Citizen Participation (II)

BERLIN (Own report) – The current discussion in Germany about the German population’s “resilience” to attacks by enemy combatants can be traced back to reflections expressed in World War I and during the Nazi period. In 1935, Gen. Erich Ludendorff, who had been appointed in 1916 to the Supreme Command of the German Empire’s army, declared that the “German people’s spiritual unity” was a prerequisite to victory in the coming “total war.” According to Ludendorff, the population, the military and the political leadership must be “welded” into a “powerful unity,” seeing itself as a “community of destiny” and devoting all its energy to the service of warfare. To this end, the general demanded the introduction of “general compulsory service” for men and women, as well as the launching of the appropriate propaganda campaigns – “already in peacetime.” Parallels can be found today in current German government initiatives. For example, in its “Civil Defense Concept” the German Ministry of the Interior speaks of changing the constitution to permit women to be obligated to work in “defense-relevant domains.” Through “social discourse” the population should be prepared to “assume risks” and “endure” damaging events.


The propaganda campaign to strengthen the German population’s resilience to attacks by enemy combatants, recently proposed by the Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS) [1] has historical predecessors. Gen. Erich Ludendorff, for example, who had been appointed in 1916 to the Supreme Command of the Empire’s army, had considered the corrosion of the “German people’s spiritual unity” to be the reason for Germany’s WW I defeat. In 1935, Ludendorff argued that because the political leadership of the German Reich sat back and “passively” watched the “subversive activities” by socialist and Jewish “elements,” a revolutionary development had been able to rob the “people and the army” of its “resilience.”[2]

Spiritual Unity

For Ludendorff, the people’s “spiritual unity” had formed the “basis” for waging a “total war,” which “is not only a matter of the armed forces,” but requires “the combined strength of the people.” “Spiritual unity alone enables the population to repeatedly fill the beleaguered Wehrmacht with renewed spiritual energy, to work for the Wehrmacht and in the hardships of war, even under enemy combat, continue to relish victory and take pleasure in resisting.” Like the war, politics must also assume a “total character,” the General declared. “Since war puts the utmost strain on people to survive, … total politics … must prepare, already in peacetime, for the people’s struggle for survival in war and consolidate the basis for this struggle for survival in such a way that it cannot be shifted, crumbled or completely destroyed by enemy activities under the grave conditions of war.“[3] In this context, military policy think tanks, such as BAKS, speak of “building resilience.” Official documents, such as the “White Paper on Security Policy and Future of the Bundeswehr,” published in 2016, underline the importance of engaging “everyone” in the organization of the “overall defense.”[4]


In order to “weld the people, the military and the political leadership” into a “powerful unity,” Ludendorff, at the time, – like BAKS, today – recommended a propaganda campaign, using the mass media; “total warfare and total politics … must not only prevent threats to the people’s unity. They also must preserve this unity with all means at their disposal, for example in the press, radio, films and all other available publications.” In addition, in reference to future wars, the general called for dispensing with formal declarations of war: “The point of view that a war must begin with a formal war declaration is mistaken. … People have no sympathy toward wars of aggression, but for struggles for survival. In a declaration of war, they easily recognize the will for aggression. They do not feel threatened, and the soul of the people cannot be awakened.“[5] Beginning with the aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999 and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the German heads of state had not issued declarations of war; even the term “war” is carefully avoided in official statements. In the context of the current warnings of a pervasive “terrorist threat,” the image of the enemy is being depicted, as generally striking at our “freedom-loving way of life.”

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Conceptual Continuity

German historians consider Ludendorff – because of his anti-Semitism and his militarist views, as well as his support for chauvinist movements in the 1920s – as one of the trailblazers for the Nazi regime. He is said to be at the origin of, what historians have long-since disproved, the “Stab-in-the-Back” myth – contending that in World War I, the German army “remained undefeated on the battlefield,” but were forced to retreat in November 1918 by the revolutionaries “on the home front.” However, in spite of these facts, the political-military leadership of the Federal Republic of Germany has, to a large extent, continued to adhere to the ideas formulated by the imperial general for waging “total war.”

Full article: Citizen Participation (II) (German Foreign Policy)

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