Primary Documents - Erich Ludendorff on the New German Government, February 1919
Following the German revolution in November 1918 - which saw the forced abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II - a fresh constitution was drawn up and a new assembly established; the latter first met on 6 February 1919.
Reproduced below is former military leader Erich Ludendorff's condemnation of the new government, in which he first expounded his widely aired belief that the army had been effectively 'stabbed in the back' by subversive political forces rather than beaten in the field.
Click here to read new President Friedrich Ebert's opening address to the assembly on 7 February 1919; click here to read an extract from a follow-up address four days later. Click here to read British journalist George Saunders' summary of the compilation of the new constitution and its implications.
Erich Ludendorff on the New German Government, February 1919
The power of the state failed, as nobody can doubt, because in its external and internal policy, before and during the war, it had not recognized the exigencies of the struggle for existence in which Germany has always been involved. It had demonstrated its inability to understand that politics is war and war is politics.
The situation into which the German Empire drifted was not attributable to its constitution - the same constitution which existed in the days of Bismarck - but was caused by the members of the state themselves.
They understood neither history nor the signs of the times, nor could they, prepossessed, as they were, in favour of international and pacifist ideas, begin to realize that, in view of the turn of mind of other nations, power in the hand of a strong government is the only means of securing the liberty and well-being of a people; that only the power of the state can prevent criminal confusion within and guard against slavery imposed from without.
Our executive government deserved its fate. But what was done intensified the misfortune. An innovation would have been justified if the leaders of the majorities, supported by the confidence of the Reichstag, had really created a new and strong government aiming at the national defence - something that the former government had neglected to do.
This purpose was expressed, but deeds were lacking. The majorities undertook nothing to secure the power of the state against aggression from without in the last hour. On the contrary, they occupied themselves with interior affairs, for the purpose of increasing their own power. They did not tell themselves that the possession of power imposes duties; and when they came to the top they soon proved even more inefficient than had been the previous government.
Finally it may be said that it could not have been otherwise. The parties and men who now held the reins of government belonged to those who, previously in Peace times, had laboured to bring about the internal weakening of Germany. T hey were the parties and men ever ready for peace with their destructive, unstable mode of thinking, the men who doubted the power of the people of their own nation.
They endeavoured, in their external policy, to effect a peace based on compromise, which lay beyond the realm of possibility; within, they sought to introduce the Parliamentary form of government, which would break the power of the Emperor and the princes of the land, so that they might put it into their own hands.
This ambition went hand in hand with the desire of pleasing Wilson and thus facilitating a peace. They did not tell themselves that what an enemy wants can only be bad for ourselves. They were strong alone in the fervour with which they believed in the mission of the President of the United States to establish the happiness of the whole world, and in the eagerness with which, in consequence of the attitude of the government till then in power, they lent faith to the delusive representation that the high command had trodden underfoot the aims at peace of the Imperial Chancellor.
The belief in the human reconciliation, personified in the adoration of Wilson, the servile fear of aggravating the enemy by inflaming him and the feeling, correct in itself, of obtaining and maintaining full power within the country itself through a bad peace - these, together with a consideration of the independent social democracy, were in the following days to gain the victory in the Cabinet.
Government and Reichstag left the army in the lurch, and the political leadership did the same for the military commanders.
When the terrible conditions of Versailles became known in May, 1919, the democratic deputy, Conrad Haussman, who, in the session of October 17, 1918, as Secretary of State, had considered possible a continuation of the struggle and who, like his associate von Payer, had probably foreseen the disastrous consequences of a Wilson peace, gave expression to the following opinion: "Had our army had our workmen, on the 5th and 9th of November, known that peace would have looked that way, the army would not have laid down its arms; it would have held out."
The military command had warned the political leaders against disarmament, because, in its instinctive knowledge of the nature power and mode of thinking of the enemy, it had gauged with correctness what was to come. Not our brave army, which scorns the accusation, laid down its arms; it was forced to do so by our political leadership.
The people followed their bad leaders - and "misleaders" - and rushed blindly to their fate. They could and would not, even now, understand the aims of the military leaders, who had correctly gauged the will of the enemy but also knew his weaknesses, and who had demanded, as the only possible measure, the utmost resolution and exertions of a united people.
When the Reichstag's majority had attained its goal as regarded the internal policy of the country, had robbed the Kaiser and the princes of the confederation of all power, and had strengthened their own, the government, in its fourth note to Wilson, consummated the political capitulation before the enemy. In a spirit of abject servility they fawningly styled the prospective peace of annihilation a "peace of justice."
Finally the political leadership disarmed the unconquered army and delivered over Germany to the destructive will of the enemy in order that it might carry through the revolution in Germany unhindered. That was the climax in the betrayal of the German people.
Thus was perpetrated the crime against the German nation. No political regime has ever committed anything worse. Not the enemy, but our political leadership broke down the power of our military command, and consequently of the nation - that power which was embodied in the officers' corps and in the army.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VII, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
French tanks were used for the first time in battle on 17 April 1917, when the 'Char Schneider' (as they were known) was used during the Second Battle of the Aisne.
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