Academic journal article The Historian

Hitler's Geostrategist?: The Myth of Karl Haushofer and the "Institut Fur Geopolitik"

Academic journal article The Historian

Hitler's Geostrategist?: The Myth of Karl Haushofer and the "Institut Fur Geopolitik"

Article excerpt

Hitler's "Thousand-year Reich" existed for little more than a decade, but it has generated an abundant and enduring historical mythology. This typically assumes lurid, and sometimes gruesome, forms. Tales of SS "stud farms," Nazi submarine bases in Antarctica, Hitler's possession of the magical spear that pierced Christ's side, bath soap from rendered human remains, and many more patent falsehoods--often originating in wartime German gossip--remain staples of popular books and websites about the Nazi era. Much painstaking scholarly effort has been devoted to correcting the historical record concerning all these fantasies, but they, and many more, continue to distort conventional accounts of Hitler's Germany. (1)

Popular susceptibility to tall tales about the Nazi state is perhaps unsurprising, given the fanciful quality of some of the regime's actual projects--dispatching Himalayan expeditions to find the origins of "Aryanism," for instance. (2) Persistent distortions about the Nazis are, however, a cause for serious historical concern. By distracting historical memory from specific perpetrators toward generalized and glamorized evil, popular mythologizing runs the risk of trivializing Nazi crimes. (3) Other myths--minimizing the Wehrmachfs involvement in genocide on the Eastern front, for example--have emerged in the service of specific political ends, such as strengthening Western anti-communist solidarity during the Cold War. (4) But mythology of a more scholarly nature, neither sensationalist nor deliberately exculpatory, has also developed around the Hitler state. Accepted historical conventions surrounding the evolution of Hitler's imperialist ideology, for example, continue to perpetuate a number of myths about the role played by geopolitics, or Geopolitik, and its best-known proponent, General Karl Haushofer (1869-1946). Close examination of the origins and transmission of a central component of these myths--the notorious but non-existent "Institut fur Geopolitik"--illustrates the danger that even well-intended misrepresentations can pose to the integrity of the historical record, while illuminating the dynamics of historical production that permit error to become entrenched as legitimate history.

Ever since the very first week of the Second World War, otherwise sound and carefully edited scholarly works have maintained that the retired general Haushofer ran a Nazi think-tank, the Institut fiir Geopolitik [IfG], at the University of Munich. (5) These works credit Haushofer with introducing Hitler to the concept of Lebensraum and related geopolitical notions, and with convincing Hitler of the need for an aggressive German program of continental expansion. Both Haushofer and his supposed Institut have, through the same decades, been charged with exercising a decisive influence upon Hitler's wartime strategy, an attribution, as shall be seen, that can in no way be sustained by an objective consideration of the evidence. The result has been to perpetuate in the historical literature both a false representation of the career and influence of Karl Haushofer and, most importantly, a chronic misapprehension of the roots of Hitler's ideology.

Despite the fact that no establishment called the Institut fiir Geopolitik ever existed, nor that Haushofer, its alleged director, ever claimed that such an Institut existed, and that there was never any organization that did anything like what such an institute might be supposed to have done, the towering influence of Haushofer's Institut remains a dutifully cited dogma of Geopolitik and Nazi ideology. And this has been so for more than three generations now. As early as 1944, for example, the Institut was cited in Derwent Whittlesey's influential and pioneering English-language essay on Haushofer. (6) Although Geopolitik, discredited by its Nazi associations, received little scholarly attention in the immediate aftermath of the war, the legend of the "Institute" persisted through the decades, appearing in the 1970s in standard works like Louis L. …

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