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Open Access ‘Milksops’ and ‘Bemedalled Old Men’: War Veterans and the War Youth Generation in the Weimar Republic

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‘Milksops’ and ‘Bemedalled Old Men’: War Veterans and the War Youth Generation in the Weimar Republic

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This article reconsiders traditional assumptions about the connection between the First World War and the rise of National Socialism in Germany, according to which politically radicalised war veterans joined the Freikorps after the war and formed the backbone of the Nazi membership and electorate. In questioning this view, the article first traces the political paths of actual veterans’ organisations. Whereas the largest veterans’ organisations were not politically active, the most distinctive ones – Reichsbanner and Stahlhelm – were not primarily responsible for a ‘brutalisation’ or radicalisation of Weimar political culture. Their definitions of ‘veteran’ and ‘front experience’ implicitly excluded the so-called ‘war youth generation’ from their narrative. Secondly, it is shown how representatives of this younger generation, lacking actual combat experience but moulded by war propaganda, determined the collective imagination of the First World War. The direct connection between the First World War and National Socialism can therefore primarily be found in the continuity of public and cultural imagination of war and of ‘war veterans’, and much less so in actual membership overlaps between veterans’ and Nazi movements.

Affiliations: 1: Berlin, k.m.mennen@gmail.com

10.1163/22116257-00601002
/content/journals/10.1163/22116257-00601002
dcterms_title,pub_keyword,dcterms_description,pub_author
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This article reconsiders traditional assumptions about the connection between the First World War and the rise of National Socialism in Germany, according to which politically radicalised war veterans joined the Freikorps after the war and formed the backbone of the Nazi membership and electorate. In questioning this view, the article first traces the political paths of actual veterans’ organisations. Whereas the largest veterans’ organisations were not politically active, the most distinctive ones – Reichsbanner and Stahlhelm – were not primarily responsible for a ‘brutalisation’ or radicalisation of Weimar political culture. Their definitions of ‘veteran’ and ‘front experience’ implicitly excluded the so-called ‘war youth generation’ from their narrative. Secondly, it is shown how representatives of this younger generation, lacking actual combat experience but moulded by war propaganda, determined the collective imagination of the First World War. The direct connection between the First World War and National Socialism can therefore primarily be found in the continuity of public and cultural imagination of war and of ‘war veterans’, and much less so in actual membership overlaps between veterans’ and Nazi movements.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22116257-00601002
2017-06-23
2017-11-22

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