ON A DAMP, FOGGY NIGHT A LITTLE more than twenty years ago,
the Weimar Republic gave perhaps its most perfect demonstration of what Germans
understand democracy to mean. The incident explains at once why it was so easy
to indoctrinate them with contempt for the very idea of political freedom
and why the peace of the world can never be safe in the presence of anything
such a people might consider a democratic form of government.
It was November 8, 1923, and a raw wind blew like a wet
dishcloth against the faces of Cabinet Ministers hurrying to an emergency
meeting in the Chancellery. For nearly Eve years these men and their
like—Social Democrats, Socialists, Centrists, the so-called democratic party
leaders—had been in nominal control of the government. They were used to
crises. They had seen the mark speeding on its disastrous course of inflation.
They had seen the occupation of the Ruhr. They had been through the political
battles of a succession of coalition Cabinets. On this November night, however,
the leaders of the republic were in a remarkable state of funk. A demagogue
named Adolf Hitler was trying to start a revolution in a beer hall.
The story in Berlin that evening was that his movement had
captured Bavaria and was marching on the national capital. To do the Cabinet
Ministers justice, they were a good deal more frightened by the fact that
General Erich Ludendorff of World War fame had joined the little Austrian. And
they were frightened most of all by worry over which way the Army would jump.
The figureheads of the republic knew that the Army had no love for them. It was
in the hands of the old military clique, the Prussian war lords whose
destruction had been promised by the Allies. Within five years of their
supposed demise, they had become the power that would decide whether the
republic survived. If the soldiers, carefully trained in anti-republican dogma,
preferred the Hitlerian raincoat to the parliamentary frock coat, the Weimar
regime was doomed.