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

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

CHAPTER 4
VICTORY IN THE EAST AND 'PHONEY WAR' (September 1939-June 1940)

(i)

How differently Germany went to war in 1914 and in 1939. In the First World War, after the somewhat opéra-bouffe ceremonies of 'party unity' in the White Salon of the Berlin Schloss and the popular demonstrations of wild enthusiasm, the Kaiser left for Imperial Headquarters, where he rapidly became a cipher. The Chief of the Great General Staff, as the executive head of OHL (Oberste Heeresleitung), became automatically the most powerful official of the State and, though the Emperor and the Imperial Chancellor spent long periods at Headquarters, it was increasingly apparent that their influence and authority were being more and more freely subordinated to that of the military; a process which, under the condominium of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, achieved the extent of direct usurpation. In the four years of 1914-18 the High Command became the ruling power in Germany.

It was quite otherwise in the Second World War. There was little enthusiasm and there were no demonstrations. Though many Germans hated the Poles, and would have given their warm support to a purely German-Polish War, they were still stunned and giddy from the volte face of the pact with Stalin, and deeply depressed at the prospect of a general conflict, since few now doubted that Britain and France would make good their promises to Poland. In the Reichstag on September 1 the Führer's speech was received, even by his disciplined voting-robots, with much less cheering than on previous and less important occasions,1 and there was none of that spontaneous outburst of patriotic enthusiasm which characterized a similar occasion on August 4, 1914.

The position of the Army, moreover, was very different. Hitler began the war not only as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces -- a position analogous to that of Supreme War Lord which

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1
Shirer, p. 197.

-456-

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