Monday, December 1, 2008

A US Weimar Rep? Red Flags (III): the Lessons

Continued from Part II: "A US Weimar Republic? Red Flags: Our Republic"

From the desk of Dr Sam C. Holliday, director of the Armiger Cromwell Center


The parallels
Of course there are many differences in the USA today and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Germany had been severely damaged by World War I and the Versailles Treaty; Germany lacked the Anglo-Saxon tradition of constitutionality, limited government, separation of powers and free-market capitalism; America has a tradition of smooth transitions between administrations; German nationalism was based on ethnic identity rather than identity with the principles in our founding documents; and the economy of Germany in the 1930s was worse than that of the USA today--at least worse than it is now.

Yet there are some ominous parallels. In the USA since the 1960s many traditional American ideas, values and attitudes have been eroded, and capitalism is being replaced by mixed economies. Religion and morality has less influence on behavior; there is a trend from individualism toward collectivism, relativism and socialism; there is greater acceptance of subjective ideas; there is greater catering to the fears and emotions of factions; and factions are becoming more alienated. These changes have parallels in Germany of the 1930s.

A key parallel is the replacement of rational thought with feelings and emotions. Another is how the vast majority of people simply absorb the thoughts presented by the educational establishment, the media, and the entertainment pop culture. The Utopias sought from 1919 to 1933 in Germany and in the USA after the 1960s are different, yet the pursuit of Utopias is the same.

Peikoff blames Christianity, and self-sacrifice for the collective, for paving the way to totalitarian dictatorship. Today we would have to blame postmodern thought. Will we hear the argument that centralized power under "an enlightened leader" is not all bad if necessary to solve crises and to insure "fairness for all"?

Will some group be declared an "enemy within"? Will the American people of the next decade be manipulated like the German people of the 1930s? Will the emotionalism of the Populares destroy the organic American nation motivated by its exceptionalism? An understanding of history might allow the USA to avoid the errors made by the Germans.

Of course these parallels only suggest a possible future for America. The many differences in the USA today and Germany in the 1930s probably insure stability and prevent a dictatorship, although future Caesars are likely. Such a tragic move would only be possible if the American culture is fundamental changed so that the frugality, industry and simplicity of ‘traditional Americans’ are replaced by decadence, self-indulgence and insolvent debt.

However, the red flags do justify a reexamination of the past. History is never repeated exactly, yet those unaware of history are destined to repeat past mistakes. How can we anticipate the future? We should study the past. Only thus can we have a glimpse of the road ahead. Hopefully if people understand the lessons of history they will be able to chart a better course. It is hoped that this essay can reveal a better course.

The Role of the German Military
The German military in the 1930s made errors of both commission and omission. For years they took too active a role in politics and then they lacked the will to prevent the destruction of a republican government, with checks and balances, and its replacement by a centralized authoritarian regime.

The paradox was that the military that was instrumental in the protection of the German people in 1919 (against the Communists and anarchists), in 1920 (against rejection of parliamentary government by the Prussian bureaucrat Kapp and Freikorps units) and in 1923 (against both Hitler and the Communists) was paralyzed after 1932 by their self-image of apolitical professionalism.

By August 1934 the German government had been centralized into a socialistic collective with Hitler as the Head of State—and the supreme authority. All officers and soldiers were required to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler personally, rather than to the German nation and Constitution of a German Republic.

After World War I the German nation lacked a social contract, so the Weimar Constitution was subject to continual interpretations, resulting in conflict among factions, rather than being a basis for unity. This made it difficult for the German military with experience of loyalty to a sovereign Head of State rather than to a sovereign people.

The leadership of the German military saw themselves as professional soldiers responsible for the defense of their country against external enemies. The officers were intelligent, dedicated men who had proven themselves in war, they were considered the brightest and the best, yet they were military technicians. They were more comfortable being loyal to a single leader, as under Kaiser William II, than under the control of a bungling parliament. They were not political visionaries—in fact they were politically handicapped.

Their guide was “Reichwehr does not shoot at Reichwehr”. They considered themselves above the selfish games of politicians and political parties. Although this gave them strength, it was also to prove a fatal weakness. Their apolitical professionalism did not prevent military leaders from taking key positions in government as illustrated by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, General Kurt von Schleicher, and General Hans von Seeckt.

In 1923 the German military was able to prevent Hitler from seizing power. From this defeat Hitler learned a lesson. He decided that in the future he would work to neutralize the military and come to power legally. He realized that military professionalism appropriate for War (conflict between the armed forces of states) and Peace (conflict/cooperation without the use of force) would be ineffective in political subversion in which all means possible are used to weaken and overthrow those in authority. He knew that if he could get power legally he could then use the military against external enemies, while he developed other organizations to insure internal control. Later these were to be realized in the SS and the Gestapo.

Field Marshal von Hindenburg was a renowned soldier with a long record of accomplishment in an era of conventional war, but he did not understand the dynamics of the 1930s or the complexity of political subversion. He had dealt with many politicians, but no true demagogue. He assumed that Hitler was just another clever, deceitful politician. So did von Schleicher, von Seeckt and most of the German military. The Reichswehr considered internal security and order primarily a police matter and something to be avoided by military professionals. This was the Achilles heel of the Reichswehr.

- Caption: Von Hindenburg on January 30, 1933 appoints Adolf Hitler as Chancellor, although the National Socialists lost two million votes and 34 seats in Parliament -

The actions of the German military after 1932 once again demonstrates that anything taken to the extreme creates its opposite. A lesson to be learned is that the vision of the Founding Fathers of the USA of checks and balances in a Republic is superior to the certainty of legality or the resolution of conflict through political debate.

Another is that decentralized federalism protects the people better than centralized government. A third lesson to be learned from the history of the German military under the Weimar Republic is that a military that focuses on external threats and war is vulnerable to a demagogue.

Can the USA Avoid the Mistakes Made by Germany?
Yes, but only if we learn from the past. There is going to be no “American Hitler”. However, power could be centralized so that the USA becomes a socialistic collective. And the outcome of interpretations to a “living” Constitution could mean a republic in name only--with little in common with what our Founders visualized.

If we remember the lessons of history the USA should be able to avoid the destruction of constitutional government, which took place in Germany from 1923 to 1934. However, US military must avoid the mistakes made by the German military, which will require an understanding of the concept of civilian control of the military among politicians, the military, and the public. Now there is only superficial awareness of this important concept.

To encourage thought about the meaning of civilian control of the military the essay 'Civil-Military Relations' dated 11 May 06 explains the four interpretations of civilian control of the military, and outlines its three requisites. Then the essay discusses how the concept evolved and how it has been used and misused. Finally, a conceptual framework is offered for those interested in understanding this important concept.

Civil-military relations cannot be seen solely in terms of legality. It must also be rooted in customs and traditions. The US military needs to have the knowledge, skill and will to balance effectiveness, responsiveness, and representativeness as it carries out its oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.

More importantly the American people must learn from history not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and they must realize that they are a unique people with a unique American culture. It is true that no one can foretell the future. Nevertheless we should hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. Americans must remember that the checks and balances (Stability through Equilibrium) and decentralization gifts of our Founders differ from the governmental structures and processes of all others. It is our mission to see that American exceptionalism is always a beacon for others.

- Caption: Washington Memorial - Hat Tip Ethan K. Birchard -
Agar, H., The Price of Union, Boston, 1950.
Barrow, R. H., The Romans, Harmondswrorth, Middlesex, 1955.
Peikoff, L., The Ominous Parallels, New York, 1982.
Mann, G. The History of Germany since 1789, New York, 1968.
Riencourt, A. de, The Coming Caesars, London, 1958.
Rossiter, C., Seedtime of the Republic, New York, 1953.

Copyright © 2008  Armiger Cromwell Center, Atlanta, GA 30319-1322. 404-201-7374. Permission is granted to forward this article by e-mail to friends or colleagues on a fair use basis. For reprint permission, contact Armiger Cromwell Center at

A printable version of the integral text of the essay "Red Flags", a parallel between Weimar Germany and Postmodern USA

- Filed on Articles in "The Armiger Cromwell Center" and "Americana" -


James Higham said...

Great article but don't forget the parallel between the SPPNA and the annexation of the Sudetenland.

cracker said...


Great Article, I was Directed here from "American Power"

question; In the 2nd to last paragraph, you briefly discuss Civil-military relations, that it cant be seen solely in terms of legality, but also rooted in customs and traditions.

If that be true then, it would also reflect the Commander and Chief of any referrence at any particular time in history.yes?

Am I also understanding that the C and C is bound to these interpreted traditions when choosing to engage the greatest fighting force on the planet. Instead of referrencing the legality of ones actions

Isnt this whats been happening since the beginning of the Iraq war.Are we not suffering the outcome of such practice at present?

Cassandra said...

To Cracker: here's a reply by the author, Dr Sam Holliday:

"The comment the 2nd to the last paragraph about civil-military is merely an introduction to a 11 May 2006 article on this subject at:

To understand the role of the CinC--and it was not intended to be what many now assume--it would be necessary to read that article. It discusses how civil-military relations has changed from what the Founders intended. This change happened long before the Iraq war. The American people will have to answer the question: Is the US Constitution a living document that must keep up with changes of the moment, or should we attempt to follow the original intent of our Founders?

cracker said...

Thank you for the response, Dr.
and direction to the Essay "Civil-Military" Relations"

As a follow up,
What about the 'Soldiers Ethic" in this equation, (As a soldier myself, GO Army).....this is the oath I took

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

this oath pledges allegiance to the Constitution......and obediance to the
C in C,

In one commitment, it would seem we are in conflict....except that when in conflict....the constitution IS the default . ie a soldier can refuse an order if deemed un ethical OR un-constitutional, and have his case heard in court (see the case of Lt. Watada)....but a violation of the constitution by a soldier already has legal penalties.

So the comparisons to the German model that you make are interesting, but I dare say "sensational" referencing the "Civil-Military Relations Essay" outlining the 4 interpretations and 3 requisites, the "soldiers ethic" being one and its connection to the Law being established within the oath.....

Brings us back to...."terms of legality"

I submit that the "American Hitler" scenario has just come to a close, as of Jan . 20th.

and there is a success in reviewing how the military policed itself,in the face of its director ( the C inC) as in relation to the Constitution of the United States; including waving red flags on questionable techniques as legal in terms of international laws and agreements in the realms human decency.

Civil-Military relations must be seen, ultimatey, in terms of legality, it is what is prescribed by the foundation, the oath of an American fighting soldier.

This is the exceptionalism of the American People, We are governed Not by men, but by law.

Cassandra said...

Cracker, you have identified the "sticky wicket" which the "Solder's Ethic" seeks to resolve. As you have noted there is a potential contradiction in the oath, and the Constitution is the default position--and in that sense it is the "rule of law". Also, it has been established as a "matter of law" that no one in the military has to obey an "unlawful order". To determine just what is "unlawful" it is necessay to have an understanding of "civilian control of the military" as it was views when the Constitution was written. This is where custom and tradition comes in. All of this is discussed in "Civil-Military Relations", 11 May 06 in the sections: Representativeness, Blending, The Soldier's Ethic, and A Conceptual Framework. Do you disagree with anything in that essay?

Attempts to solve this problem legally do not have a very good record. One way is to make the military responsible for and the custodian of the Constitution (Turkey, Pakistan, and several Latin American countries). The other is to have the military take a oath of loyalty to the Head of State (Germany under Hitler, and whenever there was the Divine Rule of Kings). I suggest that neither of these solutions is as satisfactory for a representative democracy as that resolve by the "Soldier's Ethic". Do you disagree?

The key variable in this is civic virtue. Too little civic virtue (during the decline stages of any state. See: results in atrophy, chaos and collapse, while too much civic virtue (for example Germany under Hitler) results in hubris, aggression, and suicide. Civil-military relations as presented in the 11 May 06 essay is designed to resolve this dilemma. I hope you agree.

Dr. Sam Holliday

cracker said...

Thank you again Dr.

I really appreciate your replies and your patience.

and yes I do agree, with what you put forward in the essay "Civil-Military Relations.

And it appears to me that in the "blending" it is the "soldier's ethic (or oath) that is the binding agent in the mix.

I also concur that a singular oath to the Constitution Or a Supreme commander would shorten the life span of this American experiment considerably.

The existing oath performs its function, its the lack of political and judicial will (due to ignorance of duty or pre-disposition of accountable officials to turn a blind eye)that undermines the function the system which you put forth, when it has been corrupted.

ie. The C n C has mis-used the Military by deliberatly mis-leading Congress and the People (because he believes he's on a mission from God (lets just say)). He succeeds in putting the force in harms way, but it is later realized that the C n C's methods (Although noble) are un-Constitutional. Thereby undermining the Civil Military covenant contained within the oath.

At this point it is the action of the Justice Dept that will dictate what is legal and what is illegal.....if the Justice dept. remains dormant at this time....then my friend, we have a problem.

"Civic Virtue"? Dr.?
Talk about your very "Sticky Wicket" as a variable....

Sir, the "Civic Virtue" within this democracy,is just that, a "Variable" always has been, always will be.

from town to town , region to region, state to state, it varies, let alone the interstitial groups and organizations that bind like minded types across said borders.... in the quest for the ultimate goal... "legal"recognition of their cause or belief, a definition within the Constitution, State or Federal. This is what its all about, its the core of this great and wonderful system.

I will read the piece at "new citizen"

but again, to compare post WW1 Germany, humiliated,suffering starving and brutally taxed in punishment/reparrations from France, Russia and England for the costs of the great war (absolutley Ripe for a Demagogue) the U.S. at present, in terms of "civic virtue" is .....inconsistent to the "possible" outcomes you profess.... or the ideas you put forth in the section titled "Can the USA avoid the mistakes made by Germany".

In other words, I cant see the connection of your examples to your statements or ideas.... if based in the reality of historical evidence.


Cassandra said...

I appreciate your thoughts, but I am not into blogging and I do not want to impose on Cassandra. Just contact me directly at . I have answered your questions many times to others and would be happy to do the same for you. In fact tomorrow I'll be sending out something on the distinction between Sacred Authority and Secular Authority ("legal" in your view). Here are brief replies to your points:
1. I am glad you agree with the 'Civil-Military Relations', 11 May 06
2. I do not think President Bush mislead anyone, but I have been very critical of what was done in Iraq after the first 21 days (See 'Iraq File 02-05' at: )
3. As I have noted there are many differences in pre WW II Germany and US today, but the Red Flags are the parallels in psychology and philosophy.
4. I do not think this issue could realistically be resolved by the "Justice Dept." of any country--and probably not by the legal or legislative systems either. Whenever it does become an issue it can only be resolved within the armed forces.
v/r, Sam Holliday

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