[Marxism] Stabbed in the back

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 17 08:08:07 MDT 2006

Stabbed in the Back!
The past and future of a right-wing myth
Posted on Friday, July 14, 2006. Originally from June 2006. By Kevin Baker.

First drink, hero, from my horn:
I spiced the draught well for you
To waken your memory clearly
So that the past shall not slip your mind!

—Hagen to Siegfried
Die Götterdämmerung

Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially 
monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national 
pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside 
force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back 
has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the 
end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing 
has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its 
own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal 
into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny 
culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster 
on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to 
increase the number of internal enemies.

As the United States staggers past the third anniversary of its 
misadventure in Iraq, the dagger is already poised, the myth is already 
being perpetuated. To understand just how this strategy is likely to 
unfold—and why this time it may well fail—we must return to the birth of a 

* * *

The stab in the back first gained currency in Germany, as a means of 
explaining the nation’s stunning defeat in World War I. It was Field 
Marshal Paul von Hindenburg himself, the leading German hero of the war, 
who told the National Assembly, “As an English general has very truly said, 
the German army was ‘stabbed in the back.’”

Like everything else associated with the stab-in-the-back myth, this claim 
was disingenuous. The “English general” in question was one Maj. Gen. Neill 
Malcolm, head of the British Military Mission in Berlin after the war, who 
put forward this suggestion merely to politely summarize how Field Marshal 
Erich von Ludendorff—the force behind Hindenburg—was characterizing the 
German army’s alleged lack of support from its civilian government.

“Ludendorff’s eyes lit up, and he leapt upon the phrase like a dog on a 
bone,” wrote Hindenburg biographer John Wheeler-Bennett. “‘Stabbed in the 
back?’ he repeated. ‘Yes, that’s it exactly. We were stabbed in the back.’”




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