Lessons of the Weimar Republic: The History of Weimar Germany Illustrates How the Social, Political, and Cultural Destruction Caused by Hyperinflation So Easily Leads to the Loss of Liberty

By Telzrow, Michael E. | The New American, May 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Lessons of the Weimar Republic: The History of Weimar Germany Illustrates How the Social, Political, and Cultural Destruction Caused by Hyperinflation So Easily Leads to the Loss of Liberty


Telzrow, Michael E., The New American


In the wake of President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget and a series of bank and industry bailouts by the Federal Reserve, the specter of hyperinflation haunts the United States. There are plenty of historical examples of what hyperinflation can do to an economy. One need not necessarily look to 1920s Weimar Germany for an example; present-day Zimbabwe provides the most recent version of the economic wreckage caused by government planning that devalues a national currency. But Weimar Germany is instructive in that it illustrates the social, political, and cultural destruction caused by hyperinflation that leads to the loss of liberty; for it was Weimar Republic Germany that gave birth to the political success of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement.

Social and political revolutions often follow defeat on the battlefield, and so was the case with Germany in the wake of World War I. By the summer of 1918, it was apparent that Germany had lost the war. Even the absurdly optimistic reports from the High Command could not hide the fact that the German Army would not prevail on the field of battle. Five years of warfare in which soldiers from both sides were sacrificed in meat-grinder-like assaults on entrenched positions bad nearly wiped out an entire generation of German men. Since arriving in France in 1917, American troops had tilted the balance of power in favor of the Allies, and it was only a matter of time before the Yanks would turn the tide.

Choked by an Allied blockade that threatened starvation at home, and battling a loss of confidence in Kaiser Wilhelm II, the army readied itself for defeat. In order to deflect responsibility for defeat, army leaders handed over power to a civilian government under Prince Max yon Baden in October 1918. The beginning of the end came when the German naval command, as part of a last-ditch effort, ordered the fleet at Wilhelmshaven to engage the British fleet--a ludicrous command that compelled the majority of sailors to mutiny. Demonstrations at Kiel, Germany, on November 3, 1918, ignited a larger mutiny and soon soldiers, sailors, and workers from all over Germany were organizing local "soviets" in order to take control of local governments. Senior Prussian officers no longer controlled the army, but in what became a characteristic of the "1918 revolution," mutineers and erstwhile revolutionaries generally maintained order in their ranks. In many cases, junior and non-commissioned officers were elected to lead defeated or mutinous units back home. It was, in the end, perhaps the most ordered military collapse in the history of warfare. Carl Zuckmayer, a young German officer commenting on the scene, wrote, "Starving, beaten, but with our weapons, we marched back home."

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Revolution

Horrific losses in France's Argonne Forest region put the final nail in the coffin, and on November 9, 1918, a cease-fire was announced, and General Wilhelm Groener ordered what remained of the army to withdraw from the front lines. The kaiser's abdication followed quickly and Prince Max von Baden, who had been acting as chancellor since October, handed power over to Social Democrat leader Friedrich Ebert.

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A republic was quickly declared, but its form was completely unknown at the time. In any case, the new "republic" had to quickly deal with a host of problems including signing an armistice, demobilizing an army, and gaining control of a growing revolution. The kaiser's abdication forced other German crowned heads to do the same. But unlike the Russian Revolution, where the communists spilled the blood of royalty, and delightfully shot Tsarist army officers, this German revolution maintained the strange sense of decorum that characterized the unit mutinies a month earlier. They would not repeat the brutality that the Bolsheviks had visited upon the Tsar and his family. These revolutionaries displayed their anger by merely cutting off officer rank insignia rather than resorting to lynching, as was the fashion in Russia. …

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