When we lay down our weary guns

11 11 2018

The graveyards remain. Many of those who died in battle could never be laid to rest. Their bodies had been blown to pieces by shellfire and the fragments scattered beyond recognition. Many other bodies could not be recovered during the fighting and were then lost to view, entombed in crumbled shell holes or collapsed tranches or decomposing into into the broken soil battle left behind. Few Russian or Turkish soldiers were ever decently interred and many German and Austrian soldiers kill on the shifting battlefields of the Eastern Front simply returned to earth. On the fixed battlefields of the west, the combatants mad a better effort to observe the decencies. War cemeteries were organize from the outset, graves registration officers marked the plots and, when time permitted, chaplains and the dead men’s comrades observed the solemnities. Even so, at the war’s end, the remains of nearly half of those lost remained lost in actuality.  …

Their number is enormous. To the million dead of the British Empire and the 1,700,000 French dead, we must add 1,500,000 soldiers of the Hapsburg Empire who did not return, two million Germans, 460,000 Italians, 1,700,000 Russians, and many hundreds of thousands of Turks; their numbers were never counted.

—John Keegan The First World War

But perhaps the only truth that would emerge from the cataclysm which had shaken the world was that war inevitably breeds war, the triumph eventually turns into defeat, and that only the brotherhood of suffering endures.

That night of November 11 was one of jubilation for the victors and despair for the conquered. But at any rate the most brutal war of history had finally ended. General Wilson, walking home to Eaton Place from his dinner with Lloyd George and Churchill, was breasting the enthusiastic crown still swarming in front of Buckingham Palace. In the midst of unrestrained cheer, he came upon an elderly, well-dressed woman who was sobbing in loneliness. Distressed, Wilson said, “You are in trouble—is there anything that I can do for you?”

“Thank you. No. I am crying, but I am happy, for now I know that all of my three sons who have been killed in the war have not died in vain.”

—John Toland, No Man’s Land.

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Willkommen!

14 12 2015

Fucking hell, ONE DAY after I make the absolutely authoritative and IRREFUTABLE argument assertion that the US is not Weimar, and Jeffrey Goldberg’s Twitter stream puts me on to this:

FireShot Screen Capture #035 - 'Trump’s Weimar America

No. No no no no no no no. Annnnnnnnnnd: No.

Question: Does Cohen state in any way how the US is like Weimar? He does not.

Oh, he goes on about anger and antipathy and xenophobia and bombast—as if these were new things in US politics—but says next-to-nothing about what Weimar was about.

The one thing he does mention, hyperinflation, he (correctly) dismisses: hyperinflation hit Germany in January 1923 (really, the inflation was bad even in the latter half of 1922), but by the following year was under control.

(Which is to say: those who think hyperinflation in 1923 => Hitler in 1933 are incorrect.)

So let’s look at Weimar, if only briefly.

The first thing to know is that the republic was formed out of the corpse of an authoritarian empire, an empire which lasted less than 50 years. Some conservatives had hated Bismarck’s Reich, believing the realpolitik behind its inception too cold, too practical; they wanted an expansive Empire, one which would compete with the UK and France, and which would dominated Europe.

At the onset of war in 1914, Germany failed in the former task, but it certainly was the strongman of the continent: it was the most populous state, and had the largest economy. The Kaiser’s government vacillated in its attempts to restrain the Hapsburgs, but when war came, the population was ecstatic: they were certain they would win, and that the glory, and riches, of victory would be theirs.

The government and the General Staff of the Army encouraged such thinking and then, as Germany’s fortunes turned in 1918, discouraged any counter-message through suppression and censorship; the Kaiser himself was only told of the need for surrender in September.

Oh, and can I pause here to note what shits were Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff? They’d set up what was basically a ‘silent’ military dictatorship in 1916, and when their tactics failed, they disclaimed any responsibility for those failures. Hindenburg went on to testify, twisting the words of an English writer, that the German army had been ‘stabbed in the back’ and Ludendorff—such a shit—set up any following government for failure. According to Detlev Peukert,

he pressed for the formation of a new government, which would have to concede Germany’s defeat and accept the likely peace terms that would follow, from the majority parties in Parliament: the Social Democrats, the liberals, and the [Catholic] Centre. The eventual effect of this cynical manoeuvre, which absolved the ruling conservative and military leadership of responsibility for the consequences of its own failed war policy, was to inflict on the democratic parties the odium of the notorious Dolchstoß [stab-in-the-back], directed by stay-at-home-politicians against the fighting soldiers in the trenches. (The Weimar Republic, p. 27)

(Ludendorff, you will not be at all surprised to learn, was also involved in the 1923 beer-hall-putsch, although the court acquitted him. He was sidelined after an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1925 (Hindenburg won), but remained involved in far-right politics until his death in 1937.)

Now, I’m spending a lot of time on this, and we haven’t even gotten to the republic itself, but the point is, that republic was targeted by its enemies even before it was born—and those enemies came not from outside of Germany,* but from its very center.

To be continued.

~~~

*Okay, not entirely true: German Communists, inspired and later directed by the Bolsheviks, were also opposed to the republic—they did, after all, attempt a revolutionary coup in early 1919—and they created no small amount of trouble for the republicans once the new government was established. Still, whatever power they had in the cities and in industrial areas, they had little power in the apparatus of the state itself.

n.b.: I updated what had been “1924 =>. . .” to “1923”.





This is the end

4 08 2014
Image credit: Chronicling America

Image credit: Chronicling America

A war begins, and so begins the end of the European medieval period.

The medieval era had, of course, been ending for some time: Luther’s declaration, the wars of religion, the Thirty Years War and the Treaty of Westphalia, the scientific revolution—all of these tore the present away from the past and thrust its people into a new world, literally and figuratively.

Reactionaries bemoaned this newness and sought to wrench their world back; Enlightenment philosophes celebrated the demise of the old and considered the wrenching mere birth pangs for the unbounded future. Ordinary people went about their business, adjusting to spread of literacy and the advancement of capital, managing, as always, what the world presented to them.

Modernity arrived at different times in different throughout its 4-century advance: the Dutch and the Scots were the vanguard, France thrashed violently between the old and the new, Spaniards retreated, and the German-speaking peoples went in all directions in their various lands.

It is the long holdout of those German-speaking peoples and the empires they proclaimed which carried the medieval into the modern era; the Kaiser and the Emperor were the last holdouts.

And thus the war, begun by these medieval powers, brought them to their end.