If General Paul von Hindenburg thought the German army was ill-equipped during WWI, then he would be blown away by its current state. German broadcaster ARD recently reported that to make up for a lack of firepower during a NATO exercise in Norway, soldiers painted broomsticks black to resemble guns and mounted them on tanks. But while the modern German army isn’t known for its military might, Hindenburg’s army did not expect to be swept away. He suggested that without the revolution that stabbed the German people in the back, they would have achieved victory. In his testimony following WWI, the general declared that after parts of the home front turned against the war, “the collapse was inevitable.”
While Hindenburg’s argument centers on the occurrence of a “stab in the back,” Wolfradt doesn’t dispute whether it happened, but rather considers its merits. The contrasting arguments highlight the unequal effects of WWI on the German home front. Whereas Hindenburg asserted that he “encountered failure and weakness,” referencing the growing discontent, Wolfradt characterized the same revolutionary spirit as “heroic.” Wolfradt’s claims corroborate Schivelbusch’s description of the disconnect between the military elite and the lower classes. As the war progressed and women and children were dealing with “hellish nonsense,” Wolfradt posits, the masses committed the “saving act of a stab in the back” against “its most terrible enemy: German military power.” In Wolfradt’s explanation, the German people betrayed the military elite, contrary to Hindenburg’s proclamation that the people had been speared by an enemy from within.
Moreover, Hindenburg’s use of the Siegfried and Hagen metaphor provides insight into how he viewed his place in society. The German military was at the head of society and its commanders were even more important, especially before WWI. By comparing the stab in the back to Hagen’s betrayal of Siegfried, Hindenburg brands Germany as the hero. At the head of the military, and therefore one of the leaders of the country, Hindenburg is the most heroic. In this sense, he sees himself as a champion for the German people, while many have the opposite view. Indeed, people who call themselves heroes usually aren’t.
While the stab in the back narrative was presented after the war, German military officials’ general neglect for public sentiment proved to be costly. It seems that just like the armies of today, those of yesteryear thought they could easily sweep their problems under the rug.