Rotten to the Core?
How America’s Political Decay Accelerated During the Trump Era
GEOPOLITIK DES PAZIFISCHEN OZEANS. BY KARL HAUSHOFER. Berlin: Vowinckel, 1924.
ONE of the methods which Karl Haushofer uses to hammer his ideas into the minds of his readers is the constant repetition of simple truths. He likes, for instance, to quote a remark by the English geographer and statesman, Sir Thomas Holdich, about "the absolutely immeasurable cost of geographical ignorance." And he never tires of citing Ovid's "fas est ab hoste doceri" (it is right to learn from the enemy), and Disraeli's "at last the best informed one wins."
These three simple maxims help also to explain the American public's sudden and amazing interest in German geopolitics and its master. Not so long ago our geographical education was insufficient and uninspired. Then all at once the man in the street and the political leader alike became aware that we might have to pay a high price for our ignorance. In the hour of danger we were ready at last "to learn from the enemy." The magic word "geopolitics" and the mysterious personality of its prophet kindled the interest of a broad public, and the interest was intensified by the manner in which this "secret weapon" of Hitler's was first presented. German geopolitics invaded the United States as some sort of super-science. We were given an exciting lesson on "the thousand scientists behind Hitler;" we were told that Haushofer and his followers dominated the thinking of Hitler and that it was Haushofer who directed the German General Staff's plans for world dominion.
Even if one turned from such journalistic approaches to recognized authorities in the field of international politics, one came upon remarks like the one by Colonel Beukema of West Point that history will rate Karl Haushofer as more important than Adolf Hitler because Haushofer's studies made possible Hitler's victories both in power politics and in war. No wonder, then, that everywhere "geopolitics" became the political catchword of the day, that the highest eulogy a political writer could earn was to be called "the American Haushofer" and that colleges all over the country hurried to organize "Institutes of Geopolitics."
But German geopolitics is not something which we can simply adopt outright for American use, for it has all the characteristics of a typical German Weltanschauung. It is an important point for us to keep in mind when we deal with geopolitics in theory or practice. Some of the proponents of geopolitics in this country have, coolly and cynically, surrendered to this Weltanschauung. They do not see that geographical materialism is nothing but a dynamic nihilism which flourishes only in a nation which has buried its gods and is worshipping Mars instead. Freedom and justice for all and not only for the mighty ones, the simple tenets of Christianity -- such "impractical" concepts as these do not figure in modern German geopolitics. Nor do we find them in the theses of some American "realists." They forget that there are imponderables which can defeat the most precise schemes of power politicians.
It is also necessary to call attention to the wall which separates German geopolitical thought and ideology from the geopolitics of other nations. There is no such thing as a general science of geopolitics. It does not have a singular form. There are as many geopolitics as there are conflicting states struggling under geographic conditions which are, as in the case of sea powers and land powers, for example, as different as day is from night. As it has been said that every nation has the government it deserves, so it can be said that it has the geopolitics it deserves. The German definition limits its use to Germany, a warning which should be heeded by those who try to adopt the sinuous ways of Haushofer's geopolitics to American use.
On the other hand, German geopolitics has developed ways of thinking and "seeing" on a global scale from which we can and must learn. And an understanding of the roots and branches of German geopolitics sometimes enables us to look behind the curtain of German grand strategy and to understand its ultimate goals. But we shall be able to profit from studying the methods of the German school only if we are aware of the fundamental differences between the German and American situations.
Of more than thirty studies which Karl Haushofer wrote (in addition to his regular monthly reviews) on what he called the Indo-Pacific space, his "Geopolitik des Pazifischen Ozeans" (Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean), first published in 1924, has held its position as his most significant work -- as the Bible of German geopolitics. Its subtitle, "Studies on the Relationship between Geography and History," clearly indicates that it was intended to contain more than an analysis of the geopolitical importance of the Pacific area. The book is, therefore, the ideal introduction to German geopolitics in general and to an understanding of the man Haushofer, so far as it is possible for Anglo-American minds to understand the truly Faustian nature of his genius. But to grasp his concepts of geography and history fully one must not fall into the error of looking at this book as something final. Only by carefully following Haushofer's monthly surveys since 1924 in the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik (varying in length from 1,500 to 4,500 words) can one begin to realize the man's creative power. Nor are his writings easy to master. To him as to Spengler, with whom he has much in common, "to write history is to write poetry." He himself speaks, characteristically enough, of the "demoniac beauty of geopolitics." But his poetry is obscure, his style is involved. Too often he seems wilfully to darken his political analyses and predictions. His ideal reader would be one who understands what is written between the lines.[i]
"Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean" begins with a discourse on the meaning and aims of geopolitics. "Geopolitics is the scientific foundation of the art of political action in the struggle of the state organisms for existence and for Lebensraum." Its aim is to become "the geographical conscience of the nation." The geopolitician must be an artist whose thoughts encircle the globe and whose creations work in the spheres of time and space, by the laws of which he is bound.
Such definitions, it need scarcely be said, do not lead far. If we disassociate geopolitics from its sinister glamor it might be defined as the younger and sometimes, in another sense, rather juvenile brother of political geography. While political geography deals mainly with the investigation of conditions which are significant in the relationship of earth and state, geopolitics uses these factors for actual political blueprints. It asks "dynamic" questions. Its domain is the prognosis of politics. Defined as prosaically as possible, it might be called applied political geography.
As early as 1908, when he first went to Japan, Haushofer had grasped what the rise of new forces in the East meant to the destinies of Europe. He had been deeply impressed by Friedrich Ratzel's fascinating concept of the "law of the growing spaces." It had led him naturally to the shores of the Pacific, which he describes as the largest "physiographic region on earth." He saw it as a power sphere, slowly awakening, for the first time in history, to the consciousness of being one of the largest land and sea spaces. "A giant space is expanding before our eyes," he wrote, "with forces pouring into it which, in cool matter-of-factness, await the dawn of the Pacific age, the successor to the aging Atlantic, the over-age Mediterranean and the European era."[ii] Theodore Roosevelt had said the same thing when he spoke of the declining resources of the Atlantic area and predicted the dawn of the Pacific age. But Haushofer was more specific. He drew the outlines of an actual, if long-term, politics, following the elementary lesson taught by Leopold von Ranke that "politics is the attempt to safeguard and further national interests in the midst of a conflict of the Great Powers, both in the realm of ideas and realities."
When the General Haushofer of the First World War had led his division, unbeaten in battle, back to his suffering fatherland, he had begun immediately to draw new blueprints of gigantic dimensions. He knew that the war had ruined not Germany alone but all of Europe. He repeats many times what Lord Kitchener said to him in 1909: that he was opposed to the coming war between England and Germany because it would ruin Europe's future in the Pacific forever. America and Japan would be the only ones to profit from such a war, he added.
Deeply offended pride and hatred against the Powers which had humiliated his beloved fatherland caused Haushofer to welcome the rise of the colored world. He foresaw the coming doom of the white race with fatalism and even with malicious joy. This attitude is characteristic of Haushofer's thinking: he constantly points to the fatal mistake which the white winners of the war made when they permitted the Japanese to take over Germany's Pacific islands. The loss of Germany's foothold in the Pacific gave Haushofer a basis for the claim that German and Japanese vital aims no longer overlapped anywhere. Germany, he said, could therefore subscribe to the cry of "Asia for the Asiatics" and prepare to coöperate with Japan on the ground of a "symbiosis of cultural politics."[iii]
The following quotation from "Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean" contains the whole of Haushofer's Pacific philosophy and indicates its roots of resentment and fatalism:
By a dreadful decision, with consequences of utmost gravity for those who made it, the ocean-embracing cultural and economic powers of our own race have expelled us from their midst. They have left us in no doubt about the fact that only their destruction and decomposition will create another life for us who are now mutilated and enslaved. Thus they have forced us to search for comrades of destiny who are in a similar situation. We see such companions of disaster in the 900 million southeast Asiatics. They struggle, as we do, for their right of self-determination, against the same oppressors as ourselves; but they fight to some extent with more efficient weapons created by the living conditions of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, the arsenal of a Pacific geopolitics. We see that in these spaces the results of a punishing justice are partly in preparation and partly already consummated, to be felt by our merciless economic and political enemies and oppressors.
The right of self-determination plays a large part in this concept. But how different it is from Woodrow Wilson's ideal! The right of self-determination of small nations does not enter a mind which is preoccupied with the idea, first clearly defined by Ratzel, that every people must be educated up from smaller to larger space conceptions. Haushofer is dominated by his conviction that a declining space conception brings decay of the state.
Thus he looks to the awakened people of the Pacific:
Thrown back upon the minimum of existence, driven from the sun into the shadow, cut off from the free sea, and even deprived, until 1936, of free traffic on our own rivers, the Germans find two-thirds of mankind as fellow-sufferers on the beaches of the Indo-Pacific spaces. They long to break the same chains, they long for the same liberation and for the achievement of the highest goal of nations and individuals alike, the free personality governed by its own laws. That is the ultimate reason why the Germans must not lose contact with the Pacific.[iv]
By studying the Pacific the Germans must learn again to think and feel in large-space terms. Germany must play her part, if possible with Haushofer as director, in the great tragedy of world history in which the people of the largest continent will shake off the guardianship imposed on them by the sea Powers.
"The struggle of India and China for liberation from foreign domination and capitalistic pressure," he wrote, "agrees with the secret dreams of Central Europe." [v] Haushofer compares his own views with Canning's, after the Napoleonic wars: "While Europe was paralyzed by small-space conditions, Canning laid the foundations for an almost riskless growth in the early Victorian period by the recognition of the independence movements in the Near East and South America. Now the Indo-Pacific forces, moving in the same direction, look out with increasing confidence for help from the outside. . . . They look to Germany for help and it is there that they should find a greater understanding of their geopolitical fundamentals." He continues:
The instinct of these things to come has become a living force, and the battlecry of the self-determination of small nations, which was used as a temporary tactical means to deceive the world, is now turned against its inventors. It has awakened the self-consciousness of the big neighbors of the small nations, of the great cultural spaces which are bound together by the eternal manifestations of their soil. Suddenly the cultural sphere of Central Europe, tormented for thousands of years like the others, becomes aware of a world-embracing community and destiny. It feels that it is liberated from artificial isolation; it sees itself accepted into the community of the struggling large spaces of the earth. It is for this reason that the geopolitical giant of the monsoon-lands and the struggle of its 900 millions for self-determination mean destiny for the people of Central Europe, too.
Nothing is left in Haushofer of the instinct of the unity of the white race as it was expressed by William II. He deliberately and sometimes even cynically denounces such feelings: "It is not up to the Germans to create a white bloc. This bloc was smashed by those who used colored troops in the Rhineland to keep down a white race. The opposite postulate, 'Oppressed peoples of the world, unite!' can be much better justified on ethical grounds."[vi] The following quotation is even more outspoken: "We must counteract the oppression which we suffer from the uncultured colored peoples of a half-African power (France) by helping to liberate the cultured colored races which will rise against our oppressors. Thus we shall hold the strategic lines of a future geopolitics of the Pacific; there lies our chance to share actively in world politics in the spaces from which we have been displaced."[vii]
Such are the factors and the emotional background which explain the destiny-laden connection between German geopolitics and the Pacific. But since German geopolitics and Haushofer are identical, we must also take into account the strong bonds which bind the man Haushofer to the Far East, particularly to Japan. German geopolitics would not have turned to the Far East and centered so definitely in the Pacific if Haushofer had not decided to make this part of the world the center of all his planning. It was not only in his "Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean" that he tried to bring the East close to the German people. As far back as 1911 his doctoral thesis dealt with the geographic bases of Japan's military power; in 1913 he published "Dai Nihon," reflections on Japan's military power, her position in the world and her future; and other books and articles on Japan followed.
He would not have followed this course had it not been that in Japan and China he had received the deepest impressions of his life. Thus the September day in 1908 when as a 39-year-old Captain on the Bavarian General Staff he received the unexpected order to leave immediately on a two-year mission as Bavarian military attaché in Japan, was not only the decisive date in Haushofer's life; it was also an important date in history. For Haushofer then started to forge the weapons of a new German Far Eastern policy. In addition, he became "the geopolitical adviser of Japan itself," as one of his closest friends declared in 1929.
It is impossible to describe briefly the contents of Haushofer's "Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean," which, as already indicated, is not only a political book but an attempt to educate the German people for a global view of world politics. Only such a view would make them "see" the coming clash between "the pirates of the steppes and the pirates of the sea," to use a favorite formulation which Haushofer borrowed from Mackinder. It is thus -- not in textbook language, but like a great artist and dreamer of world revolutions -- that he takes up one momentous topic after another. Every point of the Far Eastern world on which he focuses his attention is illuminated by a new light. His mastery of his vast field and of hundreds of books and articles published all over the world is amazing. (That so many American critics dismiss him as just one more of Hitler's henchmen proves only that they have never gone to the trouble to read him.)
Always in the background of the "Geopolitics of the Pacific" stand Germany and Japan. It is this attempt to link the great spaces of the Pacific to the small spaces of Germany that makes this book and its author so powerful a current factor in practical politics. Japan is the nucleus of the revolution in the East. The two years which Haushofer spent there biased him in favor of Japan and against China. He likes to point out that Japan, so often accused of militarism, kept peace for two and a half centuries, until it was taught by America and the West how "to secure its living-space by defensive strokes."[viii] Even his own disciples have been troubled by his emotional prejudice in favor of Japan. One of them explains pro-Japanese sentiment in Germany by the influence of "the wonderful hospitality in the enchanting frame of Japanese nature." Even more amusingly, he raises the question whether Haushofer would not have done better to speak of the "northern Japanese" instead of the "Nordic Japanese."
Haushofer sees Japan as a nation with two faces: one gazes towards the Pacific, the other towards Asia. In the past, because of her insular location, Japan has always turned to the ocean. Only in this century has she started her expansion in Asia.
As the years passed Haushofer could not help becoming more and more doubtful about the chances of Japan in her continental adventure. "Will power and purpose remain in balance?" he asks in 1938. "Or will the Pan Asiatic drive for world dominion drag the insular empire beyond the limitations of her strength? Are her leaders prepared to think in terms of continents instead of oceans, as they would have to think in order to accomplish so far-reaching a task?"
The following sentences written at the same time did not differ basically from what he had been writing since 1924:
Vladivostok, from which bomber squadrons and submarines can be sent against Japan's most vulnerable arteries and communication centers, is the only place which "the proud, oceanic face" of the Japanese Navy is not able to control. Furthermore, the possibility of coöperation between Soviet Russia and the United States on the northern shores of the Pacific takes shape from month to month (1938). It would be a great mistake for the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo triangle to delude itself about the rôle of the United States. Its antagonism against the Axis makes it possible to throw a bridge across the deep gulf between Wall Street's super-capitalism and Moscow's Bolshevism.[ix]
Fully aware of the tragic possibilities of Japan's adventure, Haushofer worked for years on the gigantic tasks of persuading Japan to come to terms with China and Russia and, on the other side of the world, of convincing Hitler that he should live in peace with Russia. The persuasion of Hitler was, of course, the chief problem. The editors of the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik had stubbornly advocated reconciliation and friendship with Russia from the beginning, and Hitler's noisy crusade against the arch-enemy, Bolshevism, made no impression on them. Since 1924 they had written in favor of an Asiatic alliance including Russia, Japan, India and China, with Germany as partner. "Germany will have to decide," wrote one of the editors in 1925, "where she stands; does she want to be a satellite of the Anglo-Saxon powers and their super-capitalism, which are united with the other European nations against Russia, or will she be an ally of the Pan Asiatic union against Europe and America?" The answer is that "no nation is closer to Russia than is Germany; only Germany can understand the Russian soul; Germany and Russia have been friends for centuries; their economic structures are complementary; they must hang together." The German-Russian nonaggression pact of August 23, 1939, was Haushofer's greatest triumph; it brought him close to the fulfillment of his most audacious dreams. "Never again," he prayed, "shall Germany and Russia endanger, by ideological conflicts, the geopolitical foundations of their adjustable spaces."[x]
The following sentences, written by Haushofer in February 1932, throw a dazzling light on the manner in which he viewed Russia's -- and particularly Stalin's -- foreign policy in the Far East:
The attitude of Moscow and of the Eurasiatics towards developments in India, East Asia and the Near East deserves increased attention. Will Moscow be ready to jump into action at the right moment? And will such action be dictated by conceptions of Russian international policy or by a world revolutionary ideology? The policy towards Japan will be the test. Stalin's extremely cautious policy has been explained . . . by the claim that the Russian leader is not master of his own decisions. This, I believe, is wrong. Stalin's policy seems to me to originate from a much better understanding of the situation than the West is capable of perceiving. . . . In Moscow it is realized much better than elsewhere that the victor, in great-Asiatic dynamics, is the one who succeeds in letting the others discern his plans last, and who takes the initiative in the power-center last. Also, the limits of the dangers threatening from Japan are known there precisely, as well as the areas where one is secure from Japanese aggressive infiltration. Moscow, with great skill, has passed the option to the North Americans, whose nerves are considered inferior; and indeed certain symptoms can be found to support this assumption."[xi]
With the same patient farsightedness, Haushofer labored to guide Japan towards friendship with Soviet Russia and China.
In May 1940 he wrote: "If it were possible for the nations of the Rising Sun and of the Hammer and Sickle to end their mutual distrust . . . they would be invincible in their domestic seas."[xii] It was destiny, alike for Japan and for Germany, to come to terms with Russia, "the geographical pivot of history." Sir Halford Mackinder had first given Haushofer this grandiose view of Russia in 1904. He never forgot it and made it the basis of all his grand strategy. Japan and Germany were two stations on the "inner line" which, in the age of the railroad and the airplane, gave continental Powers such decisive advantages over the aging sea Powers; but between those stations was Russia. "The geopolitical future will belong to the Russian-Chinese bloc." Therefore, he concluded, Japan must reconcile her aims with Russia's.
The less friction there is in the relations between Japan and Russia, the less chance there will be for the Anglo-Saxons and the Chinese to impose a policy of divide and rule. Japan and Russia, if united, are invincible in East Asia. . . . A Mongolia led by Russia, a South Manchuria led by Japan, and between them a buffer region . . . that could be a more durable combination than all the constructions of Versailles. . . . Japan could become the continent-minded partner of a continental politics of the old world. . . . This would give Japan complete protection and freedom for action in the Pacific, a geopolitical possibility of immense importance not only for Japan and Russia but also for Central Europe and its enemies.[xiii]
Haushofer's concept of the grand strategy of the future, as set forth in the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik in 1930 (p. 961) is more candid than he is accustomed to be in the pages of his journal:
The ultimate solution of Japan's problem of over-population is expansion into the spheres of least resistance. . . . At this time, Japan's strategy still cautions her against a direct attack on Australia. But it should not be forgotten that the tropical north and northeast of Australia today give shelter to only a few thousand white men although they could offer homesteads for thirty million people. Heat and humidity make these spaces unfit for large-scale colonization by the white races; the climate is more suitable for the Japanese.
In this connection it is interesting to note Haushofer's criticism of the United States which, because of its "extensive colonial space structure," is unable to understand the dilemma caused in eastern Asia and Central Europe by population pressure. "It is an exceptional case," writes Haushofer, "when an American, Isaiah Bowman, becomes impressed by the population density of Japan and admits that 'it must overflow its boundaries.'"[xiv] Haushofer forgets to say, however, that Bowman added, "if not by people then by exports." This instance of Haushofer's utter disregard of all attempts to solve such problems by international economic coöperation is characteristic.
But Japan did not listen to Haushofer's admonitions to strike first against the British Empire (and France and The Netherlands.) Instead of turning to the south, Japan started her drive on the continent. Haushofer warned that this would draw the Chinese and the Indians together and would result in the formation of an unconquerable human bloc of 800 millions. He reminded the Japanese generals who won the upper hand over the admirals that they would have to win the peace, too.
Haushofer himself has no real illusions: "Japan has underestimated the immense spaces of China and she will never understand the spirit of modern China. She has not understood the greatness of Chiang Kai-shek, symbol of the new China, the first leader in history to represent the whole Chinese nation."[xv] Again: "China is a sea which makes all rivers flowing into it salty; if Japan penetrates too far into China she will be drowned." If an empire could arise with "Japan's soul in China's body," it would be a power that would put even the empires of Russia and the United States in the shade. But this, Haushofer knew, was an old man's empty dream.
In the world of realities there was but one solution: the inner line would have to be held in peaceful collaboration with the powers of the "geographical pivot of history." Germany as well as Japan would have to seek peace and friendship with Russia and China. Then Japan, with her back secure against continental attack, could start her crusade for an empire in the Pacific. But neither Germany nor Japan listened to their would-be mentor. On June 22, 1941, Haushofer's plans were smashed by another dreamer in the Bavarian mountains. Since the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik is no longer available in the United States we cannot know how Haushofer reacted publicly to Hitler's invasion of Russia. But no matter what Haushofer the politician may have written, between its lines must nest fear, the mother of defeat.
[i] Haushofer's rule, incidentally, "never to report anything that is untrue, but not necessarily to put down everything that is true," should carry a lesson to recent prophets of American geopolitics, among them N. J. Spykman, author of "America's Strategy in World Politics." (This remark is not meant to give the impression that Professor Spykman has reached a "true" conclusion when he incautiously stresses the advisability of maintaining Japan and Germany as military powers to balance the power of China and Russia after the war is won.)
[ii] Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, 1925, p. 63.
[iii] "Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean," 1924, p. 162. Unless otherwise indicated, subsequent citations will refer to this edition.
[iv] Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, 1938, p. 820.
[v] "Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean," p. 132.
[vi] Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, 1928, p. 1040.
[vii] "Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean," p. 242.
[viii] "Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean," p. 310.
[ix] Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, 1938, p. 937-42.
[x] Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, 1939, p. 773.
[xi] Ibid., 1932, p. 132.
[xii] Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, 1940, p. 292.
[xiii] Haushofer calls it the "Eurasian continental organization from the Rhine to the Amur and Yangtze." ("Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean." p. 142-3.)
[xiv] "Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean," 3rd edition (1938), p. 212.
[xv] Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, 1939, p. 30.