Loss in the First World War laid a heavy burden of responsibility on Germany. The Treaty of Versailles adjudged the former Emperor Wilhelm II as a war criminal. Most of the German upper echelon was tried as well. Despite these legal restrictions, Germany essentially suffered from the loss of Rhineland. The Treaty foresaw its demilitarization and occupation for 15-year period by the troops of Allies. The severe military restrictions were to prevent Germany from other wars on the European continent. The seizure of the former Empire territories changed the politic map of the whole world. The territory of Germany was reduced by 13%. Millions of ethnic Germans became citizens of foreign states, despite being the majority of the population of most of the seized territories. An enormous financial outlay for the budget was reparations. Under the Treaty Germany was obliged to pay them for over 70 years. It is worth mentioning the War Guilt Clause; by this legal norm Germany was forced as the defeated party to accept responsibility for all the hostilities. These humiliating peace terms and displeasure of citizens to pay contributions caused appearance of the revanchism. Unwillingness to accept these realities called the radicalization of the society. Such type of society was easy to fall under somebody’s populist influence.
These circumstances were used by General Erich Ludendorff. General Ludendorff was a representative of radical militaristic views. War for him was a way of diplomacy, in which nation can assert its own power as a subject in the international policy. Signing peace treaties is necessary just as an interruption between following wars. Ludendorff considered that it is the duty of nation to be prepared for any possible war. Cooperation of Ludendorff and another German military leader, the future President Hindenburg, started during the First World War and was marked by common approach to the economy. Both Generals applied their forces to create an economy fully oriented to the military. Despite the pressure for peace settlement, Ludendorff demanded war continuation. It was the last straw for his career – Hindenburg lost his credibility and Ludendorff was forced to resign. This event took place on October 26, 1918.
Consequences of the blockade by Allied forces, flu epidemic in Europe, and mass unwillingness to continue the war, made him to go to Sweden. Here, in Sweden, he wrote about the war a lot, but soon the keynote of his articles became the stab-in-the-back theory – Dolchstoßlegende. Under this theory, Germany fought defensive war, which Ludendorff could not commit or allow. Kaiser’s Wilhelm II was blamed for not organizing a counter-propaganda campaign against pacifist proclamations. The Social Democrats and other left-wing parties and organizations humiliated Germany. Another group of traitors was the business one. Majority of that group contained the Jews, who were interested in achieving profit and were characterized by the lack of patriotism. Left-wings were responsible for the workers’ strikes during the end of the war and armistice. General Ludendorff considered that the home front collapse started before the front due to the agitations of leftists. He concluded with the statement that the Entente had started the war just with one aim – to raze Germany to the ground. Using this populist rhetoric, he popularized and developed a Dolchstoß myth. In accordance with Ludendorff’s terminology, Weimar politicians, communists, socialists, Jews, and sometimes even Catholics were guilty of “stabbing in the back” and became November Criminals.
Analyzing historical events of the wartime, it is without doubt that Germany lost the war because of a variety of reasons: financial difficulties, problems with recruitment, unrestricted naval warfare, and as a result involvement of the US into the war, etc. Nevertheless, the myth of internal betrayal found public support. It even caused the ideological basis for emergency of the radical nationalist NSDAP. Anti-Semitic attitude of mind strengthened after the two weeks of the MunichSovietRepublic. The majority of leaders of a government led by Communists in Bavaria were Jews. In two weeks, the government was crushed down by the paramilitary militia called Freikorps. The presence of the Jews in the detested government gave a wide field for activity of the propagandists from the Ludendorff supporter camp. Hunt states that Ludendorff’s “myth was an irrational belief which commanded the force of indisputable emotional convictions for Germans”. According to the scientist, “in back of these myths resided a sense of communal shame” for losing the war. This shame “occupied” minds of nationalists, the majority of war veterans, and “served as a solvent of the Weimar democracy and also as an ideological cement of Hitler’s dictatorship” (Hunt 369). It is also worth mentioning that for the majority of Germans, the expression “stab in the back” was evocative of Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner. In this opera, Hagen kills his enemy Siegfried with a “stab in his back” – with a spear.
Another important issue worth consideration is the legitimization of the “stab-in-the-back” myth by the authorities. The parliament of Weimar, the National Assembly initiated an investigation of the war concerning issues in November 1919. Von Hindenburg testified in this parliamentary commission on November 18. His main argument was an article in Neue Zürcher Zeitung of December 17, 1918. In this article, Frederick Barton Maurice, the British General, said that the German army had been “dagger-stabbed from behind by the civilian populace”. Although Maurice later impugned this statement by himself, in fact it was the argument of Hindenburg co-responsibility for the wide spreading of the myth in Germany. Friedrich Ebert during his presidency in the Weimar Republic violently suppressed all the uprisings (mostly initiated by workers) and tolerated paramilitary formations such as Freikorps. Moreover, he used them as regular force and did not oppose their forming of new organizations all across Germany. In spite of such tolerance, supporters of the myth did not recognize these authorities and accused them as well.
Summarizing all it up, it is necessary to mention that Ludendorff’s myth gained even more “success” he expected to. Adolf Hitler used the legend and strengthened politically due to the authority of the General and his populism.