense with gratitude but bids one do his duty.  The nation must hear what it needs to hear, even if it is not pleasing.  It is no longer enough, as Clausewitz[8] thought, that the political leadership has a certain insight into the nature of war.  The nation itself must possess this insight.  Only then can we get relief.  Then false leaders will not be able to lead us again, as before the war, and the knee will not bow down before golden idols, as in the last years of the war.  The Nation, not the organized masses, will make its will known.  Leaders, whom the Nation requires, will gain legitimacy and lead it wither needful.  Leaders must be German men, conscious of their race, duty, and power, men who place the Fatherland above every sort of vanity, self-interest, and egoism, natural commanders with strong wills who recognize their responsibility only to the Lord God, the Nation, and their own conscience.

It would be welcome, if those who consider themselves to be this sort of leader, would familiarize themselves with the politics and conduct of the world war.  But they must go more deeply than hitherto to seek to comprehend all its ramifications.  Then they will find out how very much is lacking in their political education and agree with my wish to see that the doctrines of Clausewitz on real war be taught at all our universities and adult education centers.   And, so too, the reciprocal relationship of politics and warfare before, during, and after the world war should be made full use of as the foundation of our political education.  Thus, and only thus, will the right leaders for the Nation be educated; alongside them, for the purely military waging of war, will be joined the professional officer corps.

If the Nation and its leaders are educated on this basis, the German Nation will be able to count on its leaders, and the leaders will be able to count on the Nation.

Let us be clear about it, the labor will be difficult.  Even the universal military obligation and the schooling given us by the great Hohenzollern princes did not suffice to keep us on the right path.  This becomes clear when we measure the demands placed upon us, on our endurance and willingness to sacrifice, on our sense of duty, and the counterweights we will have to create when those [Hohenzollern] institutions are lacking.  Then shall we realize the greatness of the task that we have to undertake and must undertake for ourselves and others.

Let us win the strength and the courage of conviction for this great labor from the modest old Dutch prayer of thanksgiving.  And let us take care that we are animated by the same spirit and equal fervor of our Dutch racial brothers, as we sing and recite:

The Evil One seeks the blameless to destroy.

Like the lion, he paces, with growl and roar,

Trapping with tangle, snare, and ploy

Whomever he would deliver to death’s door.

Stand guard, pray, and fight the good fight

Against shame and sin, with all your might.

To a pious nation the Enemy is given in thrall,

For God’s power none can match or forestall.

END OF TEXT

NOTES


[1] Ludendorff note: “Gesammelte Schriften und Denkwürdigkeiten” des Generalfeldmarschalls Grafen v. Moltke. Berlin 1892.    Editor note:  See G-Text Document, “Helmuth von Moltke (the Elder) on War (1880).”

[2] Ludendorff note:  Our enemies gave us the slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” and the result was the unmanning of the Nation, internationalist and pacifist thinking, and their victory!  Before the war our enemies agitated against German “militarism,” especially against the officer corps.   With Versailles the enemy has left us defenseless, while hostile states arm themselves ever more stalwartly.  I recall the agitation against the monarchy and the house of Hohenzollern.  Now His Majesty and the crown prince of the German Empire are detained in Holland.  I recall the hymn of praise the enemy sang to German Democracy which rewarded us by kowtowing before [President Woodrow] Wilson in October 1918.  Thus was our impotence sealed.  The enemy nations were ruled by an autocracy and won the war!

[3] Ludendorff note:  Ludwig Schemann, “Of the German Future.  Thoughts of a Man Educated to Hope,” Leipzig, 1920.  Editor’s note:  Schemann (1852-1935) was an activist in nationalist, antisemitic, and racist groups, a member of Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth circle, and  most famous for his dissemination of the racial theories of Count Gobineau in a propaganda organization dedicated to that purpose.

[4] Ludendorff note:  I cannot refrain from referring, in this context, to the old army’s first and second articles of war.  The latter reads:   “The inviolability of the loyalty oath is the first duty of the soldier.  Next, the calling of the soldier demands:  war-readiness, courage in all the obligations of the service, bravery in war, obedience to superiors, honorable bearing on and off duty, good and honest bearing toward comrades.”  This article of war  should be engraved in every German heart.

[5] Ludendorff note: Until now the concept of race, the German science of race [Rassenkunde], has been treated as a stepchild by our scientific research.  [With regard to the Jews]  They receive new strength from the strong influx of Jews from Eastern Europe [Ostjuden].

[6] Ludendorff note:  In order to avoid misunderstandings, let me emphasize, that I also regard great estates as necessary for the national economy.  We ought first to reclaim uncultivated lands before breaking up estates.

[7] Ludendorff note: Real inner healing can only occur if the Russian economic zone is reopened.

[8] Editor’s note:  Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), Prussian general and writer, attempted to bring systematic thinking to the subject of warfare.  His On War became standard reading for general staff officers


 

FOR FURTHER READING:  Martin Kitchen, The Silent Dictatorship: The Politics of the German High Command under Hindenburg and  Ludendorff, 1916-1918  (London, 1976)