So that is who has ruled Germany for the last four years. That is who set the tone, and commanded and suppressed and reprimanded, and made Weltpolitik, for four years. These were the heroes of a people which revered itself through them. These two? Good God!
On the morning of 18th November 1919, at ten fifteen, Hindenburg and Ludendorff enter the unceremonious brown, chamber. The older man in his frock-coat, his square head has a hint of Mongol, but with his stature, moustaches and cheek-bone, he is just the kind of national hero that decorates beer mugs. Ludendorff, stiff as wood, excited and uncertain, in a black suit, with a hint of furtiveness around the nostrils that says, Sweden. An off-duty policeman, and a high-ranking civil servant. They take their seats.
Ludendorff immediately takes refuge in section 54 of the applicable code of criminal procedure, “Any witness can refuse to answer any question whose answer could expose him, or any member of his family, to the danger of criminal prosecution.” Does he think he needs such a buttress?
The hearing starts. A hearing such as would be unimaginable in a civil action for slander before the district court Berlin Mitte. It never occurs to the witnesses to answer the questions they are asked. They read out what they had previously decided to read out, from previously prepared statements, the whole time. They only respond to that which suits them. They say that they are not obliged to make a statement, and the committee accepts it.
There is a whole world on display. There they sit: Bethmann, old and broken; Zimmermann, red-blond, robust, and common; Bernstorff; the department manager Helfferich, with clear, too clever eyes, narrow skull and prominent ears. And at the front, at a little desk, the two national heroes. At the sides, the expert witnesses, including the nutcracker Dietrich Schäfer. Why this Steglitz gymnasiarch was there, was never revealed. He speaks occasionally, with a high, weak, permanently offended voice. The spectators were the profiteers of the new regime: Georg Bernhard’s yellow rubber face; a shiny, well-washed and appetizing officer with ample, pink flesh, like a piglet, whose lop-sided eyes say, “My principles are reality as it is!” and, “I’ll do anything!” and, “Yes, please, straight away!” Major von Gilsa, Gustav’s very right hand. If only he had been left-handed!
The hearing has begun, and a whole world is revealed. What a world! When Bethmann says, “Qui tacet consentire videtur,” I feel: Schulpforta, philosophy, university, and even if I didn’t know all that, I would still have had the feeling he is one of us, he is in some sense an intellectual. He may have been weak, compliant and dependent, but even then, he still belongs to our world. But these two? It was the greatest disappointment of my life. They were quite simply not there. No personality, no intellect, nothing. Two old, grey cadets.
Hindenburg is certainly the more human of the two. A heart beats in his breast. He feels something, for all his harsh rhetoric. They may not be our feelings, but he feels, his blood flows. The other is as cold as ice. Not the ghastly type of the shaven-headed headquarters officer of whom we see lots standing around in civvies, but of the same absence of feelings as them, the same imperturbable, incredible, unconscious brutality.
The perception of the world which is revealed is shocking. Nothing learned from experience, no insight into human nature, not a bit of Goethe or Dostojewski (one does not need to have read a page of either of them, but one needs at least one of them). They thought with their biceps and wrote with their fists. When Ludendorff says that he and Bernstorff had different views of the world, it is not correct. They have only one world-view between them. and it is Bernstorff’s.
The general defends himself against the most abstruse things. He has been accused of never smiling once, in ninety-four photographs: well, he bore so much responsibility that he was unable to smile. We are quite prepared to believe this weight of responsibility, but he should have not just felt it, he should have let himself be led by it. He could have smiled!
The audience holds its breath when Ludendorff speaks. The eyes of the officers in civvies glisten hard, but that is how it was the whole time. When Helfferich presented his completely unserious statistics, which can no longer console us, when Schäfer lectured about concepts, with professorial expertise, don’t be under any illusions, it had nothing to do with wood and metal, and 21% coal, it wasn’t about concepts. When Ludendorff spoke, the audience breathed, “Yes!” And when Dr Sinzheimer spoke, the German soul said, “ No!” and the officers wives sitting there felt, “We want our Reich back! Our Reich, in which we were happy and had a say, in which we had more to eat than the others, in which our husbands and friends could give orders, without having to obey any that hurt, themselves. Our Reich! Our Reich! That’s what it was about, that was the question.
Two worlds collided, but one of them, the old, worse one, made a pitiful, a disarming, impression. How will the right-wing journalists be able to present this moment as world-historic? They are going to have their work cut out.
For four years, these two men rejected any interference in their activities, with reference to their great responsibility, and now is the chance to get them to explain, so insist that they do! But they don’t, and one cannot pin them down, anyway. “Did you, General Ludendorff, read the expert reports which advised against the U-boot war, as carefully as those which were in favour?” Yes or no? “Were you aware of the stages of the Wilson plan?” Yes or no? “Did you have realistic grounds to believe that one could really defeat England?” Yes or no? And Ludendorff reads and reads. And the committee waits for answers. “I only had to deal with the Reich Chancellor. Graf Bernstorff’s opinions were not helpful to me”, says the General. That is my Germany.
The pointless urge to work for the sake of working, not to achieve objectives, to organize for the sake of organizing, eventually paralyzed the strength of all. One didn’t perceive anything. Asking for reasons was heresy. Everything was assigned, because arithmetic order is the support of the weak who can’t find their way in the colourful flow of life. And there was another serious misfortune. The German can only give his best when he is led dictatorially. He finds fruitful cooperation almost impossible. He immediately gets stuck in the organization, in questions of procedure, in formalities, with himself. Every organization, each collectivity, including intellectual ones, in Germany, is always prepared to forget substance for the sake of form. They obstruct each other, because everyone wants to have something to say. If you work in this country, three people will fall over themselves to show you how you should do it differently, but no one will help you. Work, and you will be able to tell a tale of how many constraints, reservations, considerations, and lead weights hang from your limbs. Work, and you will notice how unbearable it is to work with them. But now they were led dictatorially, and it still didn’t work. It couldn’t work, because all subordinate instances were no more than subordinate, and because that which should have been taken to heart, got no further than the paper it was written on. Even if Ludendorff had been a real man, he wouldn’t have been able to enforce his will on this heap of tangled knots. He would have got stuck. Militarism gone mad has knocked any independent work out of the Germans. It was degenerated militarism, not the legacy of Frederick the Great, the king who was also a life-long philosopher. No, this was the heyday of the NCOs.
Departmental loyalty and official procedures in unadulterated form. The complete inability of these brains to grasp that it is results that matter, not the files. Recording everything, absolutely everything, from whatever source, is disarming. Quid dicam, quod? They knew no better.
They continued to read out loud. The older reads out his, crude, badly structured, illogical, and of an astonishingly mediocre standard. I don’t know whether Helfferich rehearsed with him beforehand. If so, he is a very poor director. The air in the room has become stifling. Even good, old Holzbock has put in an appearance, and takes a look at his colleagues from the army. There is a break, during which the committee consults. Wilhelm Bruhn approaches Ludendorff, looking like a linoleum manufacturer. They shake hands, a heart-warming sight. Georg Bernhard throws himself at everything and everyone. I see him talking to a fat, old Colonel, who is squeezed into a much too tight Kaiser Wilhelm memorial frock-coat. I can’t hear a word, but I see the hands of the honest, old U-Boat stoker. Germany’s heroes from great times.
Heroes? Heroes? What have these two got to do with heroism? The private soldier was a hero, and the poor company commander who dug around in the dirt and pulled his soldiers out of it, was one, and the staff sergeant out there was one, and the man manning the torpedo tube. But these two? Well-fed civil servants, never in danger, and always ready, like Ludendorff in November 1918, to run away. Here too, Hindenburg, who continued to do his duty, and in so doing achieved a certain greatness, more valuable than the other.
But don’t they have the hearts of the people? Well, not the whole people, but are these really my Germans? They are not usually so chivalrous, so sensitive and tactful as they are being with these two failures? It is not verecundia. If only it were, but it is the heart speaking here, and the tug of the heart was the voice of fate. This is not the voice of reason, only the heart is speaking. And even if they had committed a terrible murder, half the nation would stand up and take their side. They don’t love these men personally, they love the representatives of a beloved system that gave everyone their share, and the chance to walk all over others. It is the same reason why the Kaiser is almost taboo in public discourse, not human compassion, and not magnanimity.
They were the leaders, the others the traitors. The huge danger in militarism has not yet been completely recognized. The middle class regards it as a virtue, and only regrets that the war was lost, and accuses at most these two. But that is false, the were the best representatives of the worst system. Millions still carry the royal, Prussian policeman around with them, these venal fellows who observe the regulations scrupulously, most scrupulously when the opportunity arises to bully someone they don’t like. But don’t believe that the little indications of humanity that can be observed elsewhere, and about which the Germans allow themselves a superior smile, are entirely absent here. They are just concealed, an insidious danger. It is all deeply hypocritical. The army and the administration were dishonest to the core. And these are their representatives. The effects on the middle class and the workers was catastrophic. Every tram conductor, every porter felt himself to be Ludendorff, commander-in-chief, Kaiser and NCO in one person.
And as I saw the two of them sitting here, miles from any intellectuality, miles from everything which we are used to regard as valuable, I understood again, and more strongly than ever, militarism is a state of mind, or rather, the absence of intellect.
The session ends. The heroes engage in primitive, stubborn obstruction. The committee gives in and adjourns indefinitely. Ludendorff’s strident, staccato voice reprimands. The gentlemen leave the room to the enthusiastic applause of the watching mob. One has to lose a war to be received like that.
Outside, in the snowy Tiergarten, hundreds stand behind a chain of green soldiers, and wave and threaten, and cheer and boo. The conduct of the soldiers is unimpeachably practical and even-handed. The car drives away. And as unlikable as the tunnel of spectators is, which shouts, “Down with the mass murderer Hindenburg!” which is wrong, as agitated as the country still is, in which entire classes are struggling for their economic position, as little as the danger of a militaristic Germany is over, one nevertheless feels one thing with satisfaction as one looks after the car through the flurry of snow: it’s over!
Ludendorff fled to Sweden in disguise on the day of the armistice
 http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_Sch%C3%A4fer. No English page.
District of Berlin