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The moral divide in the German military and political elite during both World Wars

The conflict between German Generals Falkenhayn and Ludendorff was over a lot more than military policy – indeed Falkenhayn made some horrible mistakes in military tactics, for example allowing himself to be pushed into continuing the Verdun offensive much longer than he intended (at least much longer than he later claimed had been his original intention), and insisting that General Fritz Von Below recapture any position he lost to the British in the Somme offensive – an order that led to terrible German casualties.

The conflict may have been presented as a military one (between the “Westerner” Falkenhayn and the “Easterner” Lundendorff ) over whether to concentrate German military resources in the West or the East – but it was really a lot more than a dispute over military policy. Nor was it really a dispute over the form of government – as neither Falkenhayn or Ludendorff was a democrat. It was fundamentally a MORAL (ethical) dispute.

General Lundendorff had absorbed (even more than Kaiser Wilhelm II had) the moral relativism and historicism that had become fashionable in the German elite in the decades running up to the First World War – ideas that can be traced all the way back to (in their different ways) such philosophers as Hegel and (far more) Fichte, whereas General Falkenhayn still clung to concepts of universal justice (morality) and rejected such things as the extermination or enslavement of whole races, and the destruction of historic civilisations such as that of Russia. Lundendorff, and those who thought like him, regarded Falkenhayn as hopelessly reactionary – for example thinking in terms of making peace with Russia on terms favourable to Germany, rather than destroying Russia and using the population as slaves. In the Middle East Falkenhayn came to hear of the Ottoman Turk plan to destroy the Jews (as the Armenian Christians had been destroyed), and he was horrified by the plan and worked to frustrate it. Advanced and Progressive thinkers, such as Ludnedorff, had great contempt for Reactionaries such as Falkenhayn who did not realise that ideas of universal justice and personal honour were “myths” only believed in by silly schoolgirls. Falkenhayn even took Christianity seriously, to Lundendorff this was clearly the mark of an inferior and uneducated mind. And Falkenhayn, for his part, came to think that his country (the Germany that he so loved) was under the influence of monsters – although while their plans to exterminate or enslave whole races and to control (in utter tyranny) every aspect of peacetime (not just wartime) life remained theoretical, he never had to make the final break.

The conflict continued into the next generation. Famously Admiral Canaris (head of German military intelligence) became an enemy of the National Socialists – not because he was a believer in a democratic form of government, but because he believed that the Nazis were a moral outrage violating the most basic principles of universal truth and justice. But the point of view in Germany opposed to men such as Admiral Canaris. the point of view that made itself felt in such things as the German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 – a pack of lies, and (perhaps more importantly) a deliberately OBVIOUS pack of lies (in order to make a philosophical point – as the President of France, a philosopher, noticed at once), had long had nothing but contempt for the very idea of universal objective truth and justice.

As the National Socialists put it with contempt “truth and justice” was the aim of the silly Superman comic produced by American Jews (no wonder, the Nazis said, the full line was “Truth, Justice and the American Way” – with the “American Way” really being the “Jewish Way”). But to men such as Admiral Canaris the alternative to “truth and justice” that the Nazis offered was Lies and Injustice. So Admiral Canaris did such things as help convince the Franco government in Spain NOT to allow the Germans to take Gibraltar – which, if it had been taken, would have closed the Mediterranean Sea to the British and led to the collapse of the British position in the Middle East making British defeat in the general war essentially inevitable. To Admiral Canaris the victory of the National Socialists would mean the end of Christian civilisation and of the memory of Classical Civilisation (of Cicero and Marcus Aurelius and ….) as well. Like Winston Churchill Admiral Canaris believed that victory for the Nazis would mean a new Dark Age – made worse, and more long lasting, by a “perverted science”. Some high ranking German officers came to feel the same way – among them General Henning Von Tresckow the son in law of the late General Falkenhayn.

Again Henning Von Tresckow was not someone obsessed with democracy – far from it, he was a Prussian military officer (although one with strong independence of mind and wide intellectual interests). He wanted Germany to be strong and loved the military (the balance between obedience and freedom was how he viewed it – with freedom of thought being the vital basis for informed consent and discipline) – but he came to see the National Socialists and the long term elements in German (and non-German) thought that they represented as a deadly threat to truth and justice – which he insisted were real things, not just words in an American comic or a British speech. For example the Nazi plans to exterminate or enslave whole races horrified him – something would have to be done, even if it meant the cost of his own life.

Henning Von Tresckow was always of the opinion that there was a strong possibility that Operation Valkyrie (the plan to kill Mr Hitler) would fail. That it would end in his own death and the death of his friends. However, he held that even failure was of great moral importance – “God told Abraham that if ten just men could be found in Sodom he would spare the city”. Men such as Von Tresckow wished Germany and the Germans to not just be remembered for mass murder. He wished to make, if need be, a blood sacrifice for truth and justice – the only blood he could rightfully offer, his own blood. A sign that at least some Germans could overcome the evil in society and the evil in themselves – the evil in all of us, German and non German alike. The “philosophy” of Thomas Hobbes and Rousseau (and so many others) does not understand such INDIVIDUALS. Does not understand the capacity of the individual human person (the soul – in the religious or non religious sense) to both find what is true and morally right, objectively true and morally right – and to freely CHOOSE to do what is morally right against the desire in all of us to do what is easy, easy and vile. To give in to the evil in society and the evil in ourselves.

27 comments to The moral divide in the German military and political elite during both World Wars

  • terence patrick hewett

    I agree with every single word: to do what is right according to individual concience regardless of cost.

  • Not to forget the German/Jewish/intellectual LEFT philosophy which embraced ” final solutions” for
    peoples thought to be insufficiently developed for the coming proletarian revolution.
    Whilst he was editor of the Neue Rhenische Zeitung in 1848, Engels advocated that such races should be made to disappear . On his list were Serbs and Scottish Highlanders amongst others. The Poles were thought to be saveable because their revolutionary consciousness was sufficiently advanced.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . to do what is right according to individual concience regardless of cost.”

    And if I believe with all of my heart and sincerity that some certain race must be exterminated for the good of mankind, and then I act on this belief, have I made a proper moral choice? Have I chosen good over evil?

    Don’t we really only value human conscience when its influence is in accord with our own?

  • Ian

    Sorry if this sounds contrary, because I agree with the thrust of the argument; and apologies for heading off on a tangent, but is it really the case that had Germany taken Gibraltar it would have cost Britain the war? Could you expand upon that? I’m not really disputing the point, I just haven’t come across it before (I’m revealing my own ignorance here) and think it an interesting point.

  • Mr Ed


    Here is an excellent documentary on Operation Pedestal in 1942, a convoy to save Malta (the second link in the chain across the Med after Gibraltar to Egypt). The grim story is told by men in it, including Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin, as he became. One merchant ship getting through, with half the escort lost, would have been a regarded as a success. The escort was 40 destroyers, 12 cruisers, 4 aircraft carriers and 2 battleships with 16″ guns, as the seaman introducing it recounts. Without Gibraltar, Malta could not have held out. Without Gibraltar, the Med would have been an Axis lake, Rommel would have had more men, Egypt would have fallen, with the Suez canal, then Palestine, Jordan and Iraq, and all that oil would have been lost to the Allies and flowed to the Reich.

    Both Gibraltar and Malta were necessary stepping stones across the Med. Had Franco allowed Germany to take Gibraltar, the Med would have been closed to Allied shipping, and the Germans might have got to Persia and the western borders of India.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Why did the Germans persist with their counter-attack doctrine when it cost so many lives?

    I am speculating here but I guess it is because a trench represented a lot of work and you didn’t want to lose it if you could avoid it. Worse still, in 1914 the Germans had bagged all the best positions so to lose them meant not only the loss of a lot of work but the establishment of new positions on less favourable ground.

    As I understand it, in 1917 they moved to a more flexible system where the front line was lightly defended but the next line (the Battle Zone?) was heavily defended. Not that this helped them much as they found out at Passchendaele.

    Indeed after this point no trench system was safe from a sufficiently determined and equipped enemy.

  • Ian

    Mr Ed,

    Many thanks for the summary of the possible outcome of the loss of Gibraltar, and for the video link. I was aware of Malta and the strategic value of ME oil, but didn’t Germany have enough oil at the time (from Romania) and how would their victory in North Africa have helped in any meaningful way? After all, the mere holding of territory in that part of the world could not really have been decisive, and might in fact have led to over-extension. Moreover, if the Med had been closed to Allied shipping, the rather pointless invasions of Sicily and Italy would not have been attempted, which would by no means have prevented the decisive conflict being waged in Europe. Of course, I am assuming US oil would have been available. Also, another critical assumption is that Gib wouldn’t have been re-taken (I think it extremely unlikely, but thought I should mention it). Again, I’m not really disputing the essential point (as will be apparent I don’t have the knowledge to do so), but I’m trying to figure out how things might have developed if that one tiny strategic base had been lost, which I think is high-protein fodder for counter-factuals.

  • harryr

    I don’t know anything about the influence of Canaris on Franco, but also infuencing Franco was a disenchantment with Nazi Germany among Franco’s nationalist supporters. This was because of Germany’s invasion and occupation of Poland, and the Nazi alliance with the Soviet Union. In Spain the nationalists liked Poland as an authoritarian catholic bulwark against Bolshevism. They saw it as a natural partner with Spain and the axis powers in a crusade against soviet communism. The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact came as a nasty shock to many on the right in Spain, alienating all but a small minority within the Falange. Germanys standing in Spain only recovered with Barbarossa and the invasion of the Soviet Union.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Bobby, morals are the realm of personal choices- should I gorge now, or wait until dinner? If you choose to interact with others in unequal ways, that is a morally weak position. (spoiler alert- I think that the golden rule, treating others as you would like to be treated, is an ideal libertarian rule, and I try to practice it in my own life.)

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    And when did someone give you the right to decide things for the whole human race? Was it a vote at the UN? Did the Church give you this power and right? Was it self-appointment?

  • bobby b

    “Bobby, morals are the realm of personal choices- should I gorge now, or wait until dinner?”

    Well, that goes to the heart of what I’m asking. Hitler made a personal choice concerning Jews. Do you mean that that was a moral choice for him? I think it was an immoral choice, but that’s mostly because it’s not a choice that I would make. But don’t we acknowledge nonsubjectivity in the realm of moral truth? Don’t we speak of universal moral truths that do not depend on personal choice?

    “And when did someone give you the right to decide things for the whole human race?”

    At some point, someone decided for the whole human race that murder is not a moral act. Is that a correct assumption? Or is murder not a moral act only until a majority of us decide that it is a moral act? If we speak in terms of people deciding what is moral, doesn’t that mean that there is no objective moral truth?

    I’m not speaking of a personal choice to act against morality – to be evil – I’m speaking of different conceptions of what is moral. I’m also not speaking of some revealed truth from the numinous – e.g., the delivery of the commandments in Christianity – my presumption is that man decried murder as immoral prior to that.

    I used to believe that, deep down, everyone knew what was moral, and simply made a personal decision about whether or not to follow morality. Now, I think that we all have differing definitions of morality – thankfully, we’re mostly in agreement, but not always.

  • Mr Ed


    I am no strategist, and even I can see that you don’t win a war by playing it like a game of Risk, I don’t even have Rimmer’s campaign book to go on. However, had Egypt fallen, along with it goes the Middle East and this is early on. The Axis have the Med, so they can free up forces, including the powerful Italian navy (even after Taranto) with more ships and subs that could harass the Atlantic convoys (the Italians took part in the Battle of Britain, don’t forget). The Axis have more airpower and troops to devote to the Eastern Front, and can come at the Caucasus via Persia (There was an Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia to forestall any issues arising with Persia).

    And after Japan entered the war, they threatened Vichy Madagascar, leading to the Battle of Madagascar. Had the Med fallen entirely, with Suez, the Axis might have more easily taken Madagascar and thus menaced the Cape route.

    But you can see when 14 merchant ships have 58 men-o’-war as escorts, the powers-that-were must have rated the importance of Malta (and the Med and so Gib) very highly indeed.

  • Steve T

    With out the invasions of Sicily and Italy would Italian still have switched sides? 300,000 Italians were used in the first stages of Barbarossa, with out a Med theater that could have been 1,000,000 and even more going forward.

  • Paul Marks

    Patrick – yes giving up land is hard when one has spent so much effort fortifying it, but the Germans in the First World War came to see that letting the Allies “punch into empty air” (throw vast amounts of shells and then men at an area where the Germans were mostly NOT) could be a valid tactic, especially if they targeted their own, German, artillery on the Allied troops as they attacked (knowing that there were few German troops there to be killed).

    Of course there were British Generals who attacked the idea of “Attacking Whenever Possible” (General Haig’s own description of his philosophy – see his article in the London Gazette in 1919) in favour of the old doctrine of “Attacking only when there is a reasonable chance of success”.

    In 1915 General Edward Montague Stuart-Wortley protested that the attacks he was being asked to make as part of the Battle of Loos did not have a reasonable-chance-of-success – but he was told (in no uncertain terms) that this was old fashioned thinking and that the attacks (which ended in horrible disaster) must go ahead whether he (Stuart-Wortley) liked it or not. And before you point it out Patrick – I know that the man who replied to Stuart-Wortley was General Hanking not General Haig (although Hanking and Haig were in agreement in this point).

    At the Somme on July 1st 1916, Stuart-Wortley’s 46th Division had the lowest casualties – “only” 2445 men killed and wounded (although his 56th Division had over 4000 casualties). Far from being commended for the “low” casualties of the 46th Division – Stuart-Wortley was condemned (by Douglas Haig and in writing) for his lack of “offensive spirit” in not pressing home attacks and allowing men (after attacks had gone badly) to shelter in their trenches – rather than keep attacking. General Haig insisted that General Stuart-Wortely be sent home.

    Stuart-Wortely was not a coward (a glace at his service record should show that to anyone), and he was not (as was claimed) worn-out-sick-and-dying (he lived to 1934, outliving Haig himself).

    The divide was one of philosophy – between the old view that one attacked only when there was a “reasonable chance of success” and the new view (NOT invented by Haig – I fully admit that he was going along with the fashionable view taught in the Staff Collage) that one “Attacks Whenever Possible”.

    People with such divergent opinions can not really work together, so (from the point of view then taught in all the Staff Collages of Europe – not just the British one) Douglas Haig was quite CORRECT to demand that Edward Montagu-Stuart-Wortley be sent home. He (Haig) could not “defer to the man on the spot” – when the “man on the spot” was in fundamental disagreement with the basic philosophy of the army, and was clinging to “old fashioned” doctrines of war (the ideas of the Duke of Wellington and so on).

  • Paul Marks

    Of course the official view of the Somme offensive remains-to-this-day that it was a “strategic success” – and as I am libertarian (and therefore believe in Freedom of Speech) I must resist the urge to put a bullet in the face of people who express such a point of view. I must just walk away from them.

    bobby b.

    Your question is over whether there are objective laws of moral right and moral wrong.

    General Falkhenhayn would have said “yes” – indeed would have been astonished at the question. General Lundendorff would have said (in effect) “no” – with a little smile of contempt at the “reactionaries” who thought there were objective laws of moral right and moral evil.

    Thus members of the Habsburg family (the old rulers of Austro-Hungary) risked their lives for people they did not know and had nothing in common with. And the Witteslbach family (the old rulers of Bavaria) ended up in Belson for the same reason.

    To defend the weak and helpless (whether one knows them not, and whatever their race, language, or religion) is the defining mark of the just person.

    But not to the “Progressive” minded of course – who deny the very existence of “truth and justice” (holding them to be a thing for silly comics). The German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 could have been made far more plausible, the lies in it were made obvious ON PURPOSE. A philosophical point was being made.

    “George Orwell” expressed shock when his “Progressive” friends fell away from opposing Nazi Germany when its alliance with the Soviet Union became known in 1939.

    “Who now steps forward to defend civilisation – only Colonel Blimp and the old-school-tie”.

    What “Orwell” did not realise was how strong “Colonel Blimp and the old-school-tie” (i.e. HONOUR) still was – and not just among some British people, but some GERMANS also.

    They would defend civilisation, they would “defend the weak” – regardless of the cost to themselves.

    They deserve to be remembered.

  • Rich Rostrom

    harryr: didn’t know that; it makes sense.

    As to Gibraltar and the Med: the Med was closed to Allied shipping for all practical purposes. Aside from the 5-ship emergency “Tiger” convoy, all deliveries to the Middle East went around Africa.

    However, the loss of Gibraltar would have been a severe blow to Britain; it would eliminate the only base for British forces between Britain and Gambia, greatly weakening convoy protection in that area. Also, Italian warships (including fast battleships) could have entered the Atlantic, posing an additional grave threat; the RN would have to send some of its overworked battleships as convoy escorts.

    Besides that, however, if Spain allowed German forces to attack Gibraltar, then Spain would enter the war as an Axis member. Axis air and naval forces could base out of Spain and the Canary Islands, massively increasing their reach into the Middle Atlantic. Also, the British blockade of continental Europe would be ruptured.

    The Allies could still win, and very probably would, but it would be substantially harder.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The comments about Ludendorff’s rejection of “truth” and “justice” in my mind explain why Nazism arouses a visceral repulsion that Communism does not. Communism was driven by perverted ideas of justice; Communist regimes paid lip service to democracy and liberty for all. Nazism, growing out of the same philosophical basis as Ludendorff’s thought, overtly repudiated universal justice.

    BTW, while Ludendorff was an early NSDAP supporter (marching with Hitler in the Munich putsch), he later repudiated and denounced Hitler.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Haig’s article in the London Gazette is well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand his thinking.

  • Paul Marks

    Thank you Patrick – yes the full article is also given at the end of Brigadier Mallinson’s latest book “Too Important To Be Left To The Generals” (a bit of a rushed book – but basically correct).

    I was horrified by Haig’s article (even when I first read it – many years ago) – but it is in line with the Staff Colleges of Europe, not just Britain. The older view that the one defended till one produced the correct circumstances for a successful attack (for example by cutting off enemy supplies), or such a chance had appeared by a mistake of the enemy (or by chance), was very much out of fashion.

    General Marius (not a political favourite of mine, far from it, but the founder of the professional Roman army – and with a very good military record) was once taunted by enemies during the “Social War” (the war of Roman Allied cities with Rome itself) “if you are such a good General – come out of your defences and fight us”, General Marius replied “if you are such good Generals MAKE ME do that”. General Marius was not against attacking – but only when there was a “reasonable chance of success” (created by his own efforts, or by blunders by the enemy, or by other factors). You do not “sit idle” – you are very busy, but you do NOT “attack whenever possible”.

    The division between people who think one should “attack whenever possible” and those who believe one should attack “only where there is a reasonable chance of success” is unbridgeable, they can not work together. I suspect that they can not even talk together.

    For example it is my belief that someone who really does not understand that they should resign after losing 20 thousand men dead and 30 thousand men wounded in one day (achieving nothing) is unacceptable. I do not want to talk to such a person, and listen to their nonsense – if they will not resign (if they do not see why they should resign) then they should be executed.

    Indeed I would be prepared to hang them personally – although they might prefer to be shot.

  • Paul Marks

    Rich Rostrom – Marxists do (not do not) reject universal truth and justice.

    They use the words (yes indeed) – but they reject the concepts.

    “Left Heglians” (such as Marxists) no less than “Right Hegelians” were “historicists” – they believed that truth (for example the laws of economics) and justice (and the rest of morality) were relative to the “historical stage”.

    You are correct that the Nazis were a lot more open about all this than the Marxists are – but it is in Marxism, indeed it is the core of it (the rejection of objective universal truth and objective universal justice). But they,Marxists, do indeed cover it up in a lot of “liberal” sounding talk – Nazis do not.

    Ian – I am very sorry indeed to have missed your comment, I apologise to you.

    Think for a moment…..

    The Mediterranean is closed to the British by the loss of Gibraltar, our entire position in the Middle East collapses – with fortunate British soldiers and civilians having their throats cut, and the less fortunate being taken alive by local uprisings supported by the Axis Powers (with the “knock on” effect in India, with a crises in the morale and loyalty of the Indian Army) – even leaving aside the oil question, how could Winston Churchill have stayed in office in such circumstances?

    There have always been strong elements in the British establishment who want a “deal” with Germany (there are still – today), and they would have taken their chance. The doctrines of National Socialism were not well understood by the British establishment – so the fact that any treaty signed with people who do not believe in truth or justice is (to put it mildly) not worth the paper it is written on, would not really have been understood. And everything would have been lost.

    Even in the First World War the IDEAS of the enemy were not well understood – it was understood that Ludendorff was “not a gentleman” (Edmunds I believe – and he is attacked by Denis Winter for saying that, Winter doteing on Ludendorff and believing every word that came from this evil man).

    However. the British commanders if asked the question “what is the political and moral philosophy of General Ludendorff” would have considered it a silly question and given one of those patronising little smiles (the smile that British people seem to be so good at whenever one raises the matter of ideas or beliefs).

    Julius Caesar would not have considered fighting a campaign without a detailed knowledge of the belief-system of his enemy (their religion – everything about them). But a generation of public school boys seem to have had their minds asleep when reading the works of Caesar, and assumed that their enemy “must” be much like themselves.

    It was the same in World War II – with (for example) the General in command of the defence of Malaya and Singapore being shocked by the brutality of Japanese conduct (and surrendering when he actually outnumbered the Japanese – thus dooming most his own men to torture and death). Nothing the Japanese did should have been a shock to someone who had studied the vicious doctrines that had gained power in Japan – but the British commanders did not seem to regard cultural knowledge of their enemy as necessary, and were astonished by everything.

    By the way, simply as a matter of military logic (even without cultural knowledge) – when an enemy has totally committed himself to attack (flinging his forces at you and past you – often in relatively small groups) it is ideal opportunity for COUNTER ATTACK as the enemy are not in defensive positions.

    RUNNING AWAY till you have run out of places to run to and your back is to the sea, is not the correct to do. And not just because it exposes you to enemy air attack.

    The Japanese were also very short of supplies – and relied on capturing the supplies of their enemy. Which only a total idiot (or coward) allows them to do. Even if you feel you have to retreat (and that opinion may be based on a profoundly mistaken view of the situation) at least destroy everything first – let the enemy capture nothing but ashes.

    A General is not a policeman, safeguarding civilian property (even a whole city) is not really his concern – the concern of a solider is to deny the use of resources (any resources what-so-ever) to the enemy. If one does not like that situation – would should not let it come to pass in the first place (one should not keep running way till there is no where left to run to) or one should change the situation via counter attack.

    Although, yes indeed, the lack of British air power in the Far East was a scandal. RAF Spitfires earmarked for Singapore had been sent to the Soviet Union instead. And only one Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier was sent to defend Malaya – and that never got there (because of mechanical trouble).

  • Bruce

    I’d like to read a Samzdata comparison of Ludendorff’s War Communism and Lenin’s Marxist-Leninism. Similarities, differences. I know it was a strong influence on Ludendorff’s protege Hitler, but of course there’s controversy on how strongly it influenced Lenin.

    As to the Somme, I don’t think there’s any doubt the first week was a disaster for the Allies. But the battle went on for three months and I think there’s a case it was either a draw or a very, very hard-fought victory for the Allies. I’m no expert, I’m getting this from General Jack’s Memoires, which stress that the Allies used troops on the attack that were exhausted from digging trenches, while the Germans used forced labor from French and Belgian civilians and were less tired. Jack stresses that physically exhausted troops can fight bravely on defense, but they are too tired to run forward and attack well.

  • Paul Marks

    What was the purpose of the Somme offensive, Bruce. The Verdun German offensive was already going no where – and if the French has been rational they would not have sacrificed so much to hold Verdun (which had Germans on three sides) in the first place – they would have shortened their line. In any case one does not launch an offensive of vast numbers of men as a distraction – but only with a clear plan for victory (if one see a real opportunity).

    But that is “old fashioned thinking” – hard to believe now, but Haig and co were the “scientific, progressive” military thinkers of their day. The high command of all major nations contained such thinking – it was the fashion.

    The French in 1914 had been the worst of in military thinking – their offensive (the “Battles of the Frontiers”) was totally insane (at least according to “old fashioned thinking”). They launched frontal attacks thinking they were copying Napoleon – in conditions when Napoleon would NOT have launched such attacks (and he was facing slow fire muskets).

    Yes Lundendoff was a collectivist, Bruce – very much in the tradition of the philosopher Fichte, as was Mr Hitler.

    Lundendorff really was an “educated soldier” (the name that John Terraine pushed for Haig) – but the stuff he was educated in was evil.

    Perhaps it would have been better if the main interests of such Generals had been polo and golf (as with Haig – and he was actually a very good rider) rather than philosophy.

    Actually I do not believe that – what would have been better would have been for British commanders to have a good understanding of their belief systems of their enemies and why they were wrong.

    At least for the 2nd World War there were many good intellectuals (there is a such a thing) capable of introducing young officers to good ideas – Sir William David Ross, Harold Prichard. Tolkien (far more than a “children’s writer”) and C.S. Lewis (many of his wartime talks have been preserved and are on Youtube if they have not been banned yet).

    Yes there were bad intellectual influences as well (very bad) – but there were truly great thinkers.

  • Bruce

    Just bought Prichard’s Moral Obligation and Duty. Appreciate the recommendation.

  • mhjhnsn

    Sorry, but I disagree about Gibraltar. Hitler never saw an offensive opportunity in North Africa. He sent Rommel there with minimal forces (only 2 divisions, and later 2 more, plus some more Italians who could not play offense to save their lives) after Mussolini attacked Egypt and his army was crushed by O’Connor’s Western Desert Force, as a defensive measure–not unlike how Hitler got sucked into Yugoslavia and Greece at about the same time and for the same reason, when his real goal was Barbarossa. He was just protecting a vulnerable flank that Mussolini had exposed. For a few months in 1940-41, Mussolini was Britain’s most effective weapon.

    Egypt and what became the 8th Army were supplied the long way around the Cape of Good Hope. The difficulties in Pedestal show how impractical it would have been to supply Egypt via Gibraltar and the Mediterranean. Furthermore, after Alamein and Torch, Hitler was able to massively reinforce Tunisia despite Malta, under circumstances far tougher than he would have faced in 1941 or 1942. A major push through Egypt into the M.E. was just never his priority, compared to crushing Bolshevism and implementing Generalplan Ost as soon as he could.

    This whole conceit about Malta is a reflection of Churchill’s imperialism and his self-serving and in parts rather mendacious war memoirs. Malta was worth defending when there was some question as to Hitler’s intentions, but it was NOT the key to anything in Hitler’s mind, and after Barbarossa failed it all was decidedly a side-show. Churchill had many fine qualities as a political leader, but he was a lousy strategist in 1915 and again in 1941-44–he just about drove Alanbrooke and the Americans to distraction, and the lost the 1945 election because he had no grand strategy for post-war Britain. His peripheral strategies seemed based on envy of the Age of Marlborough and the 18th Century cabinet wars where Britain built its empire but had no relevance to industrial war 1914-45.

    As for the larger issues re Germany at war, I highly recommend “Absolute Destruction” by Isabel V. Hull, about how Germa colonial wars in the early 20th C foreshadowed Totalkrieg in WW1, and the second half (roughly) of “The Allure of Battle” by Cathal Nolan, about inter alia the German fascination with battles and wars of annihilation.

    And for the largest moral issue, well, Hitler thought he was acting morally in removing the Jews and Slavs from land that Germans needed. Stalin likewise in removing threats to the Revolution. The lesson cannot possibly be about being true to your beliefs, without reference to the substance of those beliefs, and what limits there should be on what one does about them.

  • Paul Marks

    If people “disagree” about 1+1=2 it still equals two. What I pointed about Gibraltar was a matter of fact-that if it had been taken our position in the Med (and the Middle East) would have collapsed. If Mr Hitler did not understand this – that just shows his lack of understanding (it just not change the objective fact).

    As for Winston Churchill and the operation of 1915 – you do not seem to know the difference between strategy and tactics Sir (or Madam – I can not tell by the name “mhjhnsn”). In terms of strategic thinking the operation to take Constantinople (the only enemy capital on the coast) and link up with the Russians (thus encircling the Central Powers) was correct (that would have been understood for centuries0 – it was the TACTICS that were wrong. And Winston Churchill (whatever his flaws) was NOT in tactical command. Such things as doing NOTHING for 36 hours after the landing at Suvla Bay (when it was absolutely vital to take the objectives before the Turks rushed in troops and built defences) were certainly not the fault of Winston Churchill. It was the fault of “educated Generals” why should have been Court Marshalled.

    As for Mr Hitler and the National Socialists thinking they were acting morally in murdering Jews and others. Of course they did NOT – if they had thought they were acting morally they would have boasted of their killings, not desperately tried to hide them. And as Eric Brown pointed out (after detailed questioning of all of them) every single guard at Belson knew what they had done was evil – knew that when they did it. And they also knew they could have chosen not to do this evil – they knew that at the time.

    Facts are stubborn things – but the facts of military reasoning, and the facts of moral reasoning.

  • Paul Marks

    I have actually been to Gibraltar – one can see North Africa from it, not as some vague blob but in detail. A big German-Spanish presence there (and on the other side of the narrow straits also) would have made entry to the sea rather problematic for our ships (to put the matter mildly). It is what is called a “choke point”. And we would have either had to retake it (by land invasion – difficult) or been choked.

    Yes Bruce it is a good collection of essays by Harold Prichard – there was a time when Oxford Dons (including Professors of Philosophy) spoke and wrote in the English language (not silly jargon) and actually made sense.