The confluence of Armistice Day and the 100th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution has caused Clio to rear her head again and consider the fortunes of the German Empire in 1918.
Contrary to plan, Germany had been thwarted in the West by the French and British but experienced considerable success on the Eastern Front against Russia. However their main allies in that area, Turkey and Austria, were on the verge of collapse.
Because of their inability to break the British Blockade production was starting to suffer and Verdun and Somme (more about the Somme on Hullabaloo) had produced inconclusive results despite massive sacrifices of men and material. On April 6th, 1917 the United States declared war and Germany was faced with a fresh new opponent theoretically able to field millions of soldiers against it.
The bright spot was that France and Britain were exhausted too and U.S. troops could not be transported and operational for a year.
Change in plan!
Russia was a ramshackle wreck at the beginning of the war having just suffered an aborted Revolution and a crushing military defeat by Japan (by the way allies in WW I) in 1905. While they’d had successes against the Austrians, Germany looked invulnerable, the Romanovs and their Generals were hopelessly incompetent, and in March 1917 (like, just one month before) they’d been forced to abdicate and replaced by a Social Democratic Government.
Unfortunately, under heavy pressure from France and Britain, that Government decided to continue the War effort. Hey, they could still push around the Austrians, how bad could it be?
Well, instead of Austrians it could have been Germans but there weren’t any to spare so they did something really crafty. They put Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov on a sealed train in Switzerland (can’t let those Communist ideas pollute the Homeland) and shipped him off to St. Petersburg (the Russian Capital). He arrived about the same time the U.S. entered the war.
By November Lenin and the Bolsheviks were in charge and he sent Lev Bronstein to Brest-Litovsk to negotiate with the Germans and give them anything they wanted. This happened in March 1918 (like, exactly one year later). To be fair he and the rest of the Communists expected to get it all back in the world-wide Revolution.
So it worked like a charm, Russia was out of the war and Germany was able to transport their troops West to spank the newly mobilized and untested U.S. and the demoralized French and British.
I’d like to say it would have succeeded except for those meddling kids, but the truth is it was doomed from the start. Any hope of German victory had actually ended with the first battle of the Marne in September 1914. Their final offensive was the second battle of the Marne and by the 6th of August 1918, 4 years and 5 days from Germany’s declaration of War on Russia, it was over and had been for some time.
Well, except for the dying. Germany put everything they had left into their final offensive but it was too little, too late.
They were out of soldiers, out of bullets, out of food. The entire country had been stripped to the bone and this was concealed from the troops who were expected of course to defend whatever gains Germany had been able to eke out. Back home there were riots as fierce as any in Russia the year before. By September 29th, 1918 the Western Front was collapsing. It was Hindenburg and Ludendorff who moved to force the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II because the Allies refused to negotiate with him (he was a mere puppet of his Generals but he was also a delusional asshole who went into hiding in Spa, Belgium; Ludendorff and Hindenburg went on to become icons of the right). They tried to broker a treaty based on their rapidly deteriorating territorial gains.
On October 30th, 1918 Turkey signed an armistice and Austria surrendered unconditionally. On November 7th Prince Max von Baden sent a delegation to a railway spur in Compiègne, France where in a train car whenever German representatives raised objections they were met with a stern- “Remember Brest-Litovsk”.
The guns finally fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Germany underwent an immediate Revolution of the Democratic Socialist type and 8 months later signed the Versailles Treaty which might have been more charitable had the Allied leaders understood a little more about Economics.
Back in Germany this rapid and inexplicable (in terms of the propaganda their media supplied) reversal of fortune was translated by failures who knew better like Hindenburg and Ludendorff as the fault of anyone but themselves, especially those damn Jewish Socialists. It’s easy to see where people who enabled Hitler got their ideas (Hitler himself and many of his cronies were more deeply warped and I’m being enormously charitable here because I’m judging people stupid rather than evil).
Thus the myth of Dolchstoßlegende.
Crap. The proximate cause of the Thirty Years War (not that one, the one between 1914 and 1945) was Nationalist Xenophobia, Colonial Imperialism, and Unrestrained Monopolistic Capitalism.
We’ve seen a system that appears to provide greater benefits for more people without quite so many deaths involved. You’d think a rational person would chose one rather than the other unless you define rational as private, personal interest. Any parallels you see are simply because people do not change and those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.