What Russia Got Wrong
Can Moscow Learn From Its Failures in Ukraine?
AT THE outbreak of the war people had almost forgotten that there was a general named Hindenburg. Sixty-seven years of age, he was living at Hanover, enjoying the repose of a retired soldier.
His career had been that of any gifted officer of the Prussian General Staff. Born at Posen in 1846, the son of a soldier father, he became lieutenant in a foot regiment of the Guards in 1866 and took part in the battle of Koniggrätz. In 1870 he went to the front as adjutant of a battalion, and his regiment fought in the sanguinary battle of St. Privat. At Sedan the regiment remained in reserve, as did the entire corps of the Guards. Hindenburg thus was a spectator of the great encircling movement which closed in upon MacMahon's army like a huge ring. While passing with the troops through the little town of Carignan he was told by a saddler from whom he bought a riding whip that Napoleon III was with the army, which was now completely surrounded in a deep dale. He reported this to headquarters, but could not make them believe it. After Sedan, his regiment marched on Paris. In September 1870 it was quartered at Craonne and Corbény, at the foot of the Winterberg.
Hindenburg was destined to see this hill again forty-eight years later, during the battle of Soissons and Rheims, in May 1918, when he was to observe the movements of his troops from this height. But in 1871 First Lieutenant Hindenburg got to Paris. He himself has told us how, after the armistice, he rode with a few hussars, without being interfered with, through the Champs Elysées, across the Place de la Concorde, right into the court of the Louvre, and how he was " ravished by the sight of the historical monuments in which France is so rich." When the German Emperor was proclaimed at Versailles, Hindenburg was present as delegate of his regiment. "The South Germans," he says, "were loudest in their expressions of joy over the German Empire; we Prussians observed a more reticent attitude in that regard, for historical reasons. . . ." The struggles of the Commune in Paris made a deep impression on him. After the end of the war he started upon the work of peace. In 1873 he entered the War Academy; among his teachers was General von Bernhardi, who has become known as a military writer. In 1877 the temple of Prussian military science opened its gate to him: he was called to the General Staff.
The great General Staff of the German Army was more than the modern offices of military engineers. Its intellectual foundation had been laid during the classical era of German philosophy. Without Hegel, the originator of the idea of evolution and of the dialectic method of reasoning, there could have been no thought of Karl von Clausewitz's Buch vom Kriege, the military science Bible of the Prussian General Staff. Moltke, too, was a born scholar. By his war plan of 1866 he turned the traditional doctrine of the War Academy upside down. The deployment from separate points of assemblage and the envelopment of the enemy by means of separate armies was based on logical reasoning. Time was too short and the space too restricted to make it advisable to concentrate an army of a quarter million men according to the established Napoleonic tradition, and to secure for it the supposed advantages of the "inner line." Moltke's decision was a new idea, born of necessity. The Prussian General Staff raised this idea to the rank of a theory. The further development of the "Theory of Envelopment" and its consummation in the "Strategy of Annihilation" was the work of Moltke's greatest successor, Count Schlieffen. This consistent thinker and inexorable critic of the German wars saw the model for all warfare in the battle of Cannae (B.C. 216). In that battle Hannibal with his 50,000 warriors inflicted an annihilating defeat on the army of the Roman consul Terentius Varro, 69,000 strong. Despite his numerical inferiority, Hannibal had thrown two lines around the Roman army. In his book entitled "Cannae," Schlieffen studied the campaigns of Frederick the Great, Napoleon and Moltke with special reference to the question as to how far the strategy of these generals implied the idea of a battle of annihilation. After that, " Cannae " became the formula of the Prussian General Staff, the avowed aim of the theory embraced by the latter being the destruction of the hostile army by means of rapid advance and envelopment. Schlieffen himself lived to draw up the plan for a German war on two fronts. His faith in "Cannae" inspired his scheme of enveloping the enemy in a grandiose battle in France. This faith became so strong as to dispel all political scruples. Without envelopment no victory, and without concentric deployment no envelopment; the decision to march through Belgium was implied in the "Cannae" idea. Quite consistently, in Schlieffen's plan of development, the right wing of the German west army was made as strong as possible, and the left wing very weak; Schlieffen did not fear the possibility of having to retreat before the French Rhine army in Alsace-Lorraine, if that should be necessary.
There is no denying the fact that the Moltke-Schlieffen tradition was discarded during the first years of the young emperor's reign. William II, who by nature was not Prussian, did not select the heads of the great military institution according to ability and merit. Count Waldersee, Schlieffen's successor, had nothing of the spirit of his predecessors. His figure in history is that of the comic hero in the Chinese operetta-campaign. Nor was the younger Moltke, a nephew of the great chief of the General Staff, equal to his high office. Under his direction, Schlieffen's plan of deployment was altered for personal reasons. The Kaiser could not bear to think of even temporarily exposing the imperial provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, or parts of them, to the danger of a French invasion. Moltke had to strengthen the left wing of the west army and to weaken the right wing in proportion, so that it became too short to extend round the army of the enemy in the west beyond Paris. The Anglo-French victory of the Marne was the logical consequence of this illogical modification of Schlieffen's plan.
Hindenburg belongs to that older generation of Prussian officers who began their work under Moltke the elder. When Hindenburg returned to the General Staff in 1885, after temporary duties in Stettin and in Königsberg, the first Moltke was still its chief, and Schlieffen was director of the operative department. During the next eight years Hindenburg remained at his desk and continued to lecture: he was on the General Staff, he taught tactics in the War Academy and was in the Ministry of War. In 1893, he became commander of an infantry regiment; in 1896, chief of the general staff for the Eighth Corps in Coblenz; in 1900, commander of a division; and in 1903, commanding general of the Fourth Corps in Magdeburg.
In 1911 Hindenburg sent in his resignation. His age was sixty-four years; he was in perfect health and vigor. On the occasion of his retirement there was a rumor that, during the manœuvres, he had not sufficiently pandered to the Kaiser's dilettante predilections and had fallen into disgrace for that reason. In Hindenburg's memoirs, we read: "Since the insignificant event of my retirement has given rise to false rumors, I will state definitely that this step was not occasioned by any incident either of an official or of a personal nature."
It was on August 22, 1914, that Hindenburg received an urgent telegram from the Kaiser's main headquarters. Just a question: was he ready for immediate employment? His answer: "Am ready!" This telegram to Hindenburg had been preceded by another one, addressed to Brigadier-General Erich Ludendorff. In the latter Count Moltke, chief of the General Staff of the army, asked for Ludendorff's help: "I know of no one else in whom I have such explicit confidence as I have in you. Perhaps you may yet save the situation in the east. . . . With your energy you may preserve us from the worst. . . ."
What was it that had happened in the east? The German forces in the east were very weak, in accordance with the General Staff's plan of two fronts. Four corps, one reserve division, and one single cavalry division had to hold in check two Russian armies. Either one of these was superior in strength to the entire German army in the east. Rennenkampf's Niemen army amounted to 246,000 men and 800 guns; Samsonoff's Narev army, advancing from the south, consisted of 289,000 men and 780 guns. The German eastern army was 210,000 strong and had 600 guns. Taken by surprise in consequence of the sudden appearance of the Narev army, which marched by night, hiding itself during the day in the vast wooded country, General von Prittwitz, the German commander-in-chief in the east, had broken off his fight against Rennenkampf's Niemen army and was considering a retreat behind the Vistula. His intention of abandoning to the Russians the entire territory to the east of the Vistula created the greatest consternation in German headquarters. General von Prittwitz and his chief of staff, Count Waldersee (the younger), were relieved of their posts by telegraph.
Ludendorff had distinguished himself by his initiative during the storming of Liège and had thus attracted the attention of headquarters. He, too, had been attached in time of peace to the Great General Staff, but had given offense by insisting on a further addition to the army. He was transferred to the troops in 1912. In the hour of need Moltke brought him to the fore again.
It had become the rule in the German army to give each commanding general, from the division downward, the assistance of an officer of the General Staff. The general had the power of command, the staff officer was the guiding spirit. Napoleon had never considered such things as age or years of service. But the strict order obtaining in the German army made it necessary that the commander-in-chief should have more years of service and higher rank than the commanders of the corps. Thus, the officers of the General Staff who were attached to the latter had not only to do the real thinking, but, because of their relations with one another and because of their perpetual contact with headquarters, they were the generally nameless but none the less real leaders of the battles. In the western theater of war, for example, there were, up to the spring of 1918, ten armies concentrated in three "army groups." These army groups were commanded by three princes: Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, the German Crown Prince, and Crown Prince Albrecht of Württemberg. The actually responsible persons, however, were distinguished officers of the General Staff, such as General von Kuhl, Count von der Schulenburg, and others, whose names are hardly known in history.
It was on the morning of August 23, 1914, that Hindenburg first set eyes on General Ludendorff, who had been attached to him. The two men quickly reached an understanding. During their journey to Marienburg they pondered over plans for the coming battle. Hindenburg and Ludendorff were in much worse plight than Hannibal. Among all the critical situations recorded in the history of warfare, one could look in vain for an equally desperate case. According to Stendhal's simple definition, Napoleon's military art consisted in bringing it about that on the battlefield his soldiers should outnumber the army of the enemy in the proportion of two to one. This ingenious principle is identical with that observed by robbers lying in wait for passers-by at the street corner in the ratio of 2 to 1, a hundred paces from ten policemen on their beat. What good are the policemen to the unfortunate man who has been robbed, when they arrive three minutes later? But to return to Hindenburg and Ludendorff: the best they could do under the most favorable circumstances and by means of an extremely hazardous manœuvre was to arrange that their entire fighting strength should attack only half of the enemy forces, so that the ratio would be 1 to 1, while the other half of the enemy troops was threatening Hindenburg's army in the rear. There was just one chance of bringing this about. The two Russian armies of Rennenkampf and Samsonoff were separated by the Masurian chain of lakes. But the distance between them was slight: Rennenkampf occupied a position at a distance of about thirty miles from the German troops, which had fallen back, and less than sixty miles from Samsonoff. The success of the manœuvre which Hindenburg and Ludendorff planned depended entirely on the possibility of withdrawing the two corps which were facing Rennenkampf and uniting them with the other contingents of the German east army against Samsonoff. If they should succeed in consolidating their forces against Samsonoff without starting Rennenkampf on the march, there would be a chance that they might defeat Samsonoff. In that case, the second half of their difficult task would then be to employ the same troops over again in an attack on Rennenkampf's army, which had been at rest all the time. If Rennenkampf moved, everything would be lost.
It has been said by many critics of German tactics in the World War, including Professor Hans Delbrück, the well-known war historian, that only a gambler could have dared to risk a battle under such perilous conditions. Hindenburg and Ludendorff did risk it. Samsonoff's army was annihilated; the Russian commander blew out his brains in the midst of his surrounded troops. The battle of Tannenberg was a complete Cannae. The second part of the operation, the battle of the Masurian Lakes, was not quite so successful. Rennenkampf by flight escaped envelopment and annihilation. Nevertheless, these two victories became of supreme significance in Germany's destiny. This was not on account of the material facts and the immediate consequences of the victory. For important as it was to have destroyed one Russian army and driven the other back from the German frontier, this was, after all, only one blow on the gigantic hide of the Russian bear. What imbued these victories with special significance was something totally different. On the battlefield of Tannenberg was born the popularity of Hindenburg and of Ludendorff, as also the unshakable belief -- which was to become in the end so fatal -- that these twin commanders were invincible and infallible. On the battle ground of Tannenberg was laid the foundation for the coming omnipotence of the Supreme Command of the German Army, of the veneration of Hindenburg, and of the practical dictatorship of Ludendorff. One has to know the German people, with their propensity for hero worship and their poorly developed political sense, if one is to understand the devoted way in which they tied their fate to the two names of Hindenburg and Ludendorff.
Uncritical veneration of successful commanders is, by the way, not an exclusively German trait. Churchill's memoirs tell us that about the end of 1916 there was in England, too, a moment of confusion, showing itself mainly in the "absurd convention" that "the Generals and Admirals were more competent to deal with the broad issues of the war than abler men in other spheres of life. The General no doubt was an expert on how to move his troops, and the Admiral upon how to fight his ships, though even in this restricted field the limitations of their scientific knowledge when confronted with unforeseen conditions and undreamed-of scales became immediately apparent. But outside this technical aspect they were helpless and misleading arbiters in problems in whose solution the aid of the statesman, the financier, the manufacturer, the inventor, the psychologist, was equally required. The foolish doctrine was preached to the public through innumerable agencies that Generals and Admirals must be right on war matters, and civilians of all kinds must be wrong."[i] Germany's whole tragedy is summed up in these lines written by an Englishman.
The Germans have but a poor knowledge of their own history, or they know it only from distorted accounts. Otherwise they could not but have been mindful of the hard struggle which Bismarck had to wage against his own generals in the two wars of 1866 and 1870-71. His great skill and strength lay in his ability to maintain the supremacy of the political power over the conduct of war as against both the king and the generals. The superiority of the Entente in the World War consisted in nothing but that. Lloyd George and Clemenceau not only placed the supremacy of political considerations beyond all doubt, but, in their unchallenged power, they encroached even upon the military domain and took the reins there too. It was civilians and statesmen who finally put an end to the senseless old-style offensives. The memoirs of Prussian generals and books by apologists for Germany's conduct of the war express envy of the Entente's political leadership. What they say amounts to a lament something like this: Ah! if we could but have had men so sure of their aims! This praise arises out of a misapprehension: it takes account only of the final result, the victory, but not of the way by which Lloyd George and Clemenceau attained it. It is idle to speculate how these two men would have acted in a situation like that in which Germany found herself. But this much is certain: under the leadership of such men, neither Hindenburg nor Ludendorff would ever have been in a position so to transcend his proper rôle as to make the tremendous weight of his military authority and universal popularity decisive even in the political sphere.
The "Cannae" of Tannenberg became a turning-point in German history. From then on, the German people knew only one commander, only one hero -- Hindenburg! -- with his chief of staff, Ludendorff, at his side. The Kaiser and the other war leaders disappeared in the glamour of his name.
But at the end of 1914 William II was still autocratic enough to make most important decisions in his own discretion, even contrary to the will of the people. The chief of the General Staff, Moltke the younger, had completely broken down after the battle of the Marne. The Kaiser appointed Falkenhayn, the Prussian war minister, as Moltke's successor. Falkenhayn did not belong to Schlieffen's school; he espoused a "strategy of limited aims" and rejected Hindenburg's and Ludendorff's plans for a great offensive on the eastern front. In the spring of 1915, the general situation made it necessary to transfer the war's center of gravity to the east; the Kaiser and Falkenhayn left the western theater and moved to Pless. The breaking of the lines of the enemy near Gorlice was a great victory, it is true; the front-line of the Russians was rolled up and forced back a great distance. But Falkenhayn's frontal warfare put the crown of success beyond his reach: there was no Cannae! Victories and conquests notwithstanding, Russia's strength remained unbroken. Hindenburg stuck to his idea that any great action in the west ought to be preceded by the overthrow of Russia. Falkenhayn rejected that idea. He had a plan of his own. That plan involved his unfortunate decision to storm Verdun, the strongest fortress of the French. While this most terrible of all battles was raging, two things happened which essentially changed the aspect of the war. On June 24 the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme ushered in the first great battle of matériel in the west. The sacrifices of Verdun had been in vain. The Entente gained a new partner: Rumania entered the war. In the summer of 1916 the German line of defense had everywhere been pressed back.
In this hour of need the Kaiser called Hindenburg and Ludendorff to Pless. The events leading up to this moment form one of the most curious chapters in Germany's conduct of the war. William II even then had no intention of filling the highest post in the army on strictly impersonal grounds. But at last the voice of criticism penetrated even his cabinet; it came from Falkenhayn's immediate entourage, from the operative department of the General Staff. Colonel Bauer and the younger officers of the Supreme Command saw "with utter horror," as Colonel Bauer himself admits, how incompetent Falkenhayn was. Hard as they undoubtedly found it to transgress the rules of Prussian discipline, they decided to make Count von Plessen, the first adjutant of the Kaiser, see that a different man ought to be at the head of the army. Now the Kaiser no longer had a choice; he had to entrust Hindenburg with the direction of the army. Ludendorff remained Hindenburg's first adviser, with the explicit assurance of "full co-responsibility."
There were now two soldiers of the first rank at the head of the German Army. With firm hand, they disposed of one of the most serious crises: Rumania was got rid of, and the battle of the Somme was drowned in mud and blood. The so-called Hindenburg program greatly increased Germany's strength. New systems of defense and attack rendered it possible to cope with the enemy's increasing superiority in war materials. In February 1917 the Germans succeeded in evading the dreaded Nivelle offensive by the clever move of the "Alberich" manœuvre. As Churchill says: "The great military personality which Germany had discovered in her need, armed in the panoply and under the ægis of Hindenburg, by one sure stroke overturned all the strategy of General Nivelle."[ii] Hindenburg had the highest aim in view: he conserved and consolidated Germany's strength for a decision in Schlieffen's sense.
Here lay the tragic significance and also the critical point of the Hindenburg-Ludendorff strategy: would Germany be strong enough to inflict an annihilating defeat on her enemies? This question was not to be answered by a soldier alone. Germany was now in need of a statesman of the first order, one able to play up to the generals. Germany had no such statesman. Bethmann-Hollweg, who was longing for a conciliatory peace rather than counting on an overwhelming victory, was overthrown by the Supreme Military Command. The apostles of submarine warfare were responsible for bringing about the break with America. The majority of the Reichstag allowed itself to be guided by the will-to-victory of the generals and admirals rather than by the voice of political insight and reason. The political leadership failed completely when Dr. Michaelis was appointed as Bethmann-Hollweg's successor. The Kaiser had lost his self-assurance and had become a silent man. The Reichstag passed the platonic "Resolution of Peace," but lacked the courage to fight for its opinion. The Supreme Command of the Army, now the only source of energy, got into the way of commanding in the sphere of politics, too.
Historical truth makes it necessary to say that, in this decisive development, Ludendorff's will was more powerful than Hindenburg's. Quite properly, history speaks of "the Ludendorff dictatorship." Hindenburg himself describes his relation to Ludendorff, his junior by nineteen years, as that of a "happy marriage," in which all thoughts and plans were common property. Quite unlike Ludendorff, he admits with high-minded candor that he has neither taste nor talent for politics. "Maybe," he says, "my inclination for political criticism was too weak, maybe my feeling as a soldier was too strong. At any rate, this feeling is at the root of my aversion to everything diplomatic."
The truth is that neither Hindenburg nor Ludendorff had any intention to become dictators of belligerent Germany. But as there was a complete lack of political leadership -- neither the Kaiser nor the Chancellor nor the Reichstag giving expression to a clear program or to a definite will -- the leadership automatically fell to the two generals.
They were not statesmen: they were soldiers. And they were soldiers of a school on which the past was shedding its evening glow. Their dependence on Schlieffen's ideas now assumed a grim significance. The goal perpetually dangling before their mind was the great victory demanded by the strategy of annihilation. The idea of conciliation, of a modest peace, was foreign to them. Many months were spent on the preparations for the March offensive of 1918, "the greatest battle in world history." It was the most magnificent exhibition of force that has ever been seen on any battlefield. This colossal effort died away at Amiens. Schlieffen's two disciples were not able to break the resistance of the defending forces which had gained greatly in strength through the conditions of the modern battle of matériel. The German Army, overtaxed and well-nigh exhausted, was worn out at last by the repeated attempts to renew the offensive, undertaken to break the enemy's line and clear the way for a large operation. These desperate attempts ended in a sudden collapse, and the Supreme Command called for a truce.
Ludendorff disappeared out of the life of the German nation. Like a self-willed comet, he went on pursuing his eccentric course. The causes of the German collapse were a sealed book to him. He persisted in his conviction that the old Prusso-German state had been perfection, and that the right had been entirely on Germany's side. He became obsessed by the delusion that the German catastrophe was the work of evil spirits. There is no bridge leading from this island of a deranged mind to the new Germany.
Despite his seventy-two years, Hindenburg stood by the side of his nation in the darkest days. This scion of an old aristocratic family that had been established for centuries in the Mark of Brandenburg and in the service of the Prussian kings must have fought a hard fight with himself, in the face of the German revolution, in order not to lose his faith in the future. He tells us in his memoirs what gave him strength in these hours of dire calamity: "I had the firm confidence in the best of our nation that they would have the strength of mind to succeed in blending new ideas with our precious inheritance from the past for the benefit of the common weal. This was the unshakable conviction with which I left the bloody battlefield from nations." This conviction made it also possible for Hindenburg to shake hands with the chosen representative of new Germany, with Friedrich Ebert, the Social Democrat. An eyewitness of this scene wrote at that time: "Hindenburg, because he has a great heart, placed himself under Ebert. He sees not what separates but only what unites. He placed himself under Ebert without grumbling, without any great ado. Modestly, seriously, quietly, Hindenburg did what he regarded as his duty."
How many faithful followers of the king, without any profit to their cause, made a cheap show of irreconcilability in those days, cursing Germany, while she was lying prostrate, racked with pain and shaken by the fever of revolution ! How many are there even today who persist in their undying hatred and close their eyes to the historic fact that the Hohenzollern monarchy dug its own grave. It is in the nature of Hindenburg's character that this Prussian general has a more human, a more liberal, and a more unbiassed judgment than the politicians entangled in struggles of interest and of party. In a proclamation issued by the socialistic Workers' and Soldiers' Council of Cassel in November 1918 we read: "Hindenburg belongs to the German people and to the German Army. He led the army, and he did not forsake the people in their darkest days. His person is under our protection." Much more important than this protection, of which he stood in no need, is the respect which animated this proclamation.
All the same -- who would deny it? -- when the parties of the Right agreed on Hindenburg as their common candidate for the coming election of the President of the German Empire, the German republicans felt somewhat uneasy. The contrasts between classes and parties are much sharper among the German people than in any other of the great nations. This is a consequence of Germany's history. The Germans were not so fortunate as to be united in one national church. The cleft produced by the religious and economic progress of the united Empire after 1871 created a large industrial proletariat without in any way modifying the underlying feudalism of the ruling classes. This social conflict transformed the German people into two hostile nations. The German Republic today is not only suffering from the fact that it is the child of painful defeat; it is suffering to an even greater degree from clefts and chasms dividing the people. Democracy, too, has to put up with compromises. It is a difficult task to keep the bearers of the idea of republican democracy -- the Social Democrats, the Center, and the Democrats -- together on a common plane. One cannot wonder, therefore, that before the presidential election the republican-democratic parties did not succeed in finding a man to set up as a shining symbol of the new Germany. Hindenburg's democratic opponent, Dr. Marx, at that time the leader of the Center Party, was a colorless person whose name lacked lustre.
In his appeal before the election, Hindenburg wrote: " I believe I have done my duty in difficult times. If this duty now demands that I am to act as President of the Reich, according to the fundamental principles of the constitution, without respect to parties, persons, classes and callings, I shall not be found wanting. Our nation, bound in chains and rent by discord as it is, cannot be liberated by war or sedition. What we need is unremitting labor under peaceful and quiet conditions. What we must do in the first place is to cleanse our commonwealth of all those who have made politics a business of gain. I extend my hand to every German who is mindful of his dignity as a German and who stands for religious and social peace."
On April 28, 1925, Hindenburg was elected President of the German Republic. During the six years of his presidency he has kept all his promises. The privileges of a President of Germany are more limited than those of a President of the United States, but greater than those of the Head of the French Republic. During the first years of Hindenburg's term of office there were indications that he meant to restrict himself, with tact and dignity, to the duties of representation. As time went on he grew, as did his office. He has won the confidence of republican Germany by the way in which, as if it were a matter of course, he has respected every inch of the constitution to which he had sworn, warning off all tempters who wanted to make use of his name for political purposes.
It would be a mistake, however, to see in this confidence which Hindenburg enjoys on the part of the republicans a guarantee that the present régime in Germany will never be changed. Hindenburg has spent sixty out of his eighty-four years under the rule of the Hohenzollerns, and no one can expect this old general to give himself heart and soul to the new order of things. Bonds of sentiment attach him to the Prussia of William I -- to those years of development when Bismarck was the arbiter of the empire, and when the Prussian king was a plain and unassuming nobleman. Hindenburg always stood on different ground from that of the generals frequenting the court of William II. His sense of duty, inspiring him to serve the state "faithfully and loyally," dates from the ancien régime. This sense of duty has made it easier for him to place the service of the state above the oath which he had sworn to William II. "Faithfully and loyally" Hindenburg served William I; "faithfully and loyally" he fulfilled his duties under William II; "faithfully and loyally" he supports the new constitution which the German people made for themselves after the collapse of the monarchy.
The German Republic, however, is by no means proof against change. It is the offspring of a prudent match entered into by the Social Democratic and the Roman Catholic Center parties. This coalition seemed strong enough to safeguard the republic against reactionary assaults and to insure Germany's development along the lines of pacifism and in harmony with the rest of Europe. It was the Socialists and the Center Party, or rather, it was Socialist and Roman Catholic Germany that made it possible for Stresemann to carry on his policy of international conciliation and thereby slowly to regain for Germany the confidence of the world.
All this underwent a change in the German Republic in consequence of Stresemann's death and the September elections of 1930. A great number of the impoverished middle class, who had hitherto attached themselves to the moderate parties, now went over to the extreme Right and joined Herr Adolph Hitler's National Socialists. His party has become a power within the state -- especially since, in addition to its extensive following, it also enjoys the moral and material support of those who carry on heavy industry in Germany, and who intend to make use of the National Socialists as a protection against genuine socialism.
Without any doubt, it was these changes wrought in the picture of Germany through the September elections which ushered in the serious crisis from which the Germans are suffering today. Germany has to depend on foreign credits; she is in need of loans. In the last analysis, these loans are not granted by governments nor even by banks: they are granted by tens of thousands of small and large investors and capitalists, by private citizens in thousands of towns and villages. Such subscribers are guided exclusively by one paramount question: "Will the money I am going to invest be safe?" How do Mr. O'Connor of Chicago and Mr. Smith of Pittsburgh feel regarding the safety of money that is to be invested in Germany? At this point, then, the line of politics intersects the line of economics. Economic life is dependent on the confidence of foreign countries; and this confidence rests, in its turn, on domestic policy. In the main, Germany's policy prior to 1930 inspired confidence abroad; Stresemann was generally trusted as being a good European, and therefore business in Germany was readily financed. The effect of the September elections was like drawing a veil and revealing a new face of Germany. National Socialists hurled loud declarations of defiance against the international treaties; Stahlhelm parades and processions of soldiers were arranged in order to rouse the military spirit; speeches by generals playing the rôle of politicians and by swashbuckling professors completed the picture. In the hope of attaining to political power and of thus getting rid of high wages and socialist taxes, German heavy industry countenanced in every possible way the clamor of the ultra-conservatives. Could it be true that a reactionary coup, a constitutional revolution, was imminent? People in Germany were convinced that it was so. Prudent German capitalists and investors transferred their funds to Switzerland, Holland or to the United States. The amounts thus sent abroad grew to millions. Was it to be wondered at that the other countries began to take measures of safety--that they closed the doors of their banks to Germany and gave notices of withdrawals to terminate existing credits?
American investors cannot be expected to investigate Germany's ability to engage in war, or to find out whether there is more behind the blustering of the extreme nationalists than an irresponsible playing with words. General Ludendorff has published a sensational pamphlet in which he shows convincingly that, if war were to break out tomorrow, Germany would be absolutely done for. He points out that Germany could not possibly overcome the superiority of her enemies in technical armaments; nor could she improvise a trained army, fit for war service. There would be no time for defenseless Germany to turn her industrial equipment to practical account for purposes of war: on the second day of mobilization, her industrial plants and most of her towns would collapse in ruins under the superior air fleets of her enemies. However, the actual facts of Germany's situation did not prevent the expression by parties of the Right of their belief in her ability to carry on war from shaking the confidence of other countries and thus giving rise to a serious crisis.
What was Hindenburg's attitude during these critical times? He took his stand "faithfully and loyally" on the basis of the constitution; he has "faithfully and loyally" supported the Brüning Government. But everyone in Germany knows that, if a change of cabinet should bring the parties of the Right into power he would support just as "faithfully and loyally" a Hugenberg-Schacht government. The decision, however, is not for Hindenburg to make, but for Brüning. To a distant observer, it might seem that Dr. Brüning's government, in facing the storm raging among the parties of the Right, has shown no great amount of courage. Brüning's mistakes -- his approval of the plan of a customs union with Austria, and his attitude of non-interference towards Stahlhelm day at Breslau -- had their origin in his desire to calm this tempest on the Right. It is quite true there is no country in the world where the tension between Right and Left is as great as it is in Germany. Under the influence of the economic crisis antagonisms of a hundred years' standing, never fought out, have produced an explosive atmosphere which, without the restraining influence of the Reichswehr and the state police, would be bound to find vent in civil war. The embarrassing necessity of having to carry on a government on the top of powder barrels has compelled the chancellor to walk in felt slippers. But it has become apparent that this policy of caution has not proved altogether a success; for it was precisely this nervousness of the Brüning Government that inspired the revolutionary parties of the Right with new courage. Brüning had to recognize the fact that there are things in the world which cannot be reconciled under any circumstances; for example, a heroic policy, conjuring up pictures of war, cannot be reconciled with an economic policy, involving foreign loans. The one aim destroys the other. The one psychology is directly antagonistic to the other.
Germany's emergence from the present crisis depends on whether sober and practical insight will prevail over the old-fashioned heroic views of life. President Hindenburg would like to reconcile what is irreconcilable. In him lives the memory that the German people were united in the war. He has learned to appreciate the value of German social democracy; but he would not like to burn the bridges leading to the Right. What is now needed is a new symbol by which Germany can be won to an understanding with the world. President Hindenburg is a symbol of yesterday.
[i]Winston S. Churchill: "The World Crisis, 1916-1918." New York: Scribner, 2 vols., 1927. Vol. I, p. 249.
[ii]Churchill, Vol. I, p. 278.