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Going Over The Top: The Death of Empire (Part 4 - Turnips, Socialism, and Mutiny)

David Flin

No-one who matters.
#4
I love the fact of the Bavarians going "hey, the Prussians are over there and in range of your guns, just saying"
Oh, they went much further than that.

"Hey, Tommy. The Prussians will be launching a trench raid tonight at 0100."

From what I've since been able to gather, Bavarians and Prussians didn't get on very well, and the Bavarians, by 1916, basically had come to the conclusion that they would rather be in Bavaria drinking beer and making little Bavarians rather than sitting in muddy trenches with rats, getting shot and gassed and being uncomfortable. The Saxons felt a strong kinship with the English: "We're Saxons, you're Anglo-Saxons," and preferred the English to the Prussians.

And yet in so many after-the-war histories from outside Germany, the Germans are generally portrayed as a unified entity with no internal disputes.
 

Alex Richards

Tends to eat truffles once found
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#5
Oh, they went much further than that.

"Hey, Tommy. The Prussians will be launching a trench raid tonight at 0100."

From what I've since been able to gather, Bavarians and Prussians didn't get on very well, and the Bavarians, by 1916, basically had come to the conclusion that they would rather be in Bavaria drinking beer and making little Bavarians rather than sitting in muddy trenches with rats, getting shot and gassed and being uncomfortable. The Saxons felt a strong kinship with the English: "We're Saxons, you're Anglo-Saxons," and preferred the English to the Prussians.

And yet in so many after-the-war histories from outside Germany, the Germans are generally portrayed as a unified entity with no internal disputes.
The historiography if Clemenceau had gotten his way and Germany had been broken up would be fascinating- examples of things like this being held up and used as part of an effort by the Bavarians and so forth to show how they'd never really been German in the first place, it was just a Bismarckian innovation.
 

Kato

Bloody Difficult Woman
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
#7
Its fascinating to think of how a Wilhelmine Germany might have developed through the 1920s and 1930s - outside of the usual victorious Kaiserreich scenarios - in either a war-averted or status quo ante/draw scenario. At some point that constitutional and political pressure feels like it ought to give, and Wilhelm II isn't likely to be the most deft of navigators in a resultant crisis.

I wonder if a bluff abdication might have been on the cards - as tried with success by his predecessors - only for the Reichstag to actually accept it.

And yet in so many after-the-war histories from outside Germany, the Germans are generally portrayed as a unified entity with no internal disputes.
Here's the thing that's puzzling me reading this and the wider article - what was the contemporary view inside Germany, and how did what actually happened become the Stabbed in the Back myth? I guess some of it would be not so common knowledge or widely disseminated, and some of it would be sunk cost fallacy ("Remember when half the village literally staved to death no more than a couple of years ago?", "Yes, it was when we were winning the war", "That was winning?", "Well obviously, otherwise we wouldn't have made such sacrifices"). But things like the 100 days, the privations on the front, the mutinies (and the grievances that drove them), the experience of actually losing on the front - that must have left some sort of cultural memory. The Reichstag deputies who pushed for peace must have had constituencies, and been at least as representative of them as the Prussian Junkers were of their estates (pointedly far from the front, as I'm sure would have been prominent in the minds of any Rheinelanders or Bavarians west of the Rhine).

I wonder has there been any demographic study of stabbed-in-the-back sentiment? Was it a thing born into more strongly by those born after 1900 who came of age in the humiliation of the 20s and early 30s, and who only had official stories of the glory that was the 2nd Reich? Or was there a genuine collective national amnesia across the war generation, not least among some of the veterans who became early members of the Nazi and similar parties?

"Lets have another go" feels like it ought to have been the exception rather than the rule of interwar sentiment.
 

Alex Richards

Tends to eat truffles once found
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#8
Here's the thing that's puzzling me reading this and the wider article - what was the contemporary view inside Germany, and how did what actually happened become the Stabbed in the Back myth? I guess some of it would be not so common knowledge or widely disseminated, and some of it would be sunk cost fallacy ("Remember when half the village literally staved to death no more than a couple of years ago?", "Yes, it was when we were winning the war", "That was winning?", "Well obviously, otherwise we wouldn't have made such sacrifices"). But things like the 100 days, the privations on the front, the mutinies (and the grievances that drove them), the experience of actually losing on the front - that must have left some sort of cultural memory. The Reichstag deputies who pushed for peace must have had constituencies, and been at least as representative of them as the Prussian Junkers were of their estates (pointedly far from the front, as I'm sure would have been prominent in the minds of any Rheinelanders or Bavarians west of the Rhine).

I wonder has there been any demographic study of stabbed-in-the-back sentiment? Was it a thing born into more strongly by those born after 1900 who came of age in the humiliation of the 20s and early 30s, and who only had official stories of the glory that was the 2nd Reich? Or was there a genuine collective national amnesia across the war generation, not least among some of the veterans who became early members of the Nazi and similar parties?

"Lets have another go" feels like it ought to have been the exception rather than the rule of interwar sentiment.
I think a lot of it really must be the shape of the post-war situation. When the country is going to absolute shite then there's a lot of appeal in a mythology of 'we'd have been ok if it weren't for those guys selling out the country. They must have been doing it in the war as well.'

It's probably noteworthy that the NSDAP were never quite able to beat Zentrum to top the polls in the Moselle Valley constituencies to the Reichstag. There's a big demographic reason of course, but considering that they were able to overcome that in Bavaria in 1933, but not the lower Rhineland I think there's something slightly more subtle there as well.
 

Kato

Bloody Difficult Woman
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
#9
I think a lot of it really must be the shape of the post-war situation. When the country is going to absolute shite then there's a lot of appeal in a mythology of 'we'd have been ok if it weren't for those guys selling out the country. They must have been doing it in the war as well.'

It's probably noteworthy that the NSDAP were never quite able to beat Zentrum to top the polls in the Moselle Valley constituencies to the Reichstag. There's a big demographic reason of course, but considering that they were able to overcome that in Bavaria in 1933, but not the lower Rhineland I think there's something slightly more subtle there as well.
Yeah - I'm conscious that I'm looking for reason in what is a fundamentally irrational scapegoating situation. There's a school of thought that argues that if the Entente offensives of late 1918 had somehow been carried through further into Germany proper - though "all the way to Berlin" is probably hyperbole - then the stabbed-in-the-back myth might not have arisen. Against all this, I'm sceptical, because just how big does a defeat have to be to tip a hypothetical future sentiment from "revenge!" to "never again" - and how can that possibly be known in the mud on the morning of 11/11/1918, or indeed around Christmas tables missing sons, husbands and fathers two months later?

Its probably a sad reflection on humanity if the answer to "how bad does it have to be before we stop doing war (for a bit, at least)" is "WWII".

On the regional divisions thing, I do wonder how well a deeply cynical divide and rule policy of "only the Prussians are really to blame here" would have worked out, if it had resulted in a balkanised Germany, or else one partitioned two or three ways? (E.g. separating the Bavarians, Silesians and Saxons from the Prussians, and perhaps uniting them with the German Austrians; creating a 'liberal-socialist' North Germany of the other states formerly directly or indirectly under Hohenzollern rule - conveniently removing the Ruhr coal and steel, and North Sea ship yards from Berlin's control; and leaving a rump Brandenburg-Prussia in the east, cut in two by Poland and in all senses neutered).

Probably the sort of final treaty that would drive a "steady on there..." reaction from the Entente's revenge-minded diplomats, turn interwar German hatred for Versailles up to eleven, lend itself to well-meaning British voices arguing after the fact that we ought to revise the terms a bit, create even deeper economic ruin across what was a highly advanced and integrated German economy, and result in 2-3 out of 3 of the successor states turning red by 1925 - though Gross-Bayern-Osterreich could probably be propped up as a more traditional conservative autocracy, and Rump Prussia is ensured as a *DNVP dictatorship in fairly short order unless an alt-Polish Soviet war plays out differently and the dominoes start to fall. But I'm digressing into rule-of-interesting looking maps here, and can't really speak to the plausibility of such a peace settlement.
 

David Flin

No-one who matters.
#10
Probably the sort of final treaty that would drive a "steady on there..." reaction from the Entente's revenge-minded diplomats, turn interwar German hatred for Versailles up to eleven, lend itself to well-meaning British voices arguing after the fact that we ought to revise the terms a bit, create even deeper economic ruin across what was a highly advanced and integrated German economy, and result in 2-3 out of 3 of the successor states turning red by 1925 - though Gross-Bayern-Osterreich could probably be propped up as a more traditional conservative autocracy, and Rump Prussia is ensured as a *DNVP dictatorship in fairly short order unless an alt-Polish Soviet war plays out differently and the dominoes start to fall. But I'm digressing into rule-of-interesting looking maps here, and can't really speak to the plausibility of such a peace settlement.
There's certainly a lot of possible way things could develop, and I suspect nearly all of them lead to disastrous outcomes. I can see a lot of AH potential here.
 

Alex Richards

Tends to eat truffles once found
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#11
Yeah - I'm conscious that I'm looking for reason in what is a fundamentally irrational scapegoating situation. There's a school of thought that argues that if the Entente offensives of late 1918 had somehow been carried through further into Germany proper - though "all the way to Berlin" is probably hyperbole - then the stabbed-in-the-back myth might not have arisen. Against all this, I'm sceptical, because just how big does a defeat have to be to tip a hypothetical future sentiment from "revenge!" to "never again" - and how can that possibly be known in the mud on the morning of 11/11/1918, or indeed around Christmas tables missing sons, husbands and fathers two months later?
If the Entente had reached the Rhine before an armistice was signed, I think that would have been enough to move things from 'we were winning' to 'who undermined the war effort from the beginning' but I suspect there was always going to be a market for 'if only we'd been running things, we'd never have lost the war.'
 

Roger II

Well-known member
#12
Maybe; I wonder if a pentagon-papers esque scenario where internal Army documents leak prior to or right around the Government seeking peace that make it clear that the army knows everything's lost and is just trying to shift blame, or something around when Amiens happens where the army is caught out with internal memos suggesting a much bleaker situation than is public. At which point I'm now wondering if the mutinies are just going to get worse because it's clear that the army is screwed.
 
#13
pointedly far from the front, as I'm sure would have been prominent in the minds of any Rheinelanders or Bavarians west of the Rhine
Keep in mind that the Catholic Rhineland and Catholic Bavaria were some of the last regions to voluntarily vote Nazi. Also, Saxony during the 20s was in large part an SPD stronghold.

A large part of it is also that the cultural leaders tended to be from those Prussian elite circles that usually were the targets by the mutinies of the Saxons and Bavarians (IIRC the meme was that if you went to university in the Weimar Republic, at least one professor was a DNVP or Nazi supporter). It's not so much that there weren't people who knew that the Dolchstoßlegende was bullshit, it's that those that did typically had no real cachet with the elites. And even those that did (Rhinelanders and Bavarians) typically weren't the sort to be in the true elites of the era.
 

Redolegna

Champagne Socialist
Moderator
Published by SLP
Location
Paris
#14
Late to it, but my reading of war memoirs seems to indicate there was no waiting for 1916 facing the French: from very early in 1914, prisoners and even troops were eager to dissociate themselves from Prussia and any whiff of the brutality that was said to be the norm from its soldiers which was not limited to Belgium as far as the French were concerned: every soldier knew of rumors whirling around of villages being put to the torch and inhabitants hung or run through with sabers. That those, in sharp contrast to the Belgian ones, were mostly war propaganda, happening safely out of sight and confirmation, did not matter much and thus, the German prisoners taking pain to say whether they were Saxons, Bavarians or others.