Usually I blog out things that have to do with politics or Trump/ Hitler/ something else. But I just wanted to bring something up I learned in class on Monday in Asian Studies 205. I love it when my classes overlap, but I never expected German and East Asian history to overlap in one man who embodied all the failings of the Weimar Germany:Hans von Seeckt.
Hans von Seeckt, like most officers in Weimar Germany, earned his stripes on the Eastern Front in WWI. And Ludendorff and Hindenberg, his feelings on the Republic ranged from apathy to antipathy. As post war head of the Reichswehr, it was he who made the army into the “state within a state” that it was. He refused to fire on the Kapp Putschists, and then saluted them as regular army men. He subverted the Versaillas treaty by creating a “Black Reichswehr,” who organized secret trials of those accused of collaborating with the Allies, and executed those found guilty. Besides treating the Stahlhelm and other right wing paramillitaries, he also worked with the supposedly boogeymen of the monarchist right, the USSR, who allowed troops to train on Soviet soil. He dismissed democracy, thought Poland needed to be attacked, and refused to allow Jews into the Reichswehr. He was the epitomy of everything that was wrong with interwar Germany.
Which what makes how he ended his career so interesting. In 1933, after serving as a Center MP, he travled to China to rescue the German mission there. But what was Germany doing in China?
China at the time was still a rather unstable place. By 1930, the main internal conflict was between the Nationalists Chinese, led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communists. To get training, the Nationalists used what was until recently the most powerful millitary power in the world, China. The German officers, in turn, were eager to go to a place where their millitary skills were to be put to good use,(i.e. kill communists.)It was also a place where generals not entirely supportive of Hitler could exile themselves. But by the time von Seekt arrived, the Chinese were put off by the racial arrogance of the Germans, and were about to replace them with the French. Atr least here, Von Seeckt put aside racist feelings, and ordered his men to be more respectful towards the Chinese.
(A Chinese soldier wearing a German supplied helmet.)
Von Seeckt then went about helping the Nationalist Army exterminate and conquer the Communist south. Chiang’s army had previously tried to drive out the Reds, but were unsucessful. Von Seeckt’s solution was, (rather omniously for Europe,) a slow, scorced earth policty. Instead of the KMT trying to rush unfamiliar land, the Nationalists were to build large garrisons and slowly drive out the communists. The strategy worked, and the few reminants who did get out were lead on the now famous “Long March” led by a previously low ranking Communist, Mao Tse-tung. So in a way, a fierce monarchist and anti-communist contributed to the rise of the staunchly communist Chairman Mao, and shape China to this day. In another interesting twist, one of the communists who survived Chiang’s purges was a German Communist, Otto Braun, who had been sent by Stalin to formally organize the Chinese Communists. Germans on both sides.