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Civil-Military Tensions: Letter from Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg to Field Marshall von Hindenburg (1917)

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Concerning the answering of Mr. Wacker’s questions: such a response to the questions themselves would have led to a discussion of the most difficult and delicate questions, ones that must remain outside the realm of public discussion, especially since the response would have been given at a press conference whose membership includes individuals with a greater proclivity toward critical discussion than the receipt of factual information. I have always accepted the desire of Your Excellency to remain outside the realm of political struggles. It is regrettable that efforts to pull Your Excellency into the political struggle and to use the authority of Your Excellency against the civilian leadership constitute a central tactic of the enemies of the civilian leadership in their political struggles. Concerning the answer that is to be given, I would therefore proceed under the assumption that it will avoid a discussion of individual questions and will give the representatives of the press no basis for reflecting upon differences between the Chancellor and the Supreme Army Command. In the version recommended by me, I have assumed all of the political responsibility – as corresponds to the position of the Chancellor according to the constitution. Questions regarding the course of decisions that need to be accounted for, and the extent of the role of the Chancellor (who is politically responsible) and the Supreme Army Command (which is removed from responsibility), must officially remain an internal matter. In determining answers, may I humbly suggest that Your Excellency consider the route I have taken in negotiations between the head of the War Press Office and Director Deutelmoser.

Concerning the letter of Your Excellency from the 19th of this month, I am quite willing to pass on the wishes expressed by Your Excellency therein to the men in charge of the resorts in the individual ministries.

Signed Von Bethmann Hollweg

Source: Letter from Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg to Field Marshall von Hindenburg concerning the Sole Responsibility of the Civilian Leadership to the Public for Political Decisions, March 21, 1917, Homburg, PA Bonn, Political Section. Abt., Foreign Office, Central Headquarters, Bd. 245, Copy.

Original German text also reprinted in Wilhelm Deist, Militär und Innenpolitik im Weltkrieg 1914-1918 [The Military and Domestic Politics in World War 1914-1918]. 2 vols. Düsseldorf, 1970, vol. 2, pp. 682-84.

Translation: Jeffrey Verhey

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