Cornell University Press

Jay Lockenour on Erich Ludendorff

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We asked author Jay Lockenour three questions about his new book, Dragonslayer: The Legend of Erich Ludendorff in the Weimar Republic and Third Reich, and his research on World War II-era Germany.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

Very early in the project, I came across a newspaper whose headline proclaimed “Ludendorff is our Siegfried!” referring to the nationalist icon and protagonist of the medieval epic poem, the Song of the Nibelungen. Until that moment, I hadn’t made that connection, and it hit my like a brick that from Ludendorff’s promotion of the stab in the back myth to explain Germany’s loss in World War I to Ludendorff’s last testament to his followers in 1937 he had been justifying his claims to authority partly on the parallels with Siegfried’s story. To me, that helped to explain his resonance in German political culture.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

I thought a biography would be a good second book in part because it would be fairly straightforward. Boy was I wrong. Sources were an issue because unlike most “great men” of history, there no one archive that has all of his correspondence, for example. So I really had to come at him from multiple angles. Second, Ludendorff was most prominent as a military figure, but he also played an important political role during and after World War I AND he and his second wife invented a religion, the League for the Germanic Understanding of God. So it was like writing a biography of Dwight Eisenhower if Ike had also created Scientology.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of History?

History both suffers and benefits from being an accessible discipline. Anyone who can write can do it, at least in theory. Lots of journalists have written great works of history. It is not that I want to make it less accessible or enforce stronger boundaries in the field, but I wish that professional historians had greater influence in politics and society. We spend years gaining expertise, learning languages, and developing complex understandings of social and political issues. Too often when that expertise could benefit decision makers, our input is ignored or more often never solicited in the first place.

*Featured photo: Erich Ludendorff from Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1992-0707-500, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Jay Lockenour is Associate Professor of History at Temple University. He is the author of Soldiers as Citizens and former host of the New Books in Military History podcast.

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