Chancellor Bethmann Forced Out by Hindenburg & Ludendorff
The new Chancellor, Georg Michaelis (1857-1936).
July 13 1917, Berlin–Nearly three years into the war, some in Germany were realizing that their chances of winning were slim. The revolution in Russia, and their call for a peace without annexations or indemnities (not to mention American entry under Wilson) seemed to offer a way out. On July 6, Matthias Erzberger, a Zentrum politician who had unfailingly supported the war, told a committee of the Reichstag that unrestricted submarine warfare was not working and would not work to knock Britain out of the war. Germany’s only way out of losing the war would be to trade the occupied territories in France, Belgium, and Poland for a peace.
Erzberger soon convinced the Reichstag, and it was clear that he had a large majority behind him for a draft resolution, reading “The Reichstag strives for a peace of understanding between the peoples….Forced territorial acquisitions and political, economic, or financial oppression are irreconcilable with such a peace.” Chancellor Bethmann, although he had argued for peace last year, did not support the measure. Now was not the time, in Bethmann’s view; Russia, the country most likely to entertain this idea, was enjoying success in the East with the Kerensky Offensive, and such a proposal would be a sign of weakness.
Hindenburg & Ludendorff were in extreme opposition to the measure, as well. Although they were not sanguine about Germany’s chances in the war, they believed such a measure would greatly hamper the troops’ morale, as they thought it had in Russia. They offered their resignations, a common tactic of theirs. While the Kaiser fumed at “this kind of behavior,” he believed that they were too popular and too important to lose, and he did not accept their resignations.
Bethmann, meanwhile, came to the realization that he no longer had any true authority. The showdown over the peace resolution demonstrated that he did not have the support of the Reichstag, and that true power in Germany rested with Hindenburg & Ludendorff anyway. On the morning of July 13, while Hindenburg & Ludendorff were on their way to Berlin, Bethmann resigned.
A number of candidates were mooted for his replacement. The Kaiser rejected Bethmann’s predecessor, von Bülow, due to a long-standing grudge over the handling of one of the Kaiser’s many gaffes in 1909. Others declined for the same reasons Bethmann resigned in the first place. Hindenburg & Ludendorff rejected Bernstorff (too dovish) and Tirpitz (too much of a threat). The new chancellor, Georg Michaelis, an essential unknown, previously in charge of Prussian food administration. He was able to water down the peace resolution to the point where it no longer seemed binding on the German government.
George Hardie, artwork for the debut album of Led Zeppelin, 1969.
The cover ... shows the Hindenburg airship, in all its phallic glory, going down in flames. The image did a pretty good job of encapsulating the music inside: sex, catastrophe and things blowing up. Greg Kot, Rolling Stone.