Eric Ludendorff – The German General who ruined the 20th century almost all by himself

During World War I Eric Ludendorff, the German Quartermaster, was the man charged with running the war effort.  Five decisions of his – three in one year – screwed up the rest of the 20th century.  He had good reasons for his decisions, because Germany was getting horribly squeezed by the logistics of being in the middle and fighting a two-front war.   But at the same time his decisions were still being felt past the year 1990, and in some ways are still being felt today.

 1. He got the Kaiser to agree to unlimited submarine warfare, which was guaranteed to bring the Americans into the war.  It did.
2. To compensate for that, Ludendorff needed to make a push in the west before the Americans arrived on the front.  To do that he needed the 50 divisions then fighting Russia. His solution:  Help Lenin get to St Petersburg so he could overthrow the non-cooperative Kerensky government, who insisted on continuing the fight.  It succeeded.  Lenin’s government sued for peace.  The 50 divisions headed west.
3. The Ludendorff Offensive of spring 1918, planned by him, faltered and then failed.  The 50 division became cannon fodder.  By October with the path to Germany almost defenseless, Ludendorff (who never did take responsibility for his decisions) then decided to dump the responsibility for surrendering onto the politicians, which would haunt German politicians until they would end up with Hitler.  He then high-tailed it to Sweden like the coward that he was.
4. To make matters worse, when he came back and was treated as a hero, Ludendorff created the “Stab-in-the-Back” by telling a reporter that the German Army never was defeated don the battlefield.  Even before Hitler, this was used against the Communists and moderates by the right wing Freikorps and any number of other paramilitary groups in the post-war period called the German Revolution.
5. As a final screw up, Ludendorff sided with Hitler during the failed Munich Beer Hall putsch which gave Hitler a great deal of street cred.  Though he soon parted with Hitler, the damage was done.
The Lenin move led all but directly to the Cold War, as without him Communism would not have gotten a foothold in Russia that was to last 70 years.
The Stab-in-the-Back scapegoat sabotaged any chance that democratic principles could take root and survive in the post-war decades.  It was not the final straw but was the seed planted in the minds of far too many ex-soldiers and wannabes, tens upon tens of thousands of whom undercut the Weimar Republic at every turn.  Hitler was simply the one who took advantage of it the best.
So on Ludendorff ‘s shoulders we can put both World War II and the Cold War – plus the subjugation of Eastern Europe for 45 years.
 So, Ludendorff gave the world both Communism  and Hitler, both World War II and the Cold War, one can only imagine what the world would have been like had he just stopped making decisions.  And he was a pompous, cowardly finger-pointer, too.

7 responses to “Eric Ludendorff – The German General who ruined the 20th century almost all by himself

  1. Interesting. I had never seen that analysis before.

    Bob Clark

  2. Historians in general do not treat Ludendorff kindly. But with his fingerprints all over these developments, I think they mostly let him off the hook.

    I found out all this while researching a book on three people who had helped Hitler but then found themselves against him. I needed to look into the whys and wherefores of Hitler’s rise. I’d had no idea one man had screwed up Germany’s First World War effort and then in order to try to correct it all, he made good decisions – but good only in terms of the fact that he’d previously put Germany between a rock and a hard place. Each step made sense in that context – but when Germany was getting squeezed, by 1916 – and they were – the proper solution would have been to sue for peace. That trench warfare only existed because of it being impossible for either side to win. But proud as a peacock Ludendorff wasn’t about to sit down and negotiate a peace.

    Because of his pride, he ended up ruining Germany. And one thing I didn’t mention is that he really, really hated the democracy that the Allies had forced on Germany. He fully supported the Friekorps and other right-wing elements who foreshadowed the Röhm’s S.A. They did so much to undermine any chance of the Weimar Republic working.

    And one can’t exactly blame them all, except for the violence. With the coming of the Bolsheviks in Russia (thanks to Ludendorff) and the already heavy pressure of the Communists, those who were “patriotic” Germans were scared out of their gourds that Bolshevism would come to Germany – and it came damned close.

    Consider that even by the time Hitler was actually named Chancellor, it had only been a bit over 14 years since the Kaiser had abdicated. And that was a travesty in itself. Wilhelm only abdicated because they’d gotten it into their heads (from Woodrow Wilson) that Germany would be treated much better if they didn’t have a Kaiser. WRONG. See “Versailles Treaty.” They got treated terribly anyway. He might as well have stayed.

    But the great majority of Germans simply wanted a monarchy again. That democracy thing was NOT something they knew what to do with. And the way it played out, with them sabotaging the democracy at every turn, Weimar was simply a tragedy. But Eric Ludendorff himself had a big hand in that, as I said.

    The violence was much abetted by the German courts, all grandfathered in from the Empire. They had such a bias in favor of “patriotic” Germans. They let off murderers by the hundreds, as long as the murderers killed communists.

    I will give Ludendorff ONE break: NONE of the negatives which led to Hitler would have happened if the courts had treated right wing murderers as murderers instead of patriots. All the violence should have been shut down in quick order. Instead it became so commonplace that it distorted German life and civilization. A small comparison would be the Altamont Music Festival in 1970, where the organizers stupidly brought in the Hell’s Angels for security – which ended in them beating a guy to death almost within arm’s distance of the Rolling Stones. Imagine Hell’s Angels being given license to go around the country and beat people up and then claim they were only doing it out of patriotism or security reasons. Lesson: It didn’t start with Hitler – though he never hesitated to do exactly that, too. It was all criminal, and it never should have gotten to the point it did. THAT you can blame on the judges. But isn’t that exactly the point of courts – to keep criminality off the streets? Instead, the former Empire’s judges enabled it to run rampant.

    THAT was Germany from the very end of the Great War – until the end of the next war. Ludendorff was not innocent in any way for all of that, but the circumstances and the courts played their part, too. But he had set it all in motion with his “Stab-in-the-back” fantasy (dolschlosslegende) which let him off the hook and made the people hate their civilian government – “those November Criminals!” – which hatred Hitler appealed to time and again.

    To find the roots of all that, one has to go back to Bismarck’s day and before, and into the homes of Germans everywhere, where fathers imbued strict obedience and loyalty into their sons. Can we put any of it down to German paternalism? Hmmm. . . maybe ALL of it, at its core was due to that.

    I know that the group who intended to kill Hitler BEFORE the war AND just after it had begun, they had a terrible time bringing themselves to finish the job – and in the end they wimped out.

    Why? Loyalty and obedience.

    One General on the General Staff for an entire month carried a pistol with him, intending each time to shoot Hitler. It never happened. When push came to shove, none of them could do it – though they were within ONE decision and half an hour of doing it TWICE. Though they recognized how criminal Hitler was, they couldn’t bring themselves to do what any Freikorps member could have done in a heartbeat to someone he thought was a criminal.

    I guess one has to wonder if a Hitler could have arisen in any other western country. It was a country that REALLY wanted their Kaiser back. They thought Hitler was the strong one who could take the Kaiser’s place in their hearts. Hitler thought, “Hell, yes, when I get that kind of power, I am not going to be a wimp about anything. I will show them all how to do it right.”

    Well, I went on a bit there, didn’t I? Sorry!

  3. It’s shocking to say that without Ludendorff, Communism would never have gotten a foothold in Russia. The Russian Revolution was necessary for the country’s survival, and shouldn’t just be treated as some precursor to the Cold War. Not everything is about the United States. There would have been other repercussions aside from “that stupid dumb Cold War” had communists not come to power. Russia was on the verge of collapse, but I guess that’s OK, as long as there’s no Cold War later, right?

    • I could not agree more. If Lenin stayed in Zurich, there woukd have been no October uprising. The Bolsheviks played absolutely no part in the February 1917 1REAL revolution – the one that caused the Tsar to abdicate. Not only did Ludendorff and the Kaiser help Lenin travel across Germany, but there is no reason to think that their help ended there. They NEEDED those 50 divisions pronto, in the west, to try to win in the west before the Americans entered the conflict on the ground. Time was of the essence. They would have asked, “Is there anything ELSE we can do for you, Comrade Lenin?” Lenin was dead about 5 years later. Had he been in Zurich all that time, would the Bolsheviks EVER have ascended in Russia?

      Another aspect: With those 50 divisions, Ludendorff implemented Operation Michael, an offensive that failed muserably, chewing up those crack divisions and more – thus speeding up the end of the war. Before the Yanks even got to the front, the war was decided, except for mopping up operations. Ludendirff and the Kaiser realized that the Entente’s path into Germany was a straight shot. That was why both bailed in early November. They did not want to be anywhere near Germany when the capitulation happened.

      But my point is that without those 50 divisions freed up from the Russian front there would have been no Operation Michael. Even with the Yanks, the Entente was not going ‘over the top’. The war would have dragged on and on. Leaving the Kerensky government in place. Leaving the Bolsheviks with no Lenin in the country. If Lenin was not poisoned but died of a natural stroke or whatever, would Trotsky et al have been able to revolt?

      I don’t know…

      In terms of Hitler, no Operation Michael would have meant the war dragging on, with him as a corporal. Without Ludendorff running for Sweden, he and the Kaiser would have held on, and would not have pushed the surrender into the politicians of the Reichstag. Those pols were blaned BY LUDENDIRFF with stabbing the army in the back – THE single biggest sabotaging claim against the Weimar Repunlic, that it was the politicians who lost the war, not the Army. Actually, it was Ludendorff and the Kaiser. But Ludendorff shirked the responsibility like a coward. But the Freikorp and Hitler and other reactionary groups were able to play on that forever.

      NONE of that would have happened without Ludendorff and the Kaiser helping Lenin get across to St Petersburg. One train ride. It changed the rest of the century. WWII. The cold war. Stalin. HITLER. STALIN. Death camps. Even the atomic bomb. Without the fear if a German Bomb, no Manhattan Project. No Hiroshima. No Nagasaki. No Red Scare. No Nixon, even. No Eisenhower. No Roaring Twenties? No Great Depression? Wow, who knows?

  4. What I’m saying is very simple: it’s not the Communists’ fault existing that led to the Cold War and other developments. Russians cannot, and should not, take any responsibility for their chosen method of existence. We are not Germany OR the United States – everyone has their own goddamn head on their shoulders – from Hitler to McCarthy to Stalin. Because – make no mistake – for me what is important is that my country survived. Without Lenin, Russia would have been no more. It was a life and death situation 100%, and Bolsheviks were most certainly the cure. So you’ll have to forgive me when my jaw drops to the floor because you want to pin American actions against Communism, and other things, on Russia’s continued existence. No. Americans caused the Cold War and the arms race as much as the Russians did. And the Russians did not force Nazi Germany’s hand either. Your entire tone treats Russian survival as some kind of nuisance that could have been avoided “If only” Lenin hadn’t reached Petrograd.

    I guess we should also feel sorry for the American pilot of the plane that bombed Hiroshima because he missed his daughter’s birthday on that day… “If only it weren’t for Japan, daddy would have made it home… Aaaaawwww, poor little Susy. If Japan hadn’t existed, she would surely have gotten to see her father.”

    Well, sorry for all these inconveniences. No – really. Sincere apologies, America.

    • Well, this is off topic, so I ask you to pull back on this line of thought, but I will reply:

      Stalin was very much an aggressor at the end of the war. His Army HAD won the war, at Stalingrad, Kursk, and the subsequent battles as the Germans did a rear guard retreat all the way back to Berlin. The Americans and Brits came in late, and they did very little. It was the Soviets and ONLY the Soviets that won the war.

      But was Stalin going to be satisfied stopping at Berlin? The existence of the Americans and their A-bomb is almost certainly the only reason he stopped at Berlin. If the Americans weren’t in the west in the numbers that they were, the Low countries and France and Italy would have been overrun. Stalin wanted a Bolshevik world, and – like Hitler – only force or the threat of force – was going to stop him.

      Bolshevism wasn’t the cure for NAYTHING. Totalitarianism is not the solution for anything – except freedom.

      I will stop there and just warn that any further pursuit of this down that road will not be approved here.

      I also never said AT ALL that I “want to pin American actions on Russia’s continued existence.” Do not put words in my mouth that I did not say.

      The reason for the Cold War was aggression and someone being capable of sufficiently scaring Stalin into not pushing to the Atlantic – or into Japan in the East. The reason the Japanese surrendered is NOT because of the A-bombs, but because the Russians were already invading in Korea. The Japanese surrendered before the Russians could advance any further. Stalin was feeling his oats and wanted to grab as much as he possibly could.

      The Americans were the bastion that Stalin couldn’t and wouldn’t advance against – not without risking A-bombs landing in Moscow or Leningrad. Especially the latter would have been an easy target. By the time he got his own Bomb, the lines had been drawn.

      As to Lenin, absolutely, the Bolsheviks in 1917 were a nothing. As long as 50 divisions of Germans were fighting in the East, Russia WAS a nuisance. Russia couldn’t win against the Germans, and the Germans couldn’t possibly win in the West with those 50 divisions tied up still fighting the Kerensky government’s army. YES, a nuisance, no matter how much your Motherland crying about it hurts. The big war THAT time was in the West. Not so after Barbarossa in the next war. I give full credit to the Soviets and their 1100 total divisions. Germany would have kicked the Americans’ asses. And – without the threat of the Bomb after Berlin – Stalin could have EASILY run right over the Americans and Brits.

      Geez, you are insane to say that Bolshevism is or was the solution to anything. What? Gulags everywhere? 300 million dead?

      End of discussion. No response is asked, nor will any be approved. This is the end of this discussion.

  5. History proves one thing over and over and over and over again: if it’s not one thing – it’s something else. One man can “change history” only when looking retrospectively. If it weren’t for Ludendorff, other situations would have created the same absolute result.

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