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Besides, I hope you will give up iht idea of becoming a civil servant or a landlord, and prefer to throw in your lot with the military estate. At this time, when he had become a monitor and was thus placed in a position to command instead of to obey, a comrade described him in the friendliest spirit. The new-comers felt comfortable and sheltered under his guardianship. Such could not be said of all the monitors. He was permeated with a sense of the importance of his high calling. Nor arc we surprised that he should wish for another war to come speedily.
He had not long to wait. In the few weeks remaining before the outbreak of hos- tilities, Hindenburg had to go through a ceremony which can only be Ukened to the taking of the habit by a monk; he had to swear allegiance to his king. Vows in perpetuity of loyalty and obedience were freely taken by those who wished; he who did not feel inclined to take them because his commander failed to suit his taste, could stay at home. An oath of loyalty to the monarch was invested by the priests with a solemn ritual, that soldiers might be scared against flight and desertion.
Having been brought up to a belief in the king, glowing with a sentiment of pride in his calling as officer and vassal, he endowed the cere- mony with its full symbolical meaning, and never forgot what he had lived through during those moments.
If I fall, my death will be of the most honourable kind; if merely wounded I shall have to make the best of it; and if I return uninjured, all the better. But the sound of the first shots produced a feeling of elation they were greeted with scattered cheers , I said a short prayer, gave a few thoughts to the dear ones at home and to the ancient name I bear, and then Forward Marchl The number of wounded caused my enthu- siasm to wane, and to give place to cool-headedness, or, rather, to indifference in face of danger.
One is not fully stirred until the fight is over, when one has more time to contemplate the ghastliness of war — but I do not wish to dwell upon this. My aim on the battlefield has been achieved, I have been given a smell of powder, I have heard the bullets whistle by, bullets of every kind, shells, grape-shot. I am slightly wounded, and am, therefore, an interesting person, took five cannon, etc. If we add to this self-revelation what he tells us of the battle of St. Privat, that he timed its important incidents watch in hand, and that he took delight in his first decoration being now about to earn another , we get the picture of a thoroughly efficient officer whom no mistaken desire for smartness wifi lure into overstatement.
The keynote is duty in the best sense of the term. Our family, worse luck, has been greatly neglected in this respect. Praised be Jesus Christ that our beloved child has been so graciously saved and has not had to enter that place where the face of horror stares down on one and the tears of woe have flowed so profusely and are destined to continue to flow so long! It is wonderful to reflect that the wounds which must afilict the son may be healed by the father, while both are fulfilling their duty. Hindenburg had in this letter already reached the uttermost limit of his powers of thought and feeling, and will vainly endeavour, sixty years later, to reconcile such antagonistic duties as those towards God and king or those towards people and king.
In the political sphere, too, the foundations of his outlooks 31 Once More Black-Red-and-Gold were laid at this period when two campaigns led him along with the Prussian armies from victory to victory. In the first, the South German foe wore an armlet sporting the black-red-and-gold tricolour. Hatred for these colours, which his father and mother had instilled into his mind through their stories of the revolu- tionary epoch, must have filled his soul as he saw these same colours of revolution and democracy flaunted by the enemy.
Now he was expected to kill men with whom, four years later, he would be marching shoulder to shoulder against France; after such an upbringing as he had received, this fratricidal war of German against German must have been as puzzling as was the contrast between the son who killed and the father who cured. It shows us a somewhat romantic- looking youth who had gained in manliness since the photos taken of him in earlier years, but as yet none of that rigid self- control which became so noticeable a decade later.
A curious feature of the engagement was that, since we were approaching from the north-east, we had to take care not to trespass on Belgian territory. By the time he was twenty-three, Hindenburg was satiated with victories and visions of horror; for the remainder of his life he could no longer desire war. The heroic epoch of his career was over. Followed forty years of peace-time avocations, of study in the arts of war, of theory. With all the more force of feeling and thought must he have reverted to the days of his youth as he grew broader in the beam and older.
His fortunate escape from many fights must have strengthened his faith; and though his simple Protestant beliefs protected him from feeling he had been saved because he was intended to carry out a mission, still he could not fail to look upon himself as a lucky fellow and one predestined to success. As the wars of his youth were haloed by memory, it was natural that this man whose intelligence was by no means profound should come to feel that during the period in question his country had reached a climax both socially and politically. He had seen the emperor of the French taken prisoner, had witnessed the capitulation of Paris, had watched his king become German 55 D The Pole Star emperor — all with his own eyes, aglow with the ardour of youth.
For forty years his spiritual life circled as the starry heavens circle round the pole star round the day when he had been privileged to be one of the conquerors who rode into the capital of the hereditary foe. How scanty were his inner experiences during the four decades is shown by the fact that no more than twenty pages of his memoirs are devoted to that period. The king and the flag were the symbols in which his life of feeling found sufficient expression; and one may suppose that like William himself in the emperor he con- tinued to revere the king, and in the German flag to honour the Prussian.
Sober-minded old Prussia was the only country in the world which had a colourless flag: black-and-white, so correct, coldly juxtaposing night and day. Now a red streak had been added, cunning old Bismarck having explained to the king that this came from the red-and-white of the Brandenburgs, the Hansa States, and the Holsteiners. Hindenburg renewed his oath of fealty to the banner which had thus come into existence; but at heart he remained a Prussian, without foreseeing imder what ama2ing circumstances he would be compelled, sixty years later, in extreme old age, to take sides for the German realm and against Prussia.
It brought him an abundance of happiness and content, and for nearly the whole of the four decades gave warmth to an existence in which the grey days of service were not adorned either by friendship or travel or study. In the routine of peace-time service which occupied thirty out 34 Routine Work of these forty years, Hindenburg had no more opportunity of distinguishing himself than any other officer in such piping times. Although the ordinary course of promotion made him a general, not one of his biographers has been able to disinter a document, an utterance, or a proposal which was worth recording.
He did not impress any one as being a man of exceptional powers, yet we note that he is never alluded to as having been supercilious or arrogant, as were so many of his colleagues. Indeed, he is universally described as patient, goodnatured, dispassionate, and thoroughly efficient both as teacher and organiser; as never undecided, because never nervous; as always firm and simple, like a woodcut, as we see in his portraits. If, on inspection days, the judgment of other chiefs had seemed to him unduly severe, he would tone down the criticism, or even say something to counteract it altogether.
Since he was never a mere routinist, but always moved like a patriarch among his satellites just as if he were dealing with his underlings upon the manor, one might still see him as an elderly general putting young recruits through their musketry drill, or lying in the trenches side by side with his men showing them how to take cover.
Such a post was given him in spite of the bourgeois streak which had come to him from the maternal side, without special patronage from the em- peror, without money, and wholly without dancing attendance upon court officials or any place-hunting on his part — for through- out life Hindenburg had little ambition, though much pride of caste.
In his middle fifties he became corps commandant in Magde- 35 Flesh-and-Blood Sentries burg, and there his palace was guarded by two sentries and their boxes just as he had wished long ago in his cadet days as ornaments for his knick-knack shelf. His position was now so high that he took precedence even of the lord-lieutenant of the province, and he acquired the habits and enjoyed the comforts of a great gentle- man to the utmost capacity his superb health allowed: all this could not fail to be extremely gratifying to a man who delighted in his ancient lineage.
For a Prussian general, the great imperial manoeuvres were as exciting as a war; but he got through the most dreaded reviews with the utmost imperturbability, in spite of the capricious temper of his imperial master; he was able to take a nap on a hard chair in the midst of a noisy company, and to wake up at the appropriate moment refreshed and alert. This monotonous career was enlivened by eight years on the General Staff, which was only open to officers of exceptional ability, the way being blocked by a series of difficult examinations.
Hindenburg began preparing for these ordeals at the War Academy into which he had been accepted in , and where he continued his studies until The course of study at this institution had just been thoroughly remodelled: the instruction in the art of war and tactics, the history of war, and military law being increased, whereas the history of literature was cut down by half, and philo- sophy was entirely expunged from the curriculum. Concerning his years spent on the General Staff in Berlin — , a dramatic and eventful period in German history, Hindenburg has so little to tell us that he is able to get it all, including some anecdotes, into four pages of his autobiography.
He was no more interested in great statesmen and scholars — access 56 Bismarck and the Generals to whose society was open to any officer on the General Staff — than in the lower orders. The Junkers were envious of this peer of theirs, in that he had been raised to the rank of prince and had acquired considerable wealth; concerning their jealousy, Bismarck writes admirably in his memoirs. None discerned that the realm had been set up by a dictator, and would have to share the fate of all dictatorships; decay after the death or downfall of the dictator — a fate which in this case was postponed for a quarter of a century by a historical hazard.
Even though the weapons are lying on a shelf, a condition of latent war persists. One of the two opponents may discover a quicker-firing rifle, a longer- range gun, a more powerful high-explosive. A State which desires to have a say in European and in world politics dares not remain far behind the two States which set the tone in these matters, and needs must keep the arming of its soldiers up to date.
Hindenburg found Moltke, who was eighty-five years of age, a man to admire. The old fellow knew how to hold his tongue, which pleased the taciturn officer. There is but one cursory mention of Schlieffen, in Hindenburg's memoirs; the reason being that, as is well known, Pfindenburg had no liking for his brilliant and versatile chief. Schlieffen, the very antipodes of Hindenburg, was a grand seigneur; incisive, sarcastic, a man of the world, creative by temperament, ready of tongue and of pen; a type always dis- agreeable to the Germans, and to whom scope is only given because a spark of genius is indispensable even on a General Staff.
Strategic problems, which he had of course studied, did not come into his ken during the eight years on the General Staff. They only concerned him during manceuvres, and in connexion with the war-game, upon which, as troop-leader, it was his duty to lecture. The first of these was: Will attack or defence be preferable in the threatening war on two fronts? Schlieffen was strongly in favour of the offensive. Do not look to half-successes, but to immense and crushing blows.
Wars of attrition A strategy which aims at undermining the resistance of the enemy forces is unsuitable when supplies for millions of men demand the expenditure of milliards. Since the string of French fortifications prevented a direct advance, he wanted to see the issue decided by a battle on the large scale along the line of Verdun-Lille; therefore the right wing needed to be strengthened 39 Through Neutral Belgium to the uttermost, whereas in Alsace four and one-half brigades and in Lorraine only three and one-half corps were to be left on guard; all the reserves of the Landsturm and other auxiliary troops were to be sent in support of the right wing, and thus an advance on Paris from the north could be successfully undertaken.
Speed was of primary importance; three days more or three days less might be decisive for the issue of the war. In order to accelerate the carrying out of this scheme, it would be necessary to march through Belgium and even through Holland. No German statesman of that date seemed to have a clear vision of the consequences: Bismarck had known very well that if Belgian neutrality were infringed, England would immediately resort to arms, but his successors seem to have forgotten that obvious fact.
Was it through light-headedness or through arrogance that the General Staff failed to hold council with the political leaders in this matter? In those days, the dangerous axiom held good at the War Academy: Never must politics influence the conduct of military operations! Only if we advance over Belgian territory can we hope to attack the French armies in the open field and come out victorious.
On this route we shall have the English expeditionary force to encounter, and the Belgian troops as well — unless, beforehand, we have been able to come to an understanding with Belgium. Nevertheless, such an operation is undoubtedly more full of promise than a frontal attack on the forts along the eastern frontiers of France.
The God Delusion
This latter method of onslaught would give the war the aspect of a siege; it would cost a lot of money; and would deprive our army of the impetus and initiative which we shall need all the more, the more numerous the foes we have to reckon with. Nothing of the sort took place. For whereas throughout the world, and even in Bavaria, the chief of the General Staff is subordinated to the War Office and thus to the government, and among the Entente powers from time to time was replaced, in Prussia he was responsible solely to the monarch.
Statesmen have not been consulted in its draft- ing. What experts thought of the matter, even in the epoch of the German republic, is shown in the writings of a hundred-per-cent German professor Johann Hohlfeld, The only valid excuse for this deed of violence would have been a prompt decision of the war. A commander despises the minister for foreign affairs, looking upon him as a kind of libretto writer able to compose a suitable text for elabora- tion; but if the text submitted appears inadequate, our military expert will proceed to alter it according to his tastes.
In Germany this natural antagonism arises from an antithesis between mind and State which has led to the cleavage of Germany into two camps — a cleavage which may be traced through four hundred years, from Erasmus to Freud. The aloofness of the German burgherdom from politics, which before our very eyes has led first to the disruption of the empire and then to the collapse of the republic, is not the upshot of an innate lack of political instinct on the part of Germans for they are just as well endowed in this respect as are other, more politically active, peoples , but because their political faculties have been palsied through centuries of non-use.
The dominance of militarism is the tragical result of an age-long estrangement of the Prussian princes from their subjects, and of the concomitant estrangement of the circles which hedge the royal power about. If the monarch bestows the highest posts in army and State upon his Junkers, because he distrusts the free burghers, and if this process continues a couple of hundred years, the burgher very naturally washes his hands of State affairs, gets absorbed in business, art, handicraft, or science, and leaves those on the seats of the mighty to continue in command while he himself is quite satisfied to be untroubled by responsibility.
How can it be expected that the bourgeoisie will persist in fighting for its rights, when it is uninterruptedly looked at askance by the superior classes? Of course it will prefer to lead a quiet life — until war comes to disturb it! Up till the great war, not even the historians in Germany troubled to learn something of the science of war, and although in this militarised State every one expected a war in which the life of his sons would be staked, people were content to leave to the military caste the care and the disposal of the instrument of war. With distrust not untinged with admiration, the bourgeois representatives gazed at the building surrounded by sentries wherein was housed the General Staff, while the military gentlemen looked with disdain upon the Reichstag over the way, where the deputies never voted the army a sufficiency of troops.
The minister for war, who in other coimtries makes his appearance in parliament wearing civilian dress if he has to vindicate any of his actions, in Berlin came with spurs clinking and with challenging mien, and was regarded with stealthy approval by those who had ventured to oppose him. Continuing downwards in the hierarchy, we find at the base of the pyramid the captain contraposed to the professor, the former taking precedence in social functions, while a lieutenant was the darling of the girls, just as nowadays is a male film-star.
Field-Marshal Moltke was for many years in the East, studying and lecturing, was an expert at archaeological excavations, wrote imaginative works; General von Podbielski was a deputy and minister for agriculture; Haushofer had himself transferred to Japan, and subsequently became a professor of geography; von der Goltz carried on successful labours in Turkey; others participated in the Chinese campaign; others, again, em- barked for the colonies in order to share in war experience there; while yet others had posts in the German embassies abroad.
Their comrades cracked jokes at their expense at mess. The typical Prussian general is far better represented by Hindenburg than by all these fish-out-of-water men. As a rule talent for one does not imply talent for the other, nor should the two talents be combined in the same person. There is an essential difference between word and deed.
A valiant deed is now, as heretofore, more to be esteemed than any of the subtleties of the intellect. Presence of mind and firmness of character hold a higher place in the warlike arts than any delicate perceptions of the mind. It is childish to talk about great soldiers as simple men in whom brains and eloquence play a minor part. The history of great commanders plainly shows that courage and resolution are not enough, since intelligence and the power of logical thought, eloquence and imagination, comprise half the personality, and usually more. Although no bourgeois could dream of becoming an officer in the Guards and no socialist could become even so much as a night-watchman, no one ever thought of the possibility that if the old regiments were decimated through battles on the giant scale, the Landwehr officer, who came to fill the vacant place, would be such a bourgeois or even a socialist.
Athough it was solely in private conversation that he ventured to speak so openly, Bismarck, as an old man, was the only Junker who foresaw that, should the Germans suffer a defeat in war, the establishment of a republic was inevitable; he even mentioned by name the three parties which, thirty years later, were to found the republic. The only circles of civilians that the General Staff could tolerate, and, on occasion, even mix with, were the barons of heavy industry, since these were re- sponsible for the manufacture of war material.
Under William II, indeed, marriages were arranged between the offspring of these magnates and members of the officer caste, so that there ensued a diminution in the haughty aloofness which for generations had been the prerogative of the poverty-stricken Junkerdom. Its wealth consisted in its frugality. None were so quick to re- cognise the danger constituted by the character of young William as was the General Staff; so that in the memoirs written by members of the Staff, and most clearly of all in those of Field-Marshal Waldersee who was chief of General Staff at the time, the thought of getting William declared incapable of managing public affairs found far more drastic expression than in the writings of the bourgeoisie or the socialists.
Your Majesty can continue to reign in all tranquillity.
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On this occasion his feelings were so strong that he begged to be given a block of grey marble, part of the paving in the cathedral upon which the coffin of his beloved master had rested; this piece of stone was always to be found on his writing-table, a pendant to the perforated helmet. It was not to be expected that a nerve-ridden, restless, stagy creature could appreciate a quiet, limpid, and simple nature such as Hindenburg possessed. IX Was the king, or were his officers, more out of touch with the Commonalty? The officers made mock of these eccentricities which were so typical of the weakling, laid hands on their sword-hilts, and prayed to the God who had created iron.
Perhaps, during the present socialistic agitation, 1 may have to order you to shoot down your own relatives, your brothers, nay, maybe your parents — which I hope to God may never be. But, even so, you are obliged to carry out my orders without protest. Who else, indeed, was there whom a Prussian ruler need fear? Soldiers, not the arts and sciences, had built up Prussian greatness. It was not by chance that, among the most musical people in the whole world, the spirit of music should wilt and wane the farther north she travelled in the German realm, whereas quite the opposite pheno- menon took place in the case of the war spirit.
In Zabern, a small garrison town in Alsace, a twenty-year-old lieutenant, a Junker, railed at certain recruits and offered a reward for the cutting down of every disobedient Alsatian. So soon as this was bruited abroad, schoolboys would lie in wait for the young gentleman and would jibe at him and tease him to such an extent that in the end he could not walk about the town unless accompanied by soldiers. Naturally the school-children found the guard of armed men intensely ludicrous.
Thereupon the colonel detailed off fifty men with fixed bayonets and ball-cartridges to parade the streets, and the crowd of infuriated civilians grew 48 Farce Before Tragedy apace, especially after he had stated that he hoped blood would flow. Those who ventured to laugh were arrested and locked in the barrack coal-cellar until the following day, when they were had up for trial; among the prisoners was the public prosecutor himself.
Since the boys with their young and nimble legs were always able to elude their pursuers, it so fell out that the armed emissaries of the worthy colonel bagged a crippled shoemaker whom the lieutenant wounded so severely on the head with his naked sword that the man fell to earth in a swoon. This so infuriated the Reichstag that, for the first time in German history, a vote of no confidence was passed against the chancellor and the war minister; thereupon the emperor openly declared his confidence in these two officials.
Since such were the thoughts of the German military command, how was any mutual understanding possible between the private in the trenches and his officer? What could be expected when men, who had approved the ruling of a court- martial in the matter of those obstreperous officers, now took over 49 m Embarrassed Estates the government of a huge population at war and beset on all sides by manifold dangers? X During this period, Hindenburg was no longer on the active list. For four decades, whenever he had had a vacation, he had gone for refreshment to Neudeck, where first his parents lived, and then his remoter kin.
The manor house had been further enlarged, windows let into the gables; and the adjoining estate of Langenau had come to the family by marriage. But the more house was added to house and field to field upon this and other estates eastward of the Elbe, the more did things get in a bad way.
As, among the Junkers, a knowledge of agriculture and the willingness to give time and trouble to it declined, the amount of mortgages grew, and visits to Berlin were of longer duration. A cousin on the county council must pull strings to get the land taxes reduced. Any member of the family who had gone into the Church must play the same game with the tithes; the youngsters were sent to the Military Academy. Just as in the great domain of the empire, under William II, German power was being undermined though few German statesmen were aware of the fact ; so, in lesser domains, the Prussian landed estates were decaying through lack of initiative, industry, and knowledge.
Hindenburg, being merely a guest at Neudeck, had no concern with these matters. How did this soldier, this slave to duty, like to pass his time during vacation? During the siege of Paris, doubtless war had still been conducted in some such fashion; a dozen years later, when he was playing with the boy, the romance of war was on the wane; and when, later still, as General-Staff officer, he was elaborating his monograph on the use of heavy artillery in field warfare, there must have been more talk of electric priming than of camp-fires.
At the entrance to the wood stood an isolated birch tree, regarded as an outpost. But in war-time it was an enemy post. The enemy was outmanoeuvred, and thereafter the hostile position was once more a peaceful tree. May this come your way too! Warmest greetings! No ambition is voiced, and no wish is expressed. The message simply announces the close of a forty-five year term of service on the part of a man of sixty-four, still enjoying robust health, who is leaving one of the highest posts in the army almost without a backward glance. At that time, three years before the war, Hindenburg was not appointed army inspector, although there were six army inspectors, and the usual practice had been to give this titular rank to com- manding generals on retirement; nor was he instructed to regard himself as one of the army leaders in the event of war.
Still more remarkable is it that he was first gazetted as leader of a reserve corps in the event of war, and that then the appointment was cancelled. No matter whether this happened because he was not regarded as efficient or because of the emperor's personal antipathy, the cancellation was a slight to a healthy and capable man, and it left him justly embittered.
As a haven of rest, the general chose Hanover, perhaps the quietest among the chief towns of Prussia — a place where he had served for a time as lieutenant. The only journey abroad cam- paigning apart he made in his life was to Italy when he was sixty- five. Otherwise, his sole pleasure was shooting.
Not being well enough off for the more expensive forms of this sport, he had brought down his first stag when he was sixty years of age. Now, since he was a man of distinction, the landed magnates in the vicinity of Hanover made him free of their estates, and he soon became known as an excellent shot. His record from to shows that, in addition to minor game, he shot 27 red-deer, 24 does, wild boars, 6 black cock, 6 chamois, 76 roe-buck, and, further, during the war, one bison and one elk.
His game- book and the trophies on the walls of his house meant as much to him as sleeping and eating; they were the only true delights of a man full of life and vigour, whose professional duties had drawn to a close. His was a long-lived line. He and his wife were in excellent health.
He might look forward to twenty years of tranquillity in his Hanoverian home. The last thing Hindenburg anticipated, still less wanted, during these three years, was the coming of a war. Thus arises a kind of hypocrisy which has a charac- ter all its own, differing completely from parsonic hypocrisy, courtly hypocrisy, or any other form of hypocrisy you please to mention. News had come to hand that the North- Eastern Army was withdrawing across the Vistula. East Prussia was to be abandoned to the invading Russians.
The date was August 21, The army commander. After all, the decisive issue was to be fought out in the West, against France, even at the risk of Russian invasion in the East. Since the German armies in the West were still advancing as plaimed, there was no reason for panic. They were being harassed by East- Prussian Junkers who had been compelled, during the last three weeks, to abandon to the enemy portions of their province and of their estates.
At the same time, persons who were unfriendly to General von Prittwitz were busy convincing the emperor that this J4 Panic commander was incompetent; and William, like most princes, was more interested in persons than in facts. Since to those whose hopes outstripped events, the game seemed already won in the West, pride and fear the two main elements of the neurotic character made the emperor and the commander-in-chief decide upon the immediate transfer of two army-corps and one cavalry division from the West to the East, in order to strengthen the eastern front, although, according to the general plan of campaign, that was not the place where a decision was to be sought, and the manoeuvre would weaken the all-important western front.
The measure was premature, and the excitement exaggerated, for General von Prittwitz had not yet decided to withdraw across the Vistula. Telephonic communication is more open to mis- interpretation than telegraphic. Prittwitz had merely wished to convey that he might be compelled to withdraw.
Since, however, an unduly nervous man was at the other end of the wire, Moltke got the impression that retreat was unavoidable; and, indeed, it was in a panicky moment that the commander of the eastern front had been rung up from Coblenz. What had happened? The trouble had begun through a dispute between the commander-in-chief and one of his generals. The war which the German nation had entered into strong of heart, and convinced that it was fighting in a just cause, began, as far as the leadership was concerned, with dis- obedience in the East and with an attack of nerves in the West.
Reports and memoirs concerning this war have much to say about nervousness, both as regards friends and foes. This was the way in which mechanised warfare took vengeance upon the men whom mechanism had deposed. Hindenburg remained the only com- manding officer in Europe who had no nerves. The Russians, forced to march through the region of the Masurian Lakes, with one army to the north of them and the other to the south of them, could only be attacked separately. While the second in command was discontinuing his successful but prohibited advance, the commander-in-chief was informed that the other Russian army, that of Warsaw, with a strength of from four to five army corps, had crossed the German frontier.
The strongest personality on the eastern front, as far as the Germans were concerned, was neither Baron von Prittwitz nor his chief, but General Hoffmann then no more than a lieutenant- colonel. Prittwitz had already received the news, and had promptly decided or been on the point of deciding?
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Hoffmann opposed the notion, showing his chief, with the aid of a map and a pair of compasses, that it would be necessary to fight before the army could withdraw across the Vistula, since the left wing of the Warsaw army was nearer that river than the Germans. The Warsaw army must be held up, by an offensive against its left wing. He still remained of opinion that the attack on Rennenkampf must be called off; but abandoned his idea of withdrawing across the Vistula, and acceded to our opinion that the best thing would be to lead an offensive against the left wing of the Warsaw army.
Owing to this change of views, on the evening of the 20th orders were issued which led to the battle of Tannenberg. Matters were now in train. Owing to the fit of nervousness from which the commander on the 56 Ludendorff Makes his Mark eastern front suffered, and owing to his report to the nervous commander-in-chief at General Headquarters, there was a change in the supreme command on the Vistula, and two new generals were sent thither whose employment there and under such con- ditions had not been provided for in the German plan of campaign.
Since these two generals were, in due course, to decide the political future of the country as well, the fate of Germany was settled by the course of events in the East three weeks before the Battle of the Marne. For when Prittwit2 now telephoned to Coblenz that he had changed his mind, and would give battle to the Russians, the emperor had already decided to depose him from command. Who were the successors? The first officer, who had come upon the scene earlier in August, was a major-general who had, though still quite a young man, shown exceptional capacity as a strategist when head of the operation section of the general staff.
When the commander of this brigade fell, Ludendorff took over the leadership, and stormed the principal fort. It was a personal victory, such as later in this war was possible only to aviators or the commanders of submarines. The name of Ludendorff was in the mouths of all Germans when reports from the front extolled the brave officer who was nearing fifty, and announced that the emperor had conferred on him the order Pour le Merite. The conspicuousness of his deed, its romantic character which fitted it for relation in school-books, and the glory of being the first in the war to win this much coveted order, 57 Married Couples gave him a popularity but for which he would scarcely have been called to high command, being suspect as son of a bourgeois father and able to boast noble blood only on the maternal side.
However, Moltke now appointed him successor of the cashiered Count Waldersee. A few hours after his appointment, in the town beside the Rhine, Ludendorff was studying the map of East Prussia, measur- ing, combining, adding; and, since he knew nothing of the new orders issued by his predecessor, he decided, after his own manner, to continue the campaign he was to lead on the morrow much as an orchestral conductor, replacing another, might take charge of an unfamiliar score.
The question arose at Coblenz to whom this trained strategist should be given as army commander. The relationship between two such men is, in the German army, denoted by their respective titles. The lady goes first, has all the honours, is more splendidly dressed; but her husband, who follows in her train, really has the deciding voice, since he wields money and power. The couple for service on the eastern front had been selected long before the war; but, now that they were cashiered, a fresh union must be improvised within a few hours, since the new men had to start eastward forthwith.
A few days earlier. Both in body and mind I am robust, and was therefore considered for active employment last autumn, although I am on the retired list. You can imagine to yourself what my feelings were when I saw men of my own age going to the front while I had to sit at home twiddling my thumbs. I am ashamed to show my face in the street. Von Benecken- dorff and Hindenburg. He had lived a very long time in the eastern provinces, devoting far more attention to administrative matters than to style; so much the better, for he would be the less likely to vex his quick-witted and talented chief.
Besides, his distinguished name would serve as cover for the bourgeois deficiencies of the other. This letter of his had brought him to mind, as the Liege affair had brought Ludendorff to mind. The general, since the outbreak of the war, had sat at home reading the newspapers, without knowing whether to be more pleased or annoyed. According to the reports, during these first three weeks things had gone well, but they had gone well without his having a finger in the pie. Was he, at sixty-seven, too old to be of any more use?
Had he not dreamed of sitting with his son by his side at the camp-fire in a war against the Russians? Now his son and his sons-in-law were at the front, smelling powder, taking enemy guns, perhaps soon would win decorations. Was it really hard upon fifty years since, at Koniggratz, he had taken enemy guns? The helmet, with shot-holes in it, was within range of his eyes, and recalled the legend of his youth. Among the generals mentioned in dispatches from the front, were many men younger than himself.
What crime had he com- mitted that, last year, his name had been struck from the list of those available for active service in the event of war? Every time, on his map of the fighting front, he moved a little flag forward, he could not but sigh that he was only playing a game, like the 59 The Telegram war-game he had so often played when still in service.
Now, when at length a stupendous reality might have crowned the labours of a lifetime, he had been shouldered aside like an elderly actor, who must look on from the stage-box, while a novice is acting the part he himself has been wont to act, and, moreover, probably playing it badly! Not once had the authorities thought proper even to let him know how his Memorandum on the Use of Heavy Artillery, to which he had devoted the best years of his life, was standing the test of war experience!
Was he willing? What was in the wind? To which front was Father being sent? On what mission? Where was his field- uniform? Was there plenty of woollen underclothing? Great bustle and confusion! The telegraph messenger came three times more. It was not a reserve corps he was to command, not an army corps at all, but a whole army! He had never dreamed of anything so big as this! In the East, too, his native province! What sort of a fellow was this Ludendorff, the new chief, of whom he had heard, indeed, but whom he had never seen in the flesh?
That meant that a battle was raging. He said good-bye to his wife, and told her not to be afraid, for the commander of an army was never in the firing-line. It consisted of two carriages, the front one being rigged up as a map-room. Out of the other stepped the younger 60 In the Special Train general, who saluted and gave his name.
Instantly the train resumed its journey. In the carriage, the pair began to talk matters over. For thirty hours, Ludendorff had been kept informed about the situation in the East and the progress of the battle there, whereas Hindenburg had to be given the news. Thus, from the first, the situation between the two men was a topsy-turvy one. Before long I and my chief of staff were at one in our view of the situation. Before leaving Coblenz, General Ludendorff had been able to issue the first, essential orders, designed to secure the continuance of operations on the farther side of the Vistula.
Everything else had to be, and could be, post- poned until we reached headquarters at Marienburg. Our talk cannot have lasted much more than half an hour. Then we betook ourselves to rest, and I made the best possible use of my oppor- tunity for this. Thus we travelled together towards a joint future. For years, thenceforward, we were to be united by joint thoughts and joint actions. Ludendorff had studied and prepared everything; he put his views before Hinden- burg, who approved them in the course of half an hour. Next morning the men they were to supersede had already departed crestfallen , the new commanders found a much more favourable situation than they had anticipated.
It was possible because as yet the forces under arms were not numbered by millions. As in earlier days, about , Germans were fighting against about , Russians. At the end of the battle of Tannenberg, the Russian army had been annihilated. Its commander, Samsonoff, was the first and last leader in the world war who, feeHng it impossible to live down the dishonour of a defeat, blew out his brains. The latter had attended the same military academy as his senior, and had served on the same general staff; but he had not had the experiences of Sedan or of Versailles; and, not being of aristocratic blood, he had never formed one of the entourage of the old emperor.
His training had come under William II. A strenuous worker, an able specialist, he was re- garded on the general staff as one of its best intelligences, but was not personally liked. As chief of the strategical section, three years before the war he had demanded the establishment of a new supplementary reserve of , men, declaring that, in default of this, Germany would be defeated in a war upon two fronts.
In the ensuing conflict with the minister for war, LudendorfF was dis- missed from the general staff and degraded to become a regimental commander — a position from which he looked back wrathfully to the days when he had been regarded as a master of strategy. When the war opened, the man who was to be the leading German strategist throughout its duration was nothing more than a brigadier. In any case, being a man with ideas of his own, he was not liked by the emperor, who found his unquestionable ability irritating. Perhaps you will be able to save the situation in the East. By their respective characters, and in view of the distinctive influences which had formed these characters in youth, Hinden- burg and Ludendorff, although educated in much the same way, were very different, and supplemented one another thanks to these same differences.
While no recorder has anything 63 Differing Types to say about Hindenburg having had a flash of insight, whether in military or personal matters, not one makes mention of a cordial or friendly trait in Ludendorff. As compared with the mighty, sturdy, herculean figure of Hinden- burg, so well fitted to inspire respect, Ludendorff, who was shorter, but somewhat stocky, looked ill-proportioned, so that there was not an agreeable bodily contrast between the two, as, for instance, between Sickingen and Hutten. Hindenburg, healthy until he became a septuagenarian, and then again until he was eighty-seven, slept, ate, and moved throughout his long life in accordance with precise and well-tried rhythms, interfered with by none of his occupations, not even during the war; whereas Luden- dorff, who had suffered shortly before the outbreak of hostilities from an attack of neurasthenia, and whose pallid countenance and flaccid cheeks during its continuance were the results of his strenuous exertions uncompensated by sport or recreation, was never at ease, never satisfied.
Hindenburg, who looked like a picture, was always impressive with his simple and rather cumbrous lineaments; but Ludendorff, with a protruding chin and an aggres- sively distrustful expression, seemed to be trying to produce an effect. In the latter, everything was tensed; in the former, every- thing relaxed. Mind and character were in keeping with these bodily differences. It is shown by his early and uniformly successful marriage, and by his relations with his children; also by the fact that he had no enemies although, before the war, he had no admirers, either.
Since he was never fretted by ambition, he could not have enough of country life, association with his family, and his favourite sport with the gun; although he did not allow these things to interfere with his devotion to the service. Ludendorff, 64 An Adventure continually on the look out for new opportunities for distinction, had no time for private life. Only once did he depart from this rule, when he saw a pretty woman sheltering from the rain in a doorway, begged her to share his umbrella, walked home with her, and soon afterwards married her.
The anecdote seems to belong to one of the novels of the period. By this marriage, Ludendorff, then forty years of age, acquired three stepchildren, for the lady had to divorce her first husband in order to marry him — and, according to German law, this was only possible when the latter had been proved unfaithful. This step was all the more remarkable since Ludendorff, a man who was so keen to get on in the world, might have been expected to try and compensate for his middle-class origin on the paternal side by marrying above him, whereas the lady of his choice was also middle-class, the ex-wife of a man of business.
The club gossips made fun of him on that account. Now Hindenburg, who also had middle-class blood in his veins, would never have dreamed of marrying any woman who was not the daughter of a Junker. She sometimes complained of this exaction to her friends. Much later, when he was approaching sixty, he divorced the lady whom he had married under such romantic circumstances. If he had had any children, he would certainly not, like Hindenburg, have played the war-game with them, for he thought about figures rather than about camp-fires.
Whether it was because a temperamental scepticism had extinguished in him all feelings other than ambition, or because increasing experience of his fellows intensified his nihilism — this much is certain, that Ludendorff believed in nothing, and therefore believed in luck. There was no God, and he had never come into contact with a true king — since William I had already become a myth when Ludendorff swore fealty. As far as he was concerned, a modern battle consisted of three elements: the mathematics of the commander-in-chief; the excellence of the munitions; and the courage of the troops.
If God will, that cannot fail to have an effect upon husbands and fathers at the front, if not immediately, still by slow degrees! Important practical consequences resulted from the divergent moral foundations of these two men. I have never taken that view. Its course and outcome, even if the outcome should be unfavourable to us, have always and everywhere seemed to me the expression of an inexorable logic. He who seizes his opportunity, has success on his side; he who fails to do so, loses. Through the whole of the long campaign he never recognised the workings of the omnipotent god of chance.
These were romanticist deviations into a forbidden realm; and, for this reason, before his last great offensive, he actually appealed to the god of chance. Though this inconsistency may make him more congenial to some, it did not help him to victory; but it enables us to understand better why he was subject to fits of depression.
Both these men had, thanks to their differing capacities, acquired in the military academy differing characteristics which made them an admirable pair to run in harness: one of them, qualities, the other, talents; one of them, constancy, the other, knowledge; both of them staying-power and sense of duty; both of them, in- corruptibility. Besides devotion to the service and a sense of duty, there were requisite some of the gifts peculiar to genius: insight, fire, imagination. Such being their respective dispositions, impulses, and acquire- ments, the active relationships of the two men called to serve together in high command could not but pursue a favourable course.