The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics, 1918-1945

By John W. Wheeler-Bennett | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

IT is little more than a hundred and sixty years ago that the Comte de Mirabeau, returning to Paris from an unsuccessful mission to Berlin, recorded two prophetic dicta on the country of his recent sojourn. 'La Prusse n'est pas un pays qui a une armée, c'est une armée qui a un pays', he wrote in 1788, and added, 'La guerre est l'industrie nationale de la Prusse'.

In support of this view it must be recorded, without prejudice, that since it was expressed by Mirabeau, Prussia, or Germany, has become involved in no less than seven wars, of which four -- those of 1813-15, 1864, 1866, and 1870-71 -- have resulted in outstanding victories, but three have ended in disasters even more resounding. No country has been so roundly and truly defeated as Prussia at Jena and Germany at the close of the First and Second World Wars. No country has displayed a more phenomenal capacity for military resilience or for beating ploughshares into swords.

On the occasion of each of these pronounced defeats, the victor sought by every means and device known in his age, by restriction and supervision and compulsion, to destroy the German potential for war, physically, morally, and spiritually. All three attempts were to prove futile. The united and surreptitious genius of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau evaded the confining provisions of the Convention of Königsberg with the same staggering success that Hans von Seeckt's clandestine brilliance circumvented the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, thus creating the framework for the military. expansion effected with such speed and proficiency by Adolf Hitler. In each case the victors were outwitted to their subsequent detriment.

At the conclusion of the Second World War it did seem that the aim of the ages might be achieved and the spirit of German militarism laid to rest. The armed forces of the Reich, by the instruments of Unconditional Surrender, had become, one and all, prisoners of war. The High Command of those forces had made public acceptance of the responsibility for that Unconditional Surrender. The great German General Staff and the Officer Corps had for the second time in a quarter of a century been officially declared dissolved and

-vii-

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