As we have discussed in past post, historiography can take many forms. The most basic of which simply being a different perspective of an established narrative. Historical negationism falls under the rather large umbrella of historiography. Negationism particularly refers the the denial, or negating, of a particular event, usually an atrocity or war crime, in history. The narratives produced when the lens of negation is applied help the audience better understand the culture of the antagonizing group that has perpetrated the historical sanctity of objectivity. These narratives are many times highly intriguing as they deliver a completely different record than the average history book. One such prolific example of negation is Germany’s stab-in-the-back account of the World War I era.
Entangling alliances, trench warfare, advancements in weaponry, and the perils of a two front war generally highlight the major topics covered by conventional WWI narratives. These narratives also present the idea that Germany lost the war due to the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, the tax of a two front war, and even, if we want to throw in some American Exceptionalism in the mix, the intervention of America on behalf of the French. While the empirical evidence backs the legitimacy of this narrative, post WWI era Germany presented an entirely different narrative.
The stab-in-the-back myth first emerged in Germany during the years immediately following the end of WWI. The gist of this alternate view of WWI presents the idea that the German Army did not lose WWI on the Battlefield. Graham Goodlad defines the myth by stating, “After the war a persistent myth grew up that Germany had lost because of an internal conspiracy by socialist and liberal politicians, among whom Jewish influences were prominent. It was alleged that the so-called ‘November criminals’ had stabbed the German Army in the back by seeking an armistice from the Western Allies.” The image Goodlad’s definition paints allows for a better understanding of the German perspective towards WWI in the immediate post-WWI years.
Fast-forward to 1933. The Nazi Party just seized control of the German government. The prominence of the stab-in-the-back myth increased significantly. It played in directly with the ideology being pushed by Adolph Hitler, the charismatic new leader of the Nazis’ established Third Reich. Hitler even referenced the myth throughout his autobiographical book, Mein Kampf. The credo being pushed by the Nazis emphasized nationalism of the Aryan race while degrading certain ethnic groups such as marxists, bolsheviks, and Jews. The idea that the loss of WWI fell on the hands of these ‘dissident groups’ while the soldiers on the front did nothing wrong played to the racialized sense of nationalism the Third Reich pushed.
The stab-in-the-back myth exemplifies negation in history perfectly. It directly contrasts the conventional narratives that explain why the German military lost WWI in favor for the idea that certain cultural groups within the German nation corroded the moral fabric of the nation leading to the downfall. The Nazi Party used this prolific myth to back their ideology. As such, it keeps with the normalized opinion that negationism in history finds itself around some of history’s darker moments. The stab-in-the-back myth sought to turn the German people against “dissident groups” ultimately shepherding in the Nazis Party’s ideology by presenting an alternative story to an otherwise accepted truth regarding why Germany lost WWI.
Goodlad, Graham. “Why did Germany lose the First World War? Understanding the myth of the ‘stab in the back’.” 20th Century History Review, vol. 6, no. 2, 2010, p. 16+. General OneFile, ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=viva_vpi&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA241962376&it=r&asid=9573a3339071c9a0b44d07be23f726c9. Accessed 31 Oct. 2017.