Saturday, October 21, 2017

What's the English for "freikorps"?

Out old Intel Dump pal Phillip Carter has a piece up at Slate discussing the presser put on by the White House Chief-of-Staff, former GEN Kelly.

Carter says all the usual things that are being said elsewhere about the Kelly presser - that it pretty much told anyone who doesn't have a DD214 that their only role in military affairs is to "support the troops" and STFU - but one line from the Carter piece really struck me.

It was this:
"The burden of our post-9/11 wars has been heavy but not widely shouldered nor shared. The result, echoed in opinion surveys of veterans and military personnel, has been a mixture of pride, nostalgia, and resentment."
Yeah, well, there was another group of veterans and military personnel who held strong feelings of pride and nostalgia about their recent wartime service and deep resentment towards the civilians and political leaders of their nation they held responsible for their failure.

They were the guys from the Kaiserlich Deutsches Heer, the Imperial German Army, after 1918.

And by the 1920s they had given up pretending even notional submission to the civilian government of Weimar and went out into the streets to fight, helping to contribute to the chaos and social unrest that eventually enabled totalitarian rule come to power in Germany.

In the bitterest of ironies, the supposed true German nationalists they helped to power considered them a danger to the fascist state. Many of the ex-freikorps were murdered or disappeared in 1934 when the true believers consolidated power.

Are the situations of interwar Germany and post-modern America very different?


Is it good to have a small, self-selecting group within a popular democracy with a monopoly on the use and understanding of armed force and the attitude that that monopoly makes them politically superior to those without it?


You can argue about the iniquities of a draft and I won't argue back. But the Founders of this nation had some strong opinions about the danger to a republic from praetorian treason.

I will suggest that former GEN Kelly's remarks should make you nervous about listening for the sound of the dagger leaving its sheath.
There is more than one way to get stabbed in the back.


  1. That picture is most irritating because it does almost certainly not show the whole poster. The sentence "Tretet dem Freikorps Hülsen bei" is cut off.

    Anyway; I don't know if you saw my reply to you in my blog's comments. I wrote there that many soldiers are quite needy (of prestige, respect et cetera). U.S. troops are especially spoiled in this regard because of all the 'love' they got since '91 if not the 80's.

    But the Freikorps weren't so much disgruntled veterans as simply anti-socialist militias that got tolerated by the government for a while. Everyone was a veteran in the 20's, so this was not a mark of any meaningful grouping of people.
    These militias did IIRC play a role in limiting how much territory the Poles could grab from Germany and even the moderate socialists (social democrats) were fine to see Freikorps break communist uprisings.

    These useful idiots were exploited, and eventually discarded for real on demand of the French once the reorganised (downsized) Reichswehr appeared to have gotten its act together and be capable of keeping the domestic peace together with regular police forces.

  2. The problem isn't that too few serve. It is that too many serve with too many damn toys. The USA could do with downsizing their military to about 20% of its size.

    There is no reason for the USA to spend more on the military (and associated intelligence services) than the next umpteen countries put together. A smaller military would much less inclined to be adventurous (both at home and abroad).

  3. AEL -

    For my part I would revise your comment to read "A smaller military would make politicians much less inclined to be adventurous".

    1. It isn't called the "military industrial congressional complex" for nothing. Don't hang it all on the politicians.

  4. Europe had a history of Freikorps type units. Going back at least to Frederick II and most probably long before that. Didn't Frederick get the idea from the Field Marshal Otto von Traun whose Croatian free regiments slashed Fredericks supply lines and to top it off raped the camp followers, the sutlers, and the teamsters and their horses. And the Austrians probably got it from the Ottoman bashibazouks.

    In any case 'Seven Days in May' was a good movie drama, Rod Serling at his best. But it was Hollywood and not reality. The real extreme nationalists IMHO who could be turned into a Freikorps in this country are not veterans. They are alt-right whackadoodles, wannabee NAZIs, and white supremacists most of whom never served. There are a few vets among them, but not many is my bet. They are itching for a bit of blood as long as it is not theirs.

    An much bigger danger than the whackadoodles is the government itself. Bannon is out there fostering hate and discontent to work up voters to elect a Trump-on-steroids next time.

  5. Good.

    I'm glad you posted this because I'm thinking that we're witnessing a soft-coup, and personally, I'm seriously nervous.

  6. I read the Kelly dust up and was taken back to a similar event from about the time of Tet. I can't find the story, but this what I remember.

    There was a press conference conducted I believe by Westmoreland. A young reporter (I think Rather) stood up and asked Westy wtf is going on. Westy responded that was none of the rookie reporter's business and that he was out of line asking his question.

    To which the cub said to the General, "No sir it is my business, and it's your job to answer the question".

    Does any one else recall this story?

    Walter Olin

    1. Mr. Olin,
      I dug around for information, and could only find an article by Mark Bowden, the author of "Hue, 1968."

      here's the link

    2. W.O. -

      I recollect that story. Not 100% whether it was Rather or some other reporter. But it did happen. That began the military/press estrangement that lasted at least until the embedded journos of 2003. Looks like we are in for another downturn in the cycle.

  7. another article by the New Yorker, apparently Masha Gessen predicted this...

    1. oh yes, forgot the hat tip to Barb Roe, who linked it to me.

  8. What worries me is that any republic depends on the combination of internal political parties being willing to transfer power peacefully, and the armed forces playing a neutral role subservient to the civil power. The GOP has long abandoned any willingness to accept electoral checks on their relentless stooging for plutocracy and a New Gilded Age and the U.S. armed forces are overrun with people like Kelly who associate the GOP with "patriotism".

    So when Kelly acts as tho soldiers are the only real Americans, he's just parroting the opinions of a shit-ton of other officers who see no reason other than the tradition of " civilian control" to defer to anything other than hard Right governance.

    If you have developed contempt for civilians in general you aren't too far from concluding that civilian control is a mistake unless those civilians embody the virtues that you, the hard, unflinching cadre of Real American Values, revere. Once you're there then it's no step at all to lending passive support, if nothing else, to whatever the GOP does to gain and retain power.

    Why is that a problem? Because of the ridiculous fellating of soldiers that has grown in the U.S. since the Seventies. Many citizens will agree with Sanders' assertion that any questioning of soldiers is treason. So if the soldiers smile on GOP subversion of the electoral process then those supposed-citizens will sit back, convinced that everything is OK.

    And that's how republics become oligarchies.

  9. What? No discussion about the cost/benefits of a soft military coup when the Civilian in Command is a Tangerine Toddler?

    1. What makes you think that a coup would be directed against the executive branch instead of against the judicative and legislative branches? After all, a 4 star has already made a Faustian pact.

  10. Buy me a bottle of whiskey, let me climb into it, and we can chat the whole night away about this, Ael.

    Because that's the only way I'll get through the conversation without sobbing.