1869, Special SMH Ep. 105 with David Silbey, Jay Lockenour, and Edward Westermann
2:30PM May 19, 2021
Welcome to 1869 the Cornell University Press podcast. I'm Jonathan Hall. For this special military history episode, we speak with David Silbey, Jay Lockenour, and Edward Westermann.
David Silbey is the series editor for our book series Battlegrounds, Cornell Studies in Military History. He is the Associate Director of the Cornell and Washington program and adjunct associate professor at Cornell University. He specializes in the industrialized total wars of the 20th century, and the asymmetric responses to those wars that evolved after 1945. Jay Lockenour is associate professor of history at Temple University, and author of a new book Dragonslayer: The legend of Erich Ludendorff in the Weimar Republic and Third Reich. He is also the author of Soldiers as Citizens and former host of the New Books in Military History podcast. Edward Westermann is professor of history at Texas A&M University—San Antonio, and author of the new Cornell book, Drunk on Genocide: Alcohol and Mass Murder in Nazi Germany. He is a commissioner on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, and also the author of Hitler's Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars. We spoke to David , Jay and Edward about the Battlegrounds series, each of their new books, as well as the topics and military history they're most interested in exploring this coming year.
Hello, David. Ed and, Jay, welcome to the podcast. Great to be here. Thank you. Well, it's a pleasure having you all here on this main morning, we're on the eve of the Society for military history annual meeting, this may 20, through the 23rd in Norfolk, Virginia.
And one of the things we're going to be promoting at the conference is our series, Battlgrounds Cornell Studies in Military History. David is the series editor and wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about the series and also the background about how it got started. Yeah, thanks, Jonathan. And thanks for having us on. It's, it's great to be here right before the conference. Military History is kind of an interesting subspecialty of history. It's, it's wildly popular, which is a little bit of an oddity for historians. It's not necessarily terribly well integrated with the rest of history, and historians. And it's tended to divide itself over the last couple of decades into not warring camps, but but separate camps, camps that look at things like operations, and battles and camps that focus more on society and culture and that side of war. And so what battleground series is trying to do is trying to sort of reunite all of those camps within within the big tent, which is to say, if you think about a battle, you have to think about the society and culture that sent the armies to fight there. If you think about a war, you have to think about the people and the perceptions and the ideas that they had and trying to fight this conflict. And on the flip side, if you focus on the societies and cultures that are fighting war, and want to look at war and society topics, you also have to think about the fact that these organizations are thinking about the battlefield, they're thinking about going to war. And that's an important thing to bring in, as well. And so when Emily Andrew, the senior editor at Cornell University Press, who was the real star of the show, by the way, I just wander around and say yes or no to things, occasionally
approached me about developing a series that was sort of the underpinning of it a chance to not only reunify or try to unify some of the camps within military history, but also then start to engage with the larger historical profession, and other areas of scholarship and say to them, hey, what we're doing is important to what you're doing and what you're doing is important what we're doing. And so let's all figure out how to come together and talk about those things. That's great. That's great. Well, we're proud as as, as you know, to have two of the authors in this series on this podcast, Edward Westerman and Jay Lockenour and we'll start with Ed, both of you have had a book come out the spring. Ed's book is Drunk on Genocide: Alcohol and Mass Murder in Nazi Germany. And could you tell us what inspired you to write this book and some of the key
you have within the book.
Yeah. Thanks, Jonathan. And it's great. It's great to be here and to have this opportunity to talk about the book. But I've spent about 30 years looking at perpetrator studies and looking at military history as well. And so one of the things that happened is I was looking through the literature outfall is prevalent in the literature in discussions of use by perpetrators and witness testimony and survivor testimony, you saw it. So it was a topic that I say was hiding in plain sight. And as I started to look at that topic, I really was struck by how the perpetrators used alcohol in the many ways they used it in, in particular, in the way it was integrated into things like celebratory ritual that I talked about acts of physical and sexual abuse by the perpetrators themselves, and how this idea of alcohol use was also tied to a larger sense of intoxication of control over these other populations. And that also tied back to perceptions of masculinity within German society at the time. So I was able to really start to draw a number of collection of connections that kind of crossed over, not only from history, but into the social sciences, and to look at these connections, as David was talking about, in a broader sense, to kind of expand my understanding of military history.
Excellent, excellent. Now, it's difficult to choose within a book, but what are what's one of the most important things you'd like readers to understand after reading the book? Or is there as an anecdote? Or is there a section in the book that's really fascinated that you'd like to share with listeners?
Well, there's really a couple very horrific. This is a horrific book to read, it's very difficult book to read because of the subject matter. But there are times when I was writing this book, where you really have to take, put the book down, or even your sources down. And one example of that was Ruth Ellis, who was a young, young woman at Auschwitz. And she arrived at Auschwitz as a 20 year old and was put into a barracks that also held the male, the male orchestra for the camp. And in her testimony after the war, she recalled being in the top bunk in that barrack. And hearing these SS drunken SS men arrived we're seeing and they they open the door, they come barging into the barrack. And the first thing that they do is they say the orchestra, they wake up the male orchestra and tell them to start playing. And then the next thing we'll do is they start grabbing these women and start to solve them. And the line that will always stick with me from Ruth aeleus is that the music had the play. So the staging of this of this event, with this malice of forethought, if you will, of these drunken SS men, that's something I'll never forget. And the second thing, I think that what this book does, as a contribution to the field, is that often coping has been the primary discussion of alcohol use by the perpetrators, that the only way they could get through their days was by drinking. And I think what this book does is it really complicates that narrative, while coping was in fact, used by some of the perpetrators. It is not the only reason in the only mechanism of alcohol use in the Holocaust. And in some cases, it's not even the primary. So I think that's an important contribution of the work.
Well, thank you for sharing that that story. It's just chilling. And the combination of war which is already hell, combined with alcohol, which makes the soldiers on predictable I mean, I can only imagine the combination being so deadly. So thank you so much.
j. j has j lock in our has a new book coming out that has come out the spring Dragonslayer: The Legend of Erich Ludendorff in the Weimar Republic and Third Reich Jay, Tell us about your book.
Well, it's hard to follow on Ed's narrative which is so so somber, but I was asked many years ago to write some encyclopedia entries for an encyclopedia of anti semitism on Erich ludendorff, his second wife, Matilda, and their publishing company, and I was I was struck not so much by the offer, but by the combination I I thought I knew a lot about Erich ludendorff. I'd written a long paper as an undergraduate on him and his role in the third spring command the leadership of the German army after 1916 during World War One, but I had I had no clue who his second wife was and why they had a publishing company I had no idea. So I was I was curious to explore this and and fascinated when I discovered this long after life that we can go
Had after 1918 most most biographies sort of trail off, they see him riding off into the sunset after the end of the war, maybe, you know, mentioned his dalliance with with Hitler in the early 20s. But it's a symptom seen as a symptom of kind of mental illness on his part that he's suffered some sort of breakdown. But he, he is the, the most important figure on the radical right wing of drone politics, at least until 1925. And I argue, many years beyond that, he has this fascinating after life during the Third Reich when as a as an opponent of Hitler and the Nazis, but from a more farther right wing, anti semitic position in many ways. He enjoys a certain kind of gestures, freedom to say what he will. And then even into the history of the Federal Republic after the war, his wife lives until 1966, and carries on their campaign on behalf of this, this pagan religion that they found. So what I discovered was this extraordinary person who had been to India and despicable that's just but put that to the side, who had this amazing military career that we all know a lot about, but then also a kind of political and religious,
going after life, in that my argument is kind of poisons the political culture of the Weimar Republic, in a way that that leads to the Nazi seizure of power and in the war, and the Holocaust and things like that. And he's not directly responsible, of course, but but he plays this important. transitional role.
Excellent, excellent. And within within your book, there are many stories of Ludendorff what is one that comes to mind that is memorable to you? So one that I think I don't know what it means exactly, but it's one that surprises people when they hear it. So his his group after 1926 or so, he becomes staunchly anti Nazi and writes a lot about Hitler and kind of satirical ways cartoons and so forth. lampoon's the Nazis. He sees them as part of this a Jewish Catholic conspiracy to destroy Germany. So that, that they'll just be your introduction there, you have to read more to find out.
But so when when, after the Nazis take power in in January of 1933, there's a lot of consternation among this group that, oh, you know, what do we do now we've taken such a public stance against the Nazis and then the night of the long knives so that this is the when the Nazis take out the leadership of the SA this sort of internal feud that they've been having, as Rome and others. There's enormous concern among ludendorff followers that they might be next, right, because they were close to the Nazis. They were anti semitic, they're, you know, in a lot of ways, a lot like Rome. They worried that they might be next, but the leadership showed no concern whatsoever. And in fact, there's an exchange of letters, the day after the night of alarm knives in early July 1934, in which they congratulate themselves essentially that they knew this was coming. And, and they finally took care of that. They call him a 175 or so which is a slang term for homosexuals in Germany. The law that criminalized homosexuality was the paragraph 175 in the German criminal code, so that they finally got rid of this 175 room. And they've been telling, you know, telling the Nazis about all along. So, so the machinations the, you know, the way that this, this group operated, that was revealed in a really interesting way that at that moment, that they were both threatened, and yet on the inside.
Interesting, interesting. Well, I mean, when when we were, when we were choosing the the cover image, you had provided some images of Ludendorff. And there was one that he was looking straight at the camera, that he looked basically on the verge of insanity, that there was this has something in his eyes that you just you didn't want to look into his eyes. And so I can see a kind of a parallel between Ed's book of the unpredictable, unpredictable nature of people that are drunk, and then the unpredictable nature of Ludendorff that he could do anything. Yeah, so I'm one of my main arguments is that he wasn't I can't I'm not fit to diagnose whether he was insane or mentally ill in some meaningful way. You know, Hitler was insane in by a kind of common definition, right? I mean, was something not in right about that guy. And in the same sense, you could say that about Ludendorff, but why does it matter why, you know, that doesn't, we don't dismiss Hitler, because he was herman cain. So why would we dismiss Ludendorff because he was
insane and I think there's a there's something to be drawn out there in ludendorff 's, and maybe Hitler's role as prophet or to Ludendorff saw himself as a prophet. And that that stare is a is a is a guys that prophets adopt right i mean that that's how you look prophetic is the stare that that face and so he was playing a role. Interesting, interesting. Yeah, I wasn't in any way implying to dismiss him but I could see how he would rise to power given that people couldn't necessarily predict his his actions or stand to be around him because yeah, that
having spent 10 years of my life within that, you know, believe me, I'm ready to be done. And I want to divorce. Okay. Well, your book is, is that you? Yes. We'll get in. We're going into what you're interested in next. But we want to hear from David, we he has a book, not necessarily the series, but it's, it's coming out in June, the other face of battle, America's forgotten wars and the experience of combat, it's a co authored book, just wanted to hear about this forthcoming book, David. Yeah. And actually, let me let me sort of start off by by pointing out how well both Ed and Jay's book sort of make our sense of these two periods of military history much more sophisticated and much more complicated, in the sense that you when you think about what it is shown, which is just not,
has not not been completely untalked, about before, but it's the way that drugs and especially alcohol, was in common use both as compensation but also in a celebratory way for soldiers in the German army for soldiers around the world. And so when you sort of understand that, that drugs and alcohol shaped the way soldiers behave, that that really changes your perception of how the war is going, how the Holocaust happened, and, and all the areas in there, and then with Jays book, you know, Hitler really made a very concerted effort to create a mythology around the Third Reich. And what I think Jay is really showing is that's not just something that he came up with, or that was uncommon, because Ludendorff did exactly or, or similar things, himself sort of created this idea of that linked him back to a whole sort of somewhat, sort of fake mythology on that one. And that gives us a much deeper insight into, into into the German military history of the time. And you know, if you want to get all the way down to the battlefield, and and I know, I'm sort of talking for the two gentlemen, but if you want to get all the way down on the battlefield, one thing about German soldiers in World War Two was they showed amazing cohesion. On the battlefield, they were remarkably strong at holding together, even in a horribly disasterous moments. And I think if you think about both the alcohol and then about this mythology, you start to understand some of that battlefield cohesion. So it's, it's linking the two kinds of military history that I was that I was talking about earlier.
My book, which is with a publisher, I will not name because I think I would immediately be fired by Cornell and an octave, okay, absolutely. Is but fits into that same, that same sort of approach, which is that when you think about the wars that the United States wants to remember, we can we can think about them immediately to civil war, World War Two, Vietnam during the Revolutionary War. Almost all of those are big, conventional wars against enemies that we share a culture with or share a similar culture with, with the exception of Vietnam. But when you look at the wars that the United States has actually fought over the past two centuries, a lot more of the wars are against or against much more unfamiliar opponents, opponents that don't share a cultural cultural heritage with us opponents that don't understand that we don't understand either on the battlefield or in in a larger way in society. And so the book and with my co authors, Wayne Lee, David Preston and Anthony Carlson, we wanted to look at three battles throughout American history that were not familiar ones not Gettysburg, not Pearl Harbor, not de de but the unfamiliar ones, the other phases of battle, to try and understand what the American experience was like when we were fighting enemies we didn't understand or that we thought of is inferior to us. And so the book is, which I should know makes it a great gift for any occasion. Which is coming out in early June is, is really trying to get a sense of what it's like when we're not fighting a war. We understand when we're not fighting a familiar enemy, but when we're sort of lost in the war that we find ourselves. Interesting. Interesting. Well,
yes, excellent. That's coming out in June. So thanks for thanks for sharing and letting us know about it.
And so getting back to Jay and Ed, I was curious. Jay, you had mentioned that you're, you're done with Ludendorff. It's been 10 years, you're ready for a divorce. Okay, what's next? What's what's next on the horizon for you? So it this started with an anecdote from my dissertation. Lo those many years ago, where the Veterans Organization of the German Africa corps made a great show of a soccer match that they played every year at their annual convention against the British Army. And this was supposed to symbolize for this group, their their kind of organizational ideology was that they had fought the fair fight in the desert, right. This wasn't the war of atrocity on the Eastern Front, we were the good, you know, we fought a regular war in North Africa. And so it could be embodied in the sportsmanship of this soccer match. That had to be canceled then in the late 1950s, as the German Africa corps got to be older, and the British Army stayed 20 years old. So they were getting over injuries. That was a blow gimmick. The last the last meeting, I think, was a seven nil blowout with multiple injuries on the German side. So they, they called it off, and that kind of always stuck stuck with me like, Why? Why do they invest so much in the sporting competition? And so that's what I'm exploring now is the is the idea of sports in the military, or sports and war? I haven't quite figured out which angle to take yet. But it's starting with a study of the post war Bundeswehr and the National People's Army and in East Germany and sort of their investment in, in sports, what they, what they what the institutions hope to get out of it. And then, but also, what what participants hoped to get out of it or imagined that they were getting out of it. I think it will be part of the the interest in that story as well. Excellent. That's fascinating. That's fascinating. And Ed, what's on what's on the horizon for you? Oh, actually, I think Jays topic is great. So I'm gonna start working on that right now. I'll try to
go, No, actually, I'm going to continue actually, one of the things that came out of this book, as I was looking at it, I talked about this idea of recreational violence. And I've done a previous book that was a comparative book between the Nazi east and the US West. And I see that this concept of recreation, or recreational violence, or spectacular violence is something that kind of crosses boundaries, it crosses chronology of warfare. And it's something that also speaks to some of that social science literature that I talked about, that we can integrate into our historical studies. So it's an area that I'm really interested in exploring more and to see if there's something there for a larger monograph.
Excellent. Excellent. Thanks for sharing. That sounds great. You
got a nice hook there. Recreational violence is a that's a hook.
Definitely another cheerful book for you to work on it. Yeah, I
know why. Yeah. People don't want to meet me. Probably, if they haven't met me, they probably think oh, my gosh, what's that guy gonna look? I'm gonna look like ludendorff. But the stare?
Oh, my gosh. So. So yeah. So the the meetings coming up the annual meeting, as I mentioned earlier? What, I guess I'll step aside for a second and say, What what are you interested in? Or what do you look for at the meeting? And, and then we'll bring in David as well, to bring it up kind of a holistic look at the series as well. But at what are you looking forward to at the meeting?
Well, one of the things I think that is really exciting about where the smh has gone is some of the things that David has talked about, I think the series represents, if you will a turn in the in the field of military history, we have called it in the past the new military history, but I think what you really see is a broad a broadening of the field, to look at cultural aspects of preparation for war, societal impacts, gender certainly has been one of the things that we've seen broaden in participation of those who are attending methodologies that are used. So I think the exciting thing really about smh is you get to see a really broad sampling of a lot of new, a lot of new approaches to military history. And I think that's probably the most interesting thing that I've seen in the last, let's say 10 years at the smh. Excellent, excellent. Jay, what
are you excited about for the upcoming seminar,
I would echo What what Ed said, Of course, it's a I always find the conference kind of invigorating, energizing, just to see what people are working on to connect with colleagues, again, to, you know, it, it helps you understand why what what we do is is important. And and, again, the broad range of topics that are addressed. I always have a little bit of a hard time with this notion of like, the new military history, which of course, we've been talking about since 1970s. Right. I mean, there were, there were essays on the dilemma of military history. You know, Dennis, show, Walter and people like that writing in the 1970s. So, it, it's new. It's invigorating, of course. But it's also kind of old, there was good work being done a long time ago to.
And then David, rounding it up. What are you excited about at the conference? And how do you see the battleground series fitting into the, to the field? Yeah, so the, you know, the Society for military history annual conference is also my big social event of the year, I got my PhD from Duke and the, the Duke mafia will will reunite and discuss what's wrong with the world and how to fix it. Ed got his at UNC. So he's only marginally a member of that back group and Jays just way off somewhere on that, so that'll be cool mafia though, I Yeah, that's true, absolutely true that the Temple Mafia may be bigger than the Duke mafia.
Hold on that whether it's looking, we have a book coming out in the in the near future, whether it's looking at how German civilians experienced the Soviet invasion of their homeland in 44, or 45. Or to go in a whole different direction, how American fighter pilot culture shaped how the US Air Force behaved in the 1960s and 70s. It's that it's that getting those voices front and center that you otherwise don't get to hear in, in regular military history. And then finally, and I think most importantly, is bringing all the camps and military history together and publishing the kind of quality and really amazing books that Ed and Jay have written. That's I think the real accomplishment is those are, those are spectacular works. And I'm just proud to have participated them in so participated on those projects in some way.
Wow, that's very, very inspiring. Yes. As you said, the the series is unlimited. As far as these untold stories, there's countless untold stories. And we're honored to have you all you as as team players and team members, bringing these new voices to the forefront and changing the field in its own way. So I really, really, thank you for all the hard work that you've been doing. congratulate you on all the great scholarship and the new books that you've taught that are coming out this year. So and I want to thank you as well for taking the time to share your stories, your insights, and your new books. And we hope that you have a fantastic time at the upcoming conference.
Well, thanks, Jonathan. If I could I would like to just respond. You know, UNC Duke had a joint program and we were always as UNC are happy to help the Duke students, you know, to learn more. And the other thing that I would The other thing I would point out and David already said this,
Emily Andrew was very enthusiastic when I pitched this project. And David is absolutely right. Getting an editor who really sees the value of your work and is willing to fight for that really makes a huge difference. So I very much appreciated that. And I very much appreciated the time to spend was with you all today. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you.
That was David Silbey, Jay Lockenour and Edward Westermann. If you'd like to purchase j and I words new books, or any other book in our Battlegrounds series, please use the special promo code 09EXP40 to save 40% on our website at cornellpress.emicornell.edu.
Thank you for listening to 1869 the Cornell University Press podcast.