Karen Schaefer, German Military and the Weimar Republic (Pen & Sword, 2020)
Germany in November 1918 lay prostrate at the feet of its conquerors as they dictated the terms of German surrender. The country had to pay massive reparations and demilitarize while setting up a democracy that went against the national grain. That would be a tall order for any nation. General Hans von Seeckt took command of the army and was tasked with finding a new strategic role for it. History has not treated him well, regarding him as closed-minded and one of the old guard. In this absorbing book, Karen Schaefer has a different interpretation to run by you.
Schaefer begins with the literature on Seeckt and finds it lacking any consideration of his strategic ideas. Historians, contends Schaefer, have argued that Seeckt was an undefeated general chasing dreams of renewed war but without understanding the new military or political realities. Schaefer disagrees in just about every respect with that portrait. The rest of her book tells us why. She sets out her stall by contrasting Seeckt with Erich Ludendorff, an undoubted hero of World War I and an advocate of total war. Schaefer then steadily builds her case, examining Seeckt’s views on military strategy and his political philosophy that favoured civil authority over the military and a defensive, balanced posture by Germany. However, rising military and political opposition, against the backdrop of economic turmoil and a new aggressive nationalist spirit bent on revenge for Versailles, derailed Seeckt. He retired in 1926, but the arguments remain between his vision and that of Ludendorf, Seeckt’s nemesis.
German Military and the Weimar Republic is derived from Schaefer’s PhD thesis and it shows for better and worse. Her book is structured as an argument narrowly tied to Seeckt and his political-military philosophy, and as such relies on at least an understanding of the Weimar Republic background to fully comprehend. I suspect that significantly reduces Schaefer’s audience, which is a pity because her book is well-written and her thesis appears solid. To make this work for a wider audience, she needed more context and perhaps more pit-stop summaries for her less knowledgeable readers to catch their breath. Nevertheless, Schaefer provides a valuable window into military thinking during that vital period when Germany still had choices, however limited, and is therefore an important book worth reading for students of the Weimar Republic.