In Culture of Defeat, Schivelbusch seems to argue that a reason Germany failed to win World War I was because the German military and political leadership faltered under the pressures of maintaining the legacies of their forefathers. So when the war started turning in favor of the Allies in 1918, German leaders were so dismayed at the likelihood of not achieving total victory that they became resigned to defeat. I don’t entirely buy this argument. I believe Germany failed to win the war because their leaders simply made poor strategic decisions that ultimately cost them an advantageous position in the armistice agreements that cemented Germany’s national humiliation.
Schivelbusch describes the generation of World War I German leaders as the “post heroic” generation. Their fathers were the heroes of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 that unified Germany into the current German Empire. For that generation, the formation of the German Empire was the greatest achievement they have been a part of. As a result of this pressure to create their own historic legacies, men like Erich Ludendorff were so burdened with maintaining the greatness of the German Empire that when the Allies started to turn the tide of the war in their favor in 1918, they suffered shock and destructive humiliation.
But their humiliation was not the reason behind the rash decision making to seek an armistice. As Allied leaders like Ferdinand Foch and Daniel Haig noted, the German military could have withdrawn across Rhine and set up a stringent defense of the homeland. If the Allies were to attempt an invasion of the German homeland, they would have to penetrate a strong German defense and the casualties would have been extremely high, forcing the Allies to seek a more equitable armistice agreement. This idea apparently never occurred to German high command until it was too late and public opinion began to swiftly turn against the monarchy. Schivelbusch states that Ludendorff even tried to go back on his initial opinion to seek an armistice and propose a defensive strategy, but by the time he came to this realization, the political tides had swung so far against the Germans that any resistance would have been futile.
After the Amiens Offensive, it became impossible for Germany to achieve total victory in the war. But it did not have to end in the humiliation it did for Germany. If the German military leadership made quick, decisive decisions to fight a defensive war, they could have improved their negotiating position in future armistice talks, potentially changing the outcomes of history. But they did not and it was not related to the mental collapse of the leadership. It was purely due to the lack of strategic deftness combined with overconfidence.