Although Russia withdrew from World War I in 1917 under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Germany still faced a significant military challenge. In fact, instead of inspiring the German people, Russia’s departure from the conflict provided a blueprint for ending the war through political revolution. Stibbe’s portrayal of the Home Front highlighted the brutal effects of the war that lead to the defeatist nature that permeated German society described by Schivelbusch. In the end, the only goal for many Germans was to bring peace to their country, with or without victory.
Because WWI was a total war, German civilians were placed in harm’s way as well. The economy stagnated and foodstuffs were in short supply for most Germans. Some, however, were effected more than others. On page 48, Stibbe notes that “the greatest hardships were experienced by the poor, and in particular by women, children and the elderly.” Meanwhile, he mentions, “skilled armaments workers received as much as 3,270 calories a day,” illustrating the disparity in the distribution of food.
Perhaps as a result of the inequality that Stibbe describes, many lower-class Germans felt that the war was benefiting the powerful while worsening their suffering. Under the system of War Socialism that the government had been using to organize the country, labor strikes were easily formed. While Schivelbusch posited that many German officials believed that by prolonging the war and creating a national sense of unity, the revolution could have been avoided, Stibbe indicated that “ordinary Germans…were not prepared to continue the war for another winter.” In fact, promoting the continuation of the war and stubbornly refusing to admit defeat may have incited calls for revolution.
In addition to Wilhelm’s disregard for public welfare, his attempt at boosting German morale with the rallying cry im Felde unbesiegt illustrated the defeatist attitude that plagued Germany at the conclusion of WWI. As long as Germany was winning the war, many on the Home Front tolerated the harsh living conditions. But as Germany’s defeat became imminent, many felt betrayed by the government which had deprived them of necessities in order to fund the war effort. When the motto “undefeated on the battlefield” turned out to be untrue, this betrayal was coupled with a sense that the German public had been deceived by the government.
Furthermore, Schivelbusch presented the “stabbed in the back myth” as central to Wilhem’s rule. Specifically, he wrote about Hindenburg’s use of the Siegfried and Hagen metaphor as justification for Germany’s military collapse. When examining the metaphor, I noticed that Hindenburg likened Germany to the “unsuspecting hero,” perhaps unknowingly aligning with Schivelbusch’s view that its military tacticians were politically inept, and ultimately, caught off guard by Germany’s sudden collapse.