Yesterday's Battles and Future War
The German Official Military History, 1918–1939
At the end of July 1943, at about the time that the strategic air war against Germany reached a new peak with the raids on Hamburg, Alfred von Wegerer, a member of the army's Military History Research Institute (Kriegsgeschichtliche Forschungsanstalt des Heeres), which had been given the responsibility to complete the German official military history of World War I, looked back on more than twenty years of work:
It seems necessary to me that we break with the old tradition of military
history.… Instead of separate accounts of the history of operations and politics,
we must–in the interest of a better understanding of the totality "Totalität" of war
and its universal-historical consequences–find a way to comprehend the totality
"Ganzheit" of war, in all its military and political aspects, as Clausewitz described
it. In this way, we should reach a deeper understanding of the interrelationship and
complementarity of politics and the conduct of war.1
At the same time, however, his colleague Friedrich Solger complained about the same official history's want of practical applicability. "Having seen how fourteen bulky volumes on the First World War have served inadequately to prepare for the Second," he wrote, "we must conclude that the approach was wrong."2
Both testimonies spoke to the skepticism with which the authors of the official history viewed their own work during its final days. Today, the term "official history" often provokes an acute intellectual reaction among scholars. Probably no genre of history has existed in such an uneasy triangular relationship as this one, which must negotiate among academic scholarship, politics, and the defense community. Keith Wilson defined the key aspect of this relationship when he noted that "governments and their officials fear
1 Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv, Freiburg im Breisgau (hereafter BA-MA), W-10/50075, Report von
Wegerer, July 31, 1943.
2 Ibid., Report Solger, Aug. 1, 1943.