It’s Hardcore History.
Which military was superior?
The First World War military of the German Imperial State or the Second World War military
of Nazi Germany?
I know that sounds like a random question, but it’s actually something that I get asked
about all the time.
All the time.
It’s not so random either because these people are not just asking me that question out of
They are asking me to elaborate on a statement that I once made, kind of a throwaway line
if I’m remembering it correctly, where I had pointed out that I thought that the First
World War German military, and when we say that we mean the entire defense apparatus,
The entire structure, not the Army per se, not the Navy per se, but all of it put together
with the industry, the grand strategy, the, you know, states and armies are intertwined
in ways that are key.
So let’s understand that.
But when we compare, or when I do compare the two, I was comparing the entire structure
against the entire structure.
First World War Germany’s military against Second World War Germany’s military.
Now what I was not prepared for was the fact that this would be so surprising to so many
people and interesting to them, to be honest.
I mean, like I said, I’ve, I’ve been asked to elaborate on that question many times and
no one is argumentative, by the way, or upset.
And it took me a while to realize why, but I think I’ve figured out that it’s because
Most people out there who are not World War II buffs just assume, because my goodness,
who hasn’t heard, seen hours of black and white footage or what have you, you know,
all the stuff that Nazi Germany was working on from ballistic missiles to panzer divisions
to jet aircraft.
I mean, you know, there’s Nazi scientists are such great fodder even today that that’s
why you have them in all the comic books and the Red Skull and the Captain American.
I mean, Odessa, the boys from Brazil, I mean, it goes on and on.
This Nazi science thing is fascinating.
And so, so mid, you know, it’s not steampunk because it’s too late.
It’s whatever the mid 20th century version of steampunk is.
First World War Germany really is steampunk.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I think there’s been a lot of hype for Second World
The First World War Germany doesn’t get, and that’s what makes it compelling to hear a
different opinion to some people.
Now, why the heck am I talking about this now and what, what are we even doing here?
It’s worth a little explanation since this is the first new podcast we started in more
than a decade.
And really the first thing we were going to do is just throw all this on the history
feed, figuring that it’s history, but you people have taught me a valuable lesson over
time and that’s that you don’t want anything that isn’t what you’re expecting on that feed.
You may be okay with me interviewing people, but you don’t want it on your hardcore history
feed when you think you’re getting a hardcore history episode downloaded and it turns out
to be an interview.
So we’ve learned you want something very specific on the hardcore history proper feed.
The problem for us, of course, and maybe you too, is that we’re averaging about 2.5
new shows a year on that feed, which is a long time to be out of touch with your audience.
So for a very long time, we have been looking for some sort of content, I guess you could
call short form content.
I’m obviously a long form guy, takes me 20 minutes to clear my throat, as you all know.
Originally a long time ago, the idea of blitz additions, which was supposed to mean short,
but now it just means a completely different kind of focus on the show.
That was supposed to fill this gap, didn’t work.
We are cutting back and that might be an optimistic way of even putting it on the common sense
stuff right now.
So how do you better use the time that that would free up?
Well, how about touching base with the hardcore history audience more than 2.5 times a year?
So that’s what we’re trying to do here.
And just so you know, I couldn’t decide on a format because I liked all of them to a
degree, but I didn’t want to get locked into anything.
I mean, I like interviews, but I don’t want to have to do them all the time.
I don’t want to do an interview show per se.
I like doing, you know, short little history things if I can manage to do anything short
that don’t turn into a hardcore history show, but I don’t want to be responsible for doing
that every time.
The last thing we want to do is do a new show that takes away from the old show that already
takes too long to do.
So we understand the parameters with which we’re working here.
Led Zeppelin once said that their format for their music was tight, but loose.
That’s the way I like to operate too.
Let’s have a format where, you know, it’s our stuff, right?
We are recognizably us, but what you’re going to get, that’s anybody’s guess.
This is for lack of a better word, and I still don’t know what we’re going to call this.
This is the hardcore history overflow feed.
This is everything we’re not putting in the regular feed, whether it’s interviews with
historians, biographers, or maybe historical participants from time to time.
Love to do some primary source work where we could record somebody’s memories in digital
stone, and then maybe somewhere down the line a historian can mine that for useful info
It’d be great to contribute to the storehouse of personal experiences and knowledge.
I do have weird things I’d like to throw out there sometimes.
I’d love to have a recurring segment that I call the worst place to be in the world.
I think it’s self-explanatory, but I have a bunch of little things like that.
Nothing that I think you could base a whole podcast series on forever, but enough so maybe
we can throw some stuff out there.
You know, we couldn’t figure out how to make it anything but meh to you when you’re expecting
five hours of hardcore history depth, and you get 20 minutes of scampering over the
I mean, is there anything we could do in 20 minutes where you would go, yeah, that was
great, when you’re expecting five hours?
I don’t know, but we feel like, if nothing else, I would love to say hi to you more often,
and that’s what this is.
So the reason we’re talking about the two World War militaries of Germany and comparing
them is because after the thousandth person asked me recently to elaborate on that question,
I was walking away from the discussion, and a person who may or may not be real who was
with me turned to me and said, why don’t you make that a podcast?
Why don’t you just do a whole show on answering that question?
Which military was better, First or Second World War Germany?
He goes, you get asked about it enough, there’s obviously an interest out there.
Why can’t that just be a show?
Answer that question, 20 minutes, 25 minutes, whatever it is, boom, throw an ad on the end.
Said hi to the audience and everything.
Think if we could get one of those out a month, wouldn’t that fill in the gap a little bit
between epic hardcore history shows?
But I don’t know if it’s going to provide anything of interest.
So we’re experimenting here a little bit.
I’d like to answer that question if I can.
And maybe this will be one of the recurring segments where I essentially stand up amongst
all of you and I make my case.
I’m not saying I’m right.
I certainly am coming at this from an angle of this is my opinion, but let me throw out
my viewpoint and then you can talk amongst yourselves and decide whether you give it
any validity or not.
And of course, me being me, I had planned to come in here and just do it off the cuff
so it didn’t take any hardcore history recording time, but I can’t.
So I had to pull out the books, look up some stuff.
I figured who wants to just hear my opinion?
You got to have a few supports, Carlin.
You can’t walk in there and just, you know, you got to, if you’re going to be a lawyer,
you’ve got to cite some things.
So I have a few things to cite.
Obviously this whole question is a bit silly and war gamey, if you will, but I like my
silly war gamey questions to be as scientific, hardheaded, realistic, and logical as possible.
So let’s lay out some parameters.
The first thing we have to point out is we are not talking about these two armies fighting
We all understand how silly that would be.
It wasn’t always silly.
And I’ve always found that interesting up until a certain point in history.
It’s not wild to imagine armies that existed, you know, in very different time periods successfully
fighting one another.
If you said Alexander the Great’s army is going to take on Julius Caesar’s Romans, which
were about 250 years later.
You don’t automatically say Alexander’s doomed.
You bet your money on Caesar and the Romans.
But if you said Alexander had a 25% chance of winning, I don’t think that’s wrong.
But that’s 250 years difference in time.
By about, what would you say, the mid-19th century somewhere?
That all changes when the pace of change speeds up.
And all of a sudden, if you’re a great power and you find your battlefield technology 30,
35 years out of date, you’re in big trouble.
And by the 20th century, you can see this pace of change acceleration going so fast
that the innovations that occur inside of a war can win or lose you the war.
I think you most clearly see this for the first time in the air war, in the First World
War, where if you get a leap in terms of a technological innovation for airplanes ahead
of the other side, and you get your planes in the air, it could be six months of owning
the sky before the other side catches up.
And in certain circumstances, that could cost you the war.
So this technological race is getting so fast, we end up certainly by the early 20th century
with a dynamic that we see all the time now and that we’re very comfortable with, the
idea of innovations happening all the time during the war.
In the Second World War, all you Second World War buffs, I mean, how often do you think
of which particular variant of this particular plane?
Is this an ME-109E or G?
Because it makes a huge difference, right?
Because this race of change will literally win you or lose you the war by about the First
or Second World War.
So we’re not comparing these two armies against each other, because even the 1918 version
of the German army, which is really an alpha or a beta version of the Wehrmacht, and yet
it ain’t facing the Wehrmacht successfully at all, and it’s only a 20-year difference
between the two.
So we’re not pitting them against each other.
We’re pitting them on a curve based on their historical enemies.
And that point I made a second ago I think is very relevant.
Only 20 years between each other.
When you’re 20 years old, that seems like a long time, but when you get to 50, like
I am, 51, 20 years looks short.
As one historian said, 20 years is not peace, it’s an intermission.
I had an Air Force colonel I grew up next door to, he always said it was the equivalent
It always boggles the mind a little bit to realize how quickly the Germans were moving
to get around the treaty restrictions.
I mean, some historians have pushed it all the way back to like 1919, which if true would
mean that the seeds of rearmament were already being sown as the agreement to end the First
World War was being concluded.
You all know that there were things going on in the Soviet Union where they had hidden
deals to develop weapons systems and tactics and factories and all that stuff on Russian
soil hidden from the prying eyes of the people who would enforce these treaties.
The German attitude would probably be that the treaties were forced upon Germany under
I mean, there’s a lot of criticism you can make against those Versailles Treaty restrictions.
In fact, the allies, you know, before Hitler came to power, there were lots of negotiations
about cutting slack on some of this stuff later.
Nonetheless, the point is, is that long before Hitler was in anybody’s rear view mirror,
even in the Weimar Republic’s early days, you know, you already had an attempt to rearm
Germany or set the groundwork, lay the groundwork for rearmament.
And it provides an interesting what if scenario to wonder if Hitler had never come to power,
how much of his early agenda happens under any German government.
I mean, in my mind, it’s hard to imagine any German government not eventually re-militarizing
the Rhineland, you know, even if you’re a Weimar Republic democratic one.
So it’s interesting to wonder about the early stuff that Hitler did and whether a Weimar
Republic might have done it too.
And it’s also intriguing to note, you know, that long before Hitler, the foundation was
being laid for the rebuilding of the German military.
For those who don’t know, the German military at the end of the First World War was essentially
An army that had numbered in the several millions at one point in the field was reduced to 100,000
One person at the time called them a police force.
Paramilitary is the way they’re somehow described now, which basically means something between
a police force and a soldier, 100,000 men.
Their neighbors all had many more.
All kinds of weapon systems are prohibited.
The reason all this stuff matters is because in this short period of time between the two
world wars, the Germans have to recreate an army from scratch and they can’t even really
get going until the middle 1930s.
So how deep do the roots of this thing go?
Even if you attach it to the earlier military traditions, when you compare it to the First
World War German state, which has these deep old roots and they can trace it to before
Germany was a state with the histories of several different individual German states
like Prussia and Bavaria and all these places.
The First World War German state is one, is like a bodybuilder who’s been eating right
and building themselves up slowly but surely.
The one in the Second World War is somebody who had to go heavily into steroids because
of a terrible injury.
And they come into the war looking pumped up and initially doing good.
But when, you know, something that was supposed to be an easy knockout turns into a slugfest,
you have the legs to weather the storm into the later rounds.
You know, I can’t help but use the boxing analogies, can I?
And in that sense, you’d have to say that both of these armies, the First and Second
World War German armies, are big punchers, knockout artists.
But the Second World War one is like Mike Tyson, malevolent, intimidating, awesome,
throws these knockout blows, knocks out people spectacularly, can’t take your eyes off him,
but foundationally weak, maybe, psyche, stamina, all those things.
First World War Germany, a little bit more controlled, although they’re a big gambling
army too, they remind me a lot more of a boxer like Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion
of the world in the 1930s, 1940s, and into the 1950s.
Louis was a fantastic puncher too, a killer, but a little bit more defensive, more careful,
plodding was the way Muhammad Ali described him, but that’s a little unfair.
But they’re not as wild as the Second World War Tyson-esque one.
They too can knock out opponents, and they do with regularity in the First World War.
But the difference is, is that their foundation is much more solid.
They’re much more stable, and they can take you into the later rounds and knock you out.
Remember, the Second World War was essentially over in terms of knowing the outcome by about
That’s two years before the war against Germany ended, but everyone knew the Germans weren’t
winning anything two years earlier.
So Tyson is defeated, it just is uncertain which round he will actually be knocked out
in, whereas in the First World War, you know, the Joe Louis First World War German military
is still throwing potential knockout blows in the last year of the war.
I don’t know what value I put on this, but let’s note that the German army that went
to war in 1914 is an undefeated force.
And going back almost to Napoleon, they trace an almost unbroken string of victories, whereas
the army in the Second World War is literally and figuratively the child of defeat.
The rank-and-file soldiers likely to have had a father who fought, maybe died, maybe
grievously wounded in the First World War, the upper echelons of the officer corps, almost
to a man, First World War veterans, and of course, the totalitarian leader at the apex
of the leadership pyramid, Hitler himself, was a corporal in the trenches.
How much did that defeat and seeing what they saw in that war change them?
I don’t know that you could ever put a number on it.
I would just say if you have two boxing champions facing each other and one is undefeated and
the other isn’t, there’s something that helps the undefeated fighter.
It may be different person to person, and I couldn’t tell you how much and in what way,
but everyone notices it and acknowledges it.
I would say the same is true here.
But that’s hard to make a case if I’m standing up here as a lawyer representing this point
So let me represent it in a way that maybe I can pull some evidence together and convince
Let’s start with the armies themselves, as opposed to the navies, the air forces, and
Both these armies were very similar to each other, so you have to kind of compare the
things that are different about them.
Both of these armies have at their core the magnificent German fighting soldier at the
squad level, trying to figure out what makes them as good as they are.
Very hard to measure.
I remember Neil Ferguson in his book, A Pity of War, tries to break it down to some sort
You know, how much more deadly are the German soldiers than, you know, soldiery of other
But remember, it’s a lot of things working together, and a lot of things that the German
military have been good at for a long time, discipline, drill, obedience, tactical efficiency,
coordination between various arms, et cetera, et cetera.
The same adjectives that are used about the German soldiery in both world wars are adjectives
that are used to describe Frederick the Great’s mid-18th century Prussian troops.
And the German military tradition of both world wars is one that can be traced back
easily to Frederick the Great’s Prussia.
Some people like to go a lot earlier than that, but it’s easy to look at the military
traditions of 18th century Prussia and see those infused into 20th century German armies.
And so they’re comparable at the soldier level.
They’re also comparable in terms of their tactical equipment.
I mean, you look at like, okay, what were their rifles like?
What were the machine gun?
All this stuff is predictably very good in the German army.
The artillery was good.
All these things are pretty much the same.
So when you try to figure out what would make one less strong than the other, you look at
And in this case, I try to imagine the German army in the Second World War without Nazis.
If you take the Nazis out of the Second World War German army, it instantly gets better.
Then I think you could compare the two.
I still think I’d go First World War better because of the underpinnings of the state
being much more old and strong, like a well-constructed building.
You know, whatever happens, the Second World War German military is a rickety, hastily
thrown up structure if you’re talking about the economy that supports it.
Every World War II buff knows that the people who were trying to build up the stockpile
of weaponry and whatnot did not want to go to war as early as 1939.
Adam Tooze points out the economic realities that made Hitler decide not to wait until
the equipment and all that was ready.
So the good reasoning on both sides, believe it or not.
But I’m going to hang my hat on the idea that the fact that the Second World War German
military is infested and run by Nazis is what makes it inferior to the First World
So let’s start with why this would matter at all.
And the basic answer that covers most of these bases is that the ideological question now
becomes at least as important, and I think you can easily make the argument more important
than the question of merit or technical expertise.
Merit’s ideology becomes more important than merit.
And once the Nazis begin to, you know, place people in positions all up and down the leadership
tree from top to bottom, just like Stalin did in his system, then you begin to see the
impact of people that are less competent on the system.
People that never would have gotten jobs in First World War Germany because there would
have been people much better than they to occupy those positions are getting work in
Second World War Germany.
And it degrades everything.
In fact, let’s look at the guy.
To me, this is the person who proves the rule.
He’s just maybe the highest ranking incompetent official, unless, of course, you include Hitler
There are still, by the way, those people who consider Hitler some sort of military
I would make the case, and maybe this is a question for another show, that if you had
Hitler transported back to the deliberations of the First World War German general staff,
and there’s only 20 people that can fit in the room they’re having this discussion in,
and they’re only going to let the 20 best strategists in the room, I don’t think Hitler
gets anywhere near the front of the line to even get in the room.
But let’s not talk about him.
Let’s talk about his second in command, a guy who is…
He’s in charge of maybe you could say the most disappointing, underperforming wing of
the German military, and the one that probably was most responsible for a lot of the problems
because they put a lot of weight and a lot of resources into the German Air Force.
And then they handed those resources, that responsibility, and the weight of the war
in so many areas, and put it on the shoulders of Hermann Goering, a guy who was so incompetent
his job at one point, that if you were sending out commandos from the Allied side, hit teams
to take out German leadership, you would specifically want to make sure you did not shoot Hermann
Goering, because he’s one of the best things that ever happened to the Allied war effort,
because he was incompetent, and he would not have had that job in the First World War system.
Now let’s understand something.
The First World War system had its own problem with nepotism.
We’re not forgiving them.
They’re part of that tradition of blue-blooded aristocracy, right?
And you’ll look at the nominal commanders of a lot of the First World War armies on
the German side, and they’re prince this, and crown prince that.
And some of those guys were decent generals, by the way.
But you’ll notice that for the ones who weren’t, the German military was extremely adept at
walling off their ability to negatively impact things too much, and the best example of that,
of course, at all, is how the military dictatorship of Germany were able to sort of isolate and
quarantine the Kaiser himself, the imperial warlord of Germany, you know, sit in the corner,
play with your maps and your ships, we have a war to conduct, and they did.
Who’s going to do that in the Second World War?
Who’s going to cordon off Hitler and quarantine Hitler from his bad decisions being transmitted
to the military?
It’s a very ideological state, and the ideology plays as larger role or a larger role in everything.
And ideology, by the way, is absolutely key for understanding the Second World War at all.
Adam Tooze, the wonderful economic historian, makes these wonderful points in his book,
and I’ll have to quote a little bit of it, but he points out essentially, and it occurred
to me when I read the lines, I’m like, oh, this is wild.
Basically, my words put into his mouth, you know, the question is, what would happen if
a major nation state got taken over by a leader who was a fanatical conspiracy theorist
and saw the world strictly through their conspiracy lens and then acted upon, you know, what they
thought they saw?
For example, let’s imagine that the person running a major nation state believes that
aliens from outer space have been controlling nations and world leaders for 100 years, and
when they get into power, they start acting, you know, as if that’s what’s really going
We don’t base our decisions on what these countries say.
They’re puppets for the aliens.
It’s kooky, isn’t it?
But you know, Tooze reminded me of something we all know, but we tend to forget, especially
we war gamers.
We’ll sit down there and we’re thinking about this tank and that gun, and you forget the
ideology that’s pushing these armies forward to begin with.
Hitler is a fanatical conspiracy theorist, but he’s not thinking of space aliens, he’s
thinking of Jews running the world.
And there’s a tendency to think, yes, yes, yes, but, you know, these other things matter
until you realize that, and this is what Tooze was so good at in his 2006 work, The Wages
I mean, you have to understand that it explains so much of the crazy stuff that they did.
Because when I was growing up, this was still the end of the era where in the United States,
the classic thing to say about Hitler was that he was crazy.
And then you’d read about what they would do and they would go, yeah, that’s crazy.
Only a crazy man would do that.
Well, Tooze points out that only if you consider these fanatical conspiracy theorists to be
crazy would that work, because Hitler’s got a logical plan and is actually acting logically.
But only if you’re able to see things through that same fanatical conspiracy theorist lens
he’s looking at.
For example, the classic stupid maneuver of the Hitlerian regime in the Second World War.
Was there anything worse?
Everybody always likes to say attacking Russia, which was bad.
But remember, when Hitler was already at war with Britain and Russia, he then declared
war on the United States.
The United States didn’t declare war on Germany first.
And there’s a great what-if scenario that some people play with about what would have
happened if Hitler hadn’t declared war on the United States at all.
Because there was still a lot of isolationists in the U.S., a lot of people that would not
have wanted to go to war with Germany would have been able to say, hey, they didn’t do
anything to us.
The Japanese bombed us, but the Germans didn’t.
Interesting counterfactual to play with there.
Hitler takes it right out of everyone’s hands and declares war on the United States.
And when I was younger, you just thought, crazy.
But Tews points out, Adam Tews points out, that not if you see the world controlled by
a cabal of Jews who use whole nation states as their puppets to do their bidding.
One of the great weird ironies of Nazism is that Hitler saw Stalin-Soviet Union as
a Jewish Bolshevist communism.
In his mind, communism is Judaism.
They’re mixed up.
I mean, it’s all the same, right?
So that’s a main Jewish stronghold to Hitler.
But Hitler also thinks that the United States, because it’s democracy and freedom and capitalism
is also somehow a sign of Jewishness, that that’s also another one of these Jewish puppets.
If you’re fighting Jews and not nation states, well, then declaring war on the United States,
if you think they’re this Jewish puppet, all of a sudden makes sense.
And what Tews kind of woke me up to is that if you’re operating with this conspiracy theory
as your guide, yeah, the United States is just another one of these alien-controlled
countries that the space aliens are using against us.
You might as well go after them now.
Here’s the way Adam Tews encourages us to think about the way that these Nazis’ worldview
explains a lot.
Quote, President Roosevelt was identified as the chief agent of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy
bent on the destruction of National Socialist Germany.
It was no coincidence that Hitler’s famous threat of annihilation of 30th January 1939
came as a direct response to Roosevelt’s State of the Union address.
The United States, as everyone understood, was the key to deciding the balance of the
If Britain and France could count firmly on American aid, their position would be well-nigh
But the position of the United States was precariously balanced.
Whilst Roosevelt led the rhetorical assault against Hitler and encouraged Britain, France,
and Poland in their resistance to Nazi expansionism, isolationist currents in the United States
were still strong.
Hitler and the rest of the Nazi leadership, he writes, could not help but interpret this
complex situation through the dark haze of Manichean anti-Semitism.
For them, it was obvious that it was Jewish elements in Washington, London, and Paris
bent implacably on the destruction of Nazi Germany that were tightening the international
And it was this paranoid sense of menace that precipitated Hitler’s decision to launch
his strike against Poland and then against the Western coalition that continued to stand
obstinately in his way."
If you wanted to say, you know, what the Germans in both world wars did poorly, because they
were tactically brilliant most of the time, it was the grand strategy stuff.
It was deciding, for example, which countries to go to war with and which wars to fight
or not to fight that they really screwed up in.
And in the Second World War, the reason for declaring wars and accruing more and more
enemies was ideologically based, right?
So the doom of the German military, no matter how good it might have been on the battlefield,
was sealed by the politicians who put them in wars that no one could hope to win.
But that’s getting a little off the subject.
Let’s talk about how the Nazis made the German army weaker in the Second World War and the
difference that you would have had in a system like the First World War Germany that was
You can’t say it was merit-based, but more merit-based.
Start with the idea that you have all these Nazis in key positions that are incompetent
or untrained or non-expert.
This is not, by the way, a bug.
This is a feature as Hitler sees it.
There are lots of critiques one could pull off the shelf.
And again, all of these people have axes to grind.
So take everything that these ex-Nazi people write with a grain of salt.
But in his famous book, Inside the Third Reich, which may be, I’m not sure, it may be the
closest account you’ll ever get of the Nazi situation.
Originally his architect, but then the minister of armaments, Albert Speer, wrote his memoirs
after the war.
And when you read them, he’ll say things.
It’s like reading Churchill’s stuff, because instead of saying, they said, and then they
said, it’s I said, and then he said, and a lot of the he saids is Hitler.
So in Albert Speer’s book, he talks about Hitler’s tendency to put people in positions
of authority and great importance in the survival of the state who had never done anything like
what their jobs were going to require in the past, including Speer himself, right?
A guy who had become Hitler’s friend because he was an architect who was going to design
Hitler’s new Berlin.
And Hitler takes a liking to him and all of a sudden tells the architect, yeah, you’re
going to be the armaments minister with no experience at all.
Here’s the way Speer described it, quote, one can only wonder at the recklessness and
the frivolity with which Hitler appointed me to one of those three or four ministries
on which the existence of his state depended.
I was a complete outsider to the army, to the party, and to industry.
Never in my life had I anything to do with military weapons, for I’d never been a soldier.
And up to the time of my appointment, had never even used a rifle as a hunter.
To be sure, it was in keeping with Hitler’s dilettantism that he preferred to choose non-specialists
as his associates.
After all, he’d already appointed a wine salesman as his foreign minister, his party philosopher
as his minister for eastern affairs, and an erstwhile fighter pilot as overseer of the
Now he was picking an architect of all people to be his minister of armaments.
Undoubtedly, Hitler preferred to fill positions of leadership with laymen, all his life he’d
respected but distrusted professionals, end quote.
And he names a professional, Halmar Schlacht, who was fantastic, and a perfect example of
the kind of people that were merit-based.
Now the perfect example that should prove the rule of what Speer was just saying was
the guy who was second in command in the Nazi regime, the famous Hermann Goring, head of
the Luftwaffe, right?
Arguably the most underperforming branch of the German military?
Goring’s story, of course, is fascinating.
He was a dashing, handsome fighter pilot in the First World War, shall we say gone to
seed by the second?
During the wars, he was one of Hitler’s comrades, took a bullet in the groin area during the
early Nazi marches.
The pain of that was what was blamed on him becoming a morphine, opioid addict.
And I love the way the great tank general, Heinz Guderian, describes Goring.
You have to understand, another thing that made the Nazi state so much weaker, I think,
than the First World War state, is the Nazi state was full of the most, I mean, it was
like, you know, if Hitler is Taylor Swift, sorry, Taylor Swift, his little gang, his
entourage were a bunch of backbiting.
You can’t even describe the drama.
But Heinz Guderian describes Goring, and it’s just the most, the Nazis are the most, in
the 20th century, perverse, wonderful, colorful, awful.
I mean, you can’t even, the adjectives are not even there.
Here’s what Heinz Guderian writes about Goring, who’s in charge of the German Air Force, the
arm that is receiving an inordinate amount of the state’s resources because it’s seen
as this cutting-edge thing that can win you the war, and then it’s going to underperform
time and time again.
Here’s what one of the great tank theorists of all time, General Heinz Guderian, wrote
in his post-war memoirs of Goring, and you can just feel, well, I’m not even sure what
the emotion is.
It’s dripping off the page.
You tell me, he writes, quote,
Once, however, Goring had seen the young German Air Force through its teething troubles.
He surrendered more and more to the charms of newly won power.
He adopted a feudal manner of life, collecting decorations, precious stones, and antiques,
building his famous country seat, Cairn Hall, concentrating with visible results on the
joys of the table.
That just means he’s getting fat.
On one occasion, while sunk in contemplation of old pictures in an East Prussian castle,
he suddenly cried out, this is Goring,
I, too, am a man of the Renaissance.
I adore splendor.
Guderian continues, quote,
His style of dress grew ever more eccentric.
At Cairn Hall, or while hunting, he adopted the costume of the ancient Teutons, and when
on duty his uniform was always unorthodox.
He either wore red boots of Russian leather with golden spurs, an item of dress scarcely
essential to an aviator, or else he would appear at Hitler’s conferences in long trousers
and black patent leather pumps.
He was strongly scented, and he painted his face.
His fingers were covered with heavy rings in which were set the many large gems that
he loved to display, end quote.
And taking a shot at Goring there for perhaps a little cross-dressing goes a little beyond
the metrosexual, probably.
But at the same time, you know, that’s just one of the wonderful hypocrisies of the Nazis
is that they always had a strain of people doing things like that, and there’s nothing
wrong with that, unless, of course, you hypocritically make them one of the top targets that you
send to your concentration camps.
The Nazis were extremely hard on sexual minorities, and the fact that they have people in them
that probably could have passed for some just makes it extra, as I said, hypocritical.
Now once again, you think, well, what does this have to do with the army, right?
I mean, this isn’t a guy in the field with the weapons, but it is.
They’re all interconnected in ways that you can’t separate.
So for example, when Albert Speer gives an account of Hermann Goring shouting down a
German general who’s explaining to him really important things that will affect what happens
to the German army, which will affect what happens on the battlefield, Speer writes,
quote, I took part in a session with Goring in the course of which General Thomas expressed
his anxieties about the vast demands the leadership was making upon the economy.
Goring answered the respected general by roaring at him, quote, What business is that of yours?
I’m handling that.
Do you hear?
Or are you by any chance in charge of the four-year plan?
You have nothing to say in this matter.
The Fuhrer has entrusted all those questions to me alone, end quote.
Speer says, quote, In such disputes, General Thomas could expect no support from his chief,
General Keitel, who was only too glad to escape being bullied by Goring.
The well-conceived economic plan of the armaments office of the high command of the armed forces
was never carried out.
But as I had already realized by then, Goring did nothing about these problems.
Whenever he did do anything, he usually created total confusion, since he never took the trouble
to work through the problems, but made his decisions on the basis of impulsive inspirations,
Goring’s one of these guys, and you see this amongst a lot of the Nazi officials, where
theoretically on paper, Goring is not a bad guy to run the Air Force, I mean, with his
The problem is, is those qualifications were created at a time when Goring was a different
He’s a hardcore addict by this time, and his decisions concerning the Luftwaffe are catastrophic
if you’re German.
Mixed in with these Nazi officials put in place, even in the army, for ideological reasons,
are hardcore professional merit-based people in all these services who are horrified.
One of his generals, Helmut Forster, said of Goring, quote, I’ve seen the Reichsmarschall
nod off in mid-conference, for instance, if the conferences went on too long and the morphine
That was the commander-in-chief of our Air Force, exclamation point, end quote.
So imagine this Goring question up and down the chain of command and how much that affects
If you took those Nazi officials out and put people that were more merit-based, let’s not
get utopian here, from the First World War sort of standards, you’d have a better army
in the Second World War, in my opinion.
Let’s discuss some of the other things besides the merit question that play into this.
In my opinion, as I’m making my case here, the Nazi ideology of racial exclusion and
superiority makes the army weaker.
If you go tour some of the German graveyards from the First World War in France, you will
come across, every now and then, but with regularity, a German grave that has a Star
of David on it.
The reasons are obvious, right?
That is a German Jew who fell in service to his country, a patriotic German Jew of the
They were everywhere, from the rank-and-file soldiery to the scientists, bankers, industrialists,
It’s a long list of people who helped the German war effort in the First World War as
loyal Germans to the Kaiser.
The Nazi ideology, of course, turns the state against those people.
And whereas you had good Germans helping the state, now you have an enemy within.
The first thing that happens, of course, is you see a brain drain, and Albert Einstein
will be just one of the people who leaves Germany as times get tough.
He will famously come over to the United States, send that letter to President Roosevelt saying
it might be possible to harness the power of the atom, blah, blah, blah, right?
In the First World War, Albert Einstein stays in Germany and works his physics calculations
for the Kaiser’s regime, likely, anyway.
Not only that, but now you have this people who would have been helping the war effort
that now you have to figure out how to, at first, get rid of, and there was a balance
of payment problems, it was complicating matters, but by and large, it just basically means
at some point in the war, you look at a Germany that really, really, really needs to allocate
its resources carefully and wisely, and yet, because of their ideology, have to apportion
a certain amount to wiping out this ethnic group, well, one of many, but the Jews most
prominently, and you had your Gypsies, and you had your Poles, and you had your Russians,
and you had your, I mean, the list goes on and on.
You had your homosexuals, you had your priests, and all of them have to be, you know, warehoused
and exploited and then killed, and I mean, that takes resources from the war effort,
and why are they doing that again?
Oh, yeah, ideology.
Let’s switch to what the ideology means in terms of your commanders.
Both World Wars saw the traditional high standards of German generalship upheld, great generals
in both wars, but in the First World War, once again, if you did a good job commanding
troops and you were a winner, you were commanding troops.
In the Second World War, how much the Nazis like you or feel that you are loyal to them
plays a part in whether or not you get an important role.
There were guys like Guderian, who we just quoted, that were sometimes sidelined because
they weren’t ideologically supportive or pure enough, and of course, I mean, we all know
that a decent number of German generals were killed by the regime.
The Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel, one of their great ones, right?
Patton thought he was one of the best, ever.
What did they do to him?
They forced him to commit suicide, why?
Again, so not only is it not merit-based in some ways, but if the people who do deserve
those jobs don’t conform to the ideology enough, they’re gone too.
That’s another thing that’s going to make the First World War German military better
than the second.
Let’s talk economics for a second without getting too deeply into it.
You wouldn’t want me to anyway.
That’s where I’ll start making some mistakes.
But by and large, the Nazis had their own theories on economics, and this is well understood.
In the First World War, they were more, shall we say, orthodox on their economics.
The Germans were very much in the Second World War, and we described steroids earlier.
That’s not a bad way to put it.
Leveraging their economy for the short term is another way to put it.
That’s another reason why they were more like Mike Tyson, and they’re front-loading
their power, and if the fight goes into the later rounds, they’re in trouble, and it did,
and they were.
In the First World War, with a better understanding of economics, smarter people at the helm who
were not blinded by ideology, they did better with what they had longer.
Finally, you look at how the ideology boxed the German government in the Second World
War from any sort of outcome that wasn’t a total catastrophe.
Take a look at the performances of the two armies and what they did, right?
The German army from the First World War, from the Kaiserreich, those guys are fighting
a two-front war from day one, the worst nightmare of any central continental state, right?
You have Russians in the east, French and British in the west.
How do you deal with that?
Year by year, the Germans in the First World War went around knocking out their enemies.
I mean, they knocked Russia out of the war.
How’d they do that?
Well, their plan was to hurt them and then go and get a settlement with them and take
as much of a deal as they could get, right?
They got one of the great treaties of all time, Brest-Litovsk, right?
Famously in Germany’s favor.
Why didn’t Germany in the Second World War do that?
I mean, they had a lot more going for them.
They didn’t have to fight a two-front war until 1943.
You knock France out, which they did with a Mike Tyson-like spectacular knockout.
You’re not fighting in any front war for a while.
Then you fight the Soviet Union without having to worry about anyone on your western flank
there on the continent.
But by 1942, perhaps, maybe 1943, you’ve lost on the eastern front and the second front
is just opening up in Europe and Italy.
So you say, well, why didn’t the Germans cut their losses?
When you have all this territory in the Soviet Union, well, in the First World War, that’s
when you make a deal, right?
You go to the Russians and you go, listen, we got all this territory of yours and we’re
going to stay here.
But I’ll tell you what, you give us a good peace deal, we’ll pull back a little.
You know, you can negotiate from that, right?
But the Nazis were hemmed in by their ideology.
They can’t make a deal here.
This isn’t a battle, you know, for the best deal we can get.
This is, in Hitler’s mind, a life or death struggle.
The plans that the Nazi leaders have for this area in the east requires them to move millions
of people eastward, maybe have a starvation plan to start culling the numbers and then
inserting German farmers into this whole, I mean, the entire thing.
There is no plan B here.
There is no place for compromise.
And what’s more, the extreme brutality that Nazi racial superiority and the ideology
that pushed for a brutal campaign in the east pretty much made the people on the other side
in no mood to be cutting any deals with anyone.
Once again, didn’t have to be that way.
The German military is always tough on people throughout history, right?
Remember Belgium in 1914?
They’re not a lightweight army when it comes to justice ever, but the crimes of the Nazis
because of the ideological question were so much greater that there was nobody willing
So my opinion, you take the Nazis, you pry the infestation out of the German military
and all the influence that it had over the equipment, tactics, doctrine, strategy and
approach of the German military, and you instantly get stronger.
You put the first world war leadership and ideology, you know, what there was, it was
an aristocratic kind of an ideology, a 19th century ideology.
But you put that in charge of the second world war German army and I bet it’s better.
Let me end my attempt at making a case here by once again turning to General Heinz Guderian,
who was not afraid to go up to Hitler and ask the kind of questions that might get some
people, you know, hanging from the end of a meat hook.
So it’s pretty gutsy, but of course, we don’t know if this really happened or not.
This is a man’s memoirs.
But he says that after he watched Hitler basically, you know, yell in the face of Goring that
he was a disaster, Guderian walks up to him and says, so why is he still here?
He writes, quote, as a result of this conversation, meaning the dressing down of Hermann Goring,
I urged Hitler to act according to what he now realized and to appoint some competent
air force general to succeed the Reichsmarschall.
I told him that we dare not risk losing the whole war on account of the incompetence of
one man like Goring.
But Hitler replied, and this is Hitler talking, and he’s showing why the ideology trumps merit.
Hitler, according to Guderian, said, quote, for political reasons, I cannot do as you
The party would never understand my motives, end quote.
So if you can’t fire Hermann Goring in 1944, near the end of the war, for political reasons,
well that might explain why your military is less formidable than the First World War
military right there.
Remember, we didn’t even mention that Goring isn’t just in charge of the German air force,
he’s in charge of the German economy when the four-year plan’s going on.
You could make an argument that at least Goring has a background in fighter aircraft and all
that stuff, because he did, but why would you put that guy in charge of the German economy?
And who is good enough, even among the uber-competent, to be in charge of both?
And of course, we only chose Hermann Goring because he’s the most obvious target, the
tip of the iceberg.
The Nazis had people like this up and down, as we said, the leadership chain.
Mixed with a lot of uber-competent people, we should point that out, otherwise the Germans
are not as formidable as they were in the Second World War, lots of traditional German
That’s why I compare these Nazis to their war effort, like some sort of parasite, an
infestation, sucking some of the blood of competency out of them, leaving them still
very competent, but weaker than they otherwise would be compared, for example, in my opinion,
to their First World War version.
Now in my account, for brevity’s sake, not really my strong point, as you know, I left
out a lot of stuff.
We didn’t even deal with things like the Navy, you know, in comparison.
First World War German Navy, second most powerful Navy in the world.
Second World War German Navy, nowhere near that, I mean, there’s no comparison there.
And in the Air Force, I mean, let’s remember, to get back to Goring again, this is an Air
Force that continually delayed the influx of new equipment in terms of new designs,
which as we pointed out earlier, is critical, right?
The technology changes during the war itself, because they’re changing things like, well,
do we want this new jet to be a fighter or a bomber or a fighter bomber?
I mean, back and forth, and every time they change their minds, they lose months and months
of production time.
Could have had jet aircraft years earlier, perhaps.
Goring’s the guy who told Hitler to have his army stop and not annihilate the British who
were trapped at Dunkirk in 1940, because the Luftwaffe would finish them off, they didn’t.
Goring’s the guy that said he could supply the encircled German troops at Stalingrad,
don’t worry, we’ll do it by air, couldn’t.
And yet you can’t fire him in 1944?
Well, to me, in my opinion, as I said, that is exhibit A right there, that the German
First World War military would have been a more formidable opponent to face in its day
than the Second World War German military was in its day.
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