It was a few years ago today that the Berlin wall came down, and Germany was on course for reunification, the final end to the final legacy of the tragic course that the world embarked upon 90 years ago today… The event has gone down in history as the Beer Hall Putsch. On this day, a small group of people – prominent leaders of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, gathered in a Munich beer hall, and marched to overthrow the state government of Bavaria. They were gathered around their leader, Adolf Hitler.
We know the result of that event. Hitler and several of his prominent henchmen, including Rudolf Hess, were rounded up and put on trial. Hitler and Hess were sent to Landsberg prison, where they were incarcerated for a few months in relative comfort. There, Hess dutifully acted as amanuensis to Hitler, as the latter dictated his turgid magnum opus, Mein Kampf, the book that was to become to the Nazi Party what Mao’s red book became to the Chinese Communists. Other people that participated in the march, such as World War One General Erich Ludendorff, simply fled the scene. Ludendorff, lest we forget, was the principal architect of Imperial Germany’s victory over Russia at the battle of Tannenberg in 1914, a battle that began the long slow deterioration and dissolution of imperial Russia. Ludendorff was also, along with Field Marshal Hindenburg, the real power running Imperial Germany in the last two years of the war. The Kaiser had been reduced to a figurehead. In effect, Ludendorff was the dictator of Germany during the final years of the war, and he was also the principal architect of the the 1918 German offensives that nearly broke the back of the Western Allies. He was a ready and willing conspirator 90 years ago today, whispering into the ears of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi leadership about a “stab in the back.”
Ludendorff was not, of course, the source or origin of the infamous Nazi myth. But he certainly helped to fuel events. 1923, if the truth be told, was a disastrous year for Germany. Under the terms of the disastrous Treaty of Versailles, Germany was made to accept the complete guilt for World War One, and was forced to pay for it. All of it. When these payments could not be met, Poincare’s France occupied the Ruhr valley, Germany’s industrial heartland, from 1922-1924 in order to force payments. Imagine, for a moment – depending on where you are – foreign troops occupying Sheffield, Stoke-on-Trent, Liverpool, Moscow, Detroit(when it was still the “auto capital of the world”), or Yokohama, and demanding immediate payment of debts your country can no longer afford to pay. From a certain point of view, World War One was essentially nothing but a siege of Germany, and the Ruhr occupation was in a sense nothing but the continuation of the siege.
In desperation, the Germans in the Ruhr simply striked, bringing everything to a standstill, and making things worse.
Debt was spiraling out of control, a weak government was paralyzed and unable to deal with the crisis, political discourse had broken down into hardened ideological positions unable and unwilling to negotiate or compromise. Armed thugs roamed the streets. Political assassinations sky-rocketed. Approximately 400 assassinations surrounded the career of Hitler alone as he came to power, raising the question of whether he gained power, or merely was sucked into a vacuum he was designed to fill.
But whatever the case…
…By the 16th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler was in power, and World War Two was a little over a month old. By November 9, 1940, France had been eliminated, and most of Europe was firmly under the Nazi jackboot. It would take another four and a half years, and the combined effort of the three other world powers, rivers of blood, and an enormous cost in treasure, to put the Nazi regime down.
Skyrocketing debt, a weak government, sclerotic political parties, a disenfranchised middle class, out of control international corporate and banking corruption…
…and a demagogue in the wings…
Lest we forget.
See you on the flip side.