The Shadows of Total War: Europe, East Asia, and the United States, 1919-1939

By Roger Chickering; Stig Förster | Go to book overview
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8

Sore Loser
Ludendorff's Total War

ROGER CHICKERING

The scenes in Sweden betrayed his turmoil. Here, during his walks in early 1919, his wife reported that he "was lost in strained concentration. His lips were constantly moving, as he incessantly murmured words and sentence fragments quietly to himself."1 Forced to flee from revolutionary Germany to Sweden in fear of his life, Erich Ludendorff was beginning a long emotional and intellectual odyssey, whose goal was to make sense of the disaster, both collective and personal, that the armistice of November 1918 had signaled. The quest for discovery and self-justification occupied him for the rest of his life. In the course of this quest, he became one of the most public figures in Germany–as memoirist, journalist, polemicist, political activist, rebel, and folk-hero–until he withdrew, now the embittered visionary, into the company of his most devoted admirers. In this last capacity, he composed a small volume in 1935 on a topic of general interest. Like everything else he wrote after 1918, this was an intensely personal statement, a variation on the private obsessions that had governed his public agenda since the Great War. This treatise, however, also lent broad currency and meaning to the term total war.

Had it been frozen in January 1918, Ludendorff's biography might well have been scripted to dramatize the triumph of willpower over material limits.2 Not the least in his own mind, his rise to leadership of the

1 Margarethe Ludendorff, Als ich Ludendorffs Frau war (Munich, 1929), 244.

2 Ludendorff still lacks a scholarly biography, so one must choose among a number of more popular stud-
ies: Franz Uhle-Wettler, Erich Ludendorff in seiner Zeit: Soldat-Stratege-Revolutionär: Eine Neubewertung
(Berg, 1996); Wolfgang Venohr, Ludendorff: Legende und Wirklichkeit (Berlin, 1993); Roger Parkinson,
Tormented Warrior: Ludendorff and the Supreme Command (London, 1978); D. J. Goodspeed, Ludendorff:
Genius of World War I
(Boston, 1966); Correlli Barnett, The Sword-Bearers: Supreme Command in the
First World War
(Bloomington, Ind., 1963), 269–361; Karl Tschuppik, Ludendorff: Tragedy of a Military
Mind
(Boston, 1932). See also Bruno Thoss, "Erich Ludendorff," Neue deutsche Biographie 15:285–90;
J. W. Wheeler-Bennett, "Men of Tragic Destiny: Ludendorff and Groener," in Richard Pares and
A. J. P. Taylor, eds., Essays Presented to Sir Lewis Namier (London, 1956), 506–42.

-151-

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