6.4

The Kings Depart

Richard Watt

Because the Freikorps were to play such an important role in the period of German history which followed these early-January days, it is worthwhile to study their background.

In their formation, the Freikorps owed much to two concepts which were legacies from the old Imperial Army. One of these was the status of the Army officer in Germany; the other was the techniques of the Sturmtruppen—storm troops—which the Army had developed during the war.

The officer of the Imperial Army had occupied a unique place in the German social scheme. In a nation where it seemed that almost everyone wore some type of uniform, where many persons, whether of noble birth or not, bore some sort of official title or had been awarded some type of medal or decoration, the Army officer was supreme. He was frequently a member of the nobility; failing this, he was certainly from the upper reaches of the bourgeoisie. He was usually the product of one of the famous cadet schools. Although he was given his commission by his King, not even the Kaiser would have dared to award it until the candidate's acceptance had been approved by every single officer in his prospective regiment. The Imperial Army officer was outside the jurisdiction of civil law and responsible only to the military code, which, incidentally, obliged him to punish on the spot any display of insolence or disrespect by a civilian. Everyone deferred to the military officer. Prior to 1914 it was said that “the young lieutenant went through life as a god, the lieutenant of reserves as a demigod.”

Much had changed during the few wartime years. The tremendous growth of the Imperial Army and the casualties which the relatively small (fifty thousand men) officer corps sustained had resulted in an explosive increase in its size. By the end of the war there were some 270,000 German officers. It had not been possible to maintain the same exalted social standards as before in selecting the new officers. But they thought themselves fully the equals of the prewar officers, whom they regarded with awe and whose manners they aped.

Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that when peace came the officer corps of the German Army comprised a caste apart, a large percentage of which was unprepared for a return to civilian life. Sullen and bitter, these suddenly declassed men found themselves stripped of everything they cared about: they had lost a war, lost an Emperor, lost their prestige, and lost their profession. The breakup of the Im

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