The “stabbed in the back myth” was highly influential on Weimar politics. This myth referred to the idea that Germany was stabbed in the back during WWI by the revolution. This phrase had different meanings to different sides of the political spectrum. One common idea was that the revolution was the main reason Germany lost the war. This idea was popularized by Hindenburg’s testimony. Other ideas were that military mistakes were the reason for losing the war and that if the stab even happened, it happened for good reason.
Hindenburg was a perpetuator of the idea that the civilians had stabbed Germany in the back and the revolution had lost the war. The German military had fought valiantly he claimed but the “will to victory” did not prevail on the homefront as Germany had hoped. The stabbing in the back refers to the revolution which played a large role in ending the war. Had Germans been more supportive of the war, Hindenburg argues that there would have been a “favorable conclusion”. Notice how vague the use of language is in this quote. Did Hindenburg understand that victory was impossible regardless of the revolution and that the revolution had just ended the war faster? It is possible that Hindenburg deep down may have believed that the military leadership was largely at fault for the loss of the war but intended to throw the blame off of his shoulders and the revolution provided the perfect scapegoat. Hindenburg used Nibelungen mythology to drive his point home, using a story that most people of the generation understood well and had grown up with. He used the story of Siegfried and Hagen to reinforce that the revolution was cowardly and treacherous. In the story, Hagen stabbed Siegfried in the back with a spear. Overall this argument relied on pathos more than anything else and adoption of it into the minds of the German masses was simple because it did not require much thought. This is not a criticism of German society, but societies in general who do not tend to question political statements as much as they should.
However, questioning this myth required much more consideration and a much more logical argument. Willi Wolfradt was skeptical that Germany was “stabbed in the back”, and if they were stabbed in the back by the revolution, whether that was the reason lost Germany the war. Wolfradt blamed the loss of the war on mistakes on the part of the leadership, stating “Perhaps what the dagger struck was already mortally wounded by the enemy.” Instead, the stab in the back gave the people a way to make their voices heard and stop a war that was unlikely to have a preferential outcome. He feared that all of this condemnation of the revolution would reduce the power of the people to stop wars in the future. Wolfradt also wondered whether the stab in the back was an act of aggression or in self defense, the latter of which would paint an entirely different narrative than the one Hindenburg was advocating. It was likely in self defense because the people felt that they were in danger. In believing the myth of the stab, people rarely took into consideration that the war conditions were much worse than peacetime despite unfair reparations and hardships. Wolfradt also believed that the mythology behind the stabbed in the back story glorified war when he himself was a prominent advocate of peace. Siegfried was a hero in the myth and with the war efforts being represented by this mythological hero makes peace seem significantly less appealing.
Overall the “stabbed in the back” myth that was popularized by Hindenburg had a huge impact on German politics, but may have been much less valid than it was given credit for as Wolfradt’s argument demonstrates. The widespread belief amongst many German people that they had been stabbed in the back by the revolution and that the revolution had destroyed German hopes of winning the war illustrates how easy it is for people to adopt pathos based arguments without much consideration.