Popular Myths and the Conspiracy Theory: ‘the stab in the back’ 1918

 

Friedrich Ebert did not believe in the Allies' victory / en.wikipedia.org

Friedrich Ebert did not believe in the Allies’ victory / en.wikipedia.org

Learnéd, and sometime not so learnéd people have started myths right down through the centuries almost since the human race was ‘uncivilized’. King Alfred ‘burning the cakes’, ‘Robin Hood and Maid Marian’, Richard III ‘murdering his nephews’, changelings occupying thrones in Europe, what lay behind the sinking of the Titanic, foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor, was the Russian royal family killed in a cellar in Siberia? Plus a long line of etceteras.

In the twentieth century the conspiracy theories come dozens at a time: who shot Kennedy and why? Did Marilyn commit suicide and why? How did James Dean die in a road accident on a day with perfect visibility and on an empty road? (there is a really juicy theory about this but I’m going to let you find it out for yourself!) Why did Bush Sen. defeat Saddam Hussein over Kuwait and then allow him to continue ‘governing’? Why did Bush Jun. do the same but leave it to fellow Iraquis to finish off the tyrant? Who was really responsible for the attack on the trains at Atocha station in Madrid? (The ‘judge’ in charge of the investigation disallowed mention of the word ‘ETA’ on the first day of the hearing; why, since Basque terrorists were present at every stage of the plot).

The above and many others are conspiracy theories: our book shelves are loaded with large expensive volumes written by experts, explaining everything (or nothing at all). We will start our series with the idea that the German army had NOT been defeated in 1918.

The theory was that treacherous politicians had cheated the German army and forced them to surrender. There was a revolution in 1918/19, say the theorists, which destroyed discipline in the ranks and made continuing the fight impossible. The coalition parties are held responsible in this theory, especially the Social Democratic Party, which accepted the Armistice and brought about revolution by an insistence on peace.

Later (say the theorists) the politicians signed the unpopular, forced and dictated Treaty of Versailles (q.v.). Here many eminent historians agree, as they believe there would have been no World War II if there had been no Treaty of Versailles. Perhaps they are right. Only a thrashed and defeated and bankrupt country (burdened with enormous pride) could have produced the man and the hour – Adolf Hitler.

This theory or myth was spread across Europe by university professors, army officers, civil servants and leaders of the Churches. It is true that when Ebert, the German chancellor (and one of the ‘November criminals) responsible for the so-called defeat, greeted the Army in Berlin he said, “I salute you returning unvanquished from the field of battle!” But is what he said true? Surely it was not the military collapse which followed the revolution, but the revolution which was the result of military defeat.

This dire conspiracy theory, much spread by the popular press and not just in Germany, had a bad effect on the Weimar Republic (q.v.) and its democratic institutions. Later the fore-mentioned Hitler was to make clever use of the myth to bring about the downfall of Weimar, and the upsurge of the National Socialist Party.

   

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