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Did the Munich Putsch put Hitler in the spotlight on an international level? If so why didn't the league of nations act – or any other country for that matter?

On the surface the Beer-Hall Putsch seemed to be a failure, but actually it was a brilliant achievement for a political nobody. In a few hours Hitler catapulted his scarcely known, unimportant movement into headlines throughout Germany and the world. Louis L. Snyder: "Encyclopedia of the Third Reich" (1998), p21.

They would be worried about Hitler's megalomania – which could, and did, cause a world war. Not to mention his willingness to stop Versailles reparations.

I am not saying 'oh but it's Hitler. He should be locked up'. The Putsch itself surely must have advertised the party a bit more- I care not for a political party to be extreme- but have them performing a coup on their government- I'd be worried

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    What has your research shown you so far about the Hitler-Ludendorff-Putsch? Where have you already searched? Please help us to help you and give us a bit more context. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and help center. You may improve your question to comply with site guidelines with an edit and the help of How to Ask. – LangLangC Nov 12 '18 at 18:43
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    But the short term effect was that the putsch failed and Hitler was jailed. The legal government of Germany remained in place, and Hitler was an internal issue of the country. What were foreign countries suposed to react to? – SJuan76 Nov 12 '18 at 20:07
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    Hitler's megalomania- which could, and did, cause a world war – yolo Nov 12 '18 at 21:15
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    Hindsight is 20/20. Now tell me if you are aware of every megolamanic who is now in jail or has been in jail recently, in every country of the world, who 15 or so years from now will rise to power and then within five or six years will start another war that will engulf the world in flames... and what are you doing about it today? You are looking at Hitler through the lens of History. His contemporaries did not have the same vantage point. And you can’t jail someone indefinitely for something they haven’t done yet. Real life isn’t like a science fiction movie. – Kerry L Nov 13 '18 at 14:09
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    @yolo About 99% of the contemporary 1920s German population, both left and right, both extreme and moderate, wanted to stop Versailles reparations. – Bregalad Nov 13 '18 at 15:21
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Foreign countries didn't think the Beer Hall Putsch was significant at the time. It is only significant in retrospect: we know it's important because we know that Hitler would become leader of Germany 10 years later. They didn't know that. Their assessment was not wrong, because it was not (yet) inevitable or even likely that Hitler would gain power. His programme for conquering Eastern Europe (Mein Kampf) was not written until he was in prison. Whether Lebensraum was a significant aspect of his propaganda before the coup, I'm not sure. I suspect that anticommunism was probably the main theme.

I can think of at least 3 other putsch attempts in that time and place: the Munich USPD coup, the Spartacist uprising, and the Kapp putsch.

As well as the many other uprisings in contemporary Germany, people were distracted by the many revolutions across Europe and the world in that period. From 1930 onward, we correctly criticise the world for dismissing Hitler. In 1923, they ignored him and, in 1923, they were right to do so.

  • What is the USPD coup? Freistaat Bayern proclamation during Bavarian Soviet Republic? – LangLangC Nov 14 '18 at 16:55
  • Yep, that's what I meant. Kurt Eisner walking into the state government in Munich, and announcing he was now the leader of the province (no-one tried to stop him) – Ne Mo Nov 14 '18 at 17:01
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    Hihi. By then these proclamations were done a few times already. When Eisner got into the Landtag to do what you wrote, the building was vacant. But some were trying: After a private conference with Erhard Auer at noon, von Brettreich felt able to assure an anxious inquirer by phone that "Eisner will have his back against the wall this after­noon." Minister of War von Hellingrath repeated his own confident views at the late morning session of the Committee of Finance, Nov 7. – LangLangC Nov 14 '18 at 17:14
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Any act of intervention, by either the League of Nations or any alliance of individual countries, would have been a declaration of War against the Weimar Republic, both de facto and de jure. That is the nature of international intervention.

Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations would have allowed the Weimar Republic to invoke self-defence against any such aggression, requiring all signatories to come to its aid. This would have resulted in an early start to a second world war, less than a decade after the end of the First, with a hapless and disarmed Weimar Republic playing the role of Poland.

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    This is a theoretical argument for a perfect world. It excludes several historical facts. Eg your own ArtX: " calling for assistance to be given to a member". Germany wasn't one when the putsch took place. Then there were multiple armies already present on German soil… following your logic those countries supplying the occupation force would have declared war permanently? Sorry, but: The Versailles treaty and its aftermath make the current form of this answer completely irrelevant. – LangLangC Nov 15 '18 at 19:35
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While the quote from the book does say:

In a few hours Hitler catapulted his scarcely known, unimportant movement into headlines throughout Germany and the world.

Some would say that this is a

Wrong premise. Beer Hall Putsch failed, and it was relatively minor event in tumultuous Germany of those years. Hitler was not significant, plus he was in prison, none on the international scene cared much about him. –rs29

As this would be from the 1923 perspective:

But the short term effect was that the putsch failed and Hitler was jailed. The legal government of Germany remained in place, and Hitler was an internal issue of the country. What were foreign countries supposed to react to? –SJuan76

Just a short time later things might have been different.

At that point he was still not much known outside of Munich. The country most concerned was Austria, fearful that upon his release from Landsberg prison the Bavarian authorities might attempt to deport him. (He was then not a naturalised German.) Seipel, the Austrian Chancellor, refused to take him, arguing that Hitler's service in the German army incurred loss of his Austrian citizenship. It was not a sound legal argument. But it sufficed to keep him out of Austria. On release from Landsberg Hitler managed to renounce his Austrian citizenship, rendering himself stateless. (Kershaw pp 237-8) –WS2

In summary one might argue that

Hindsight is 20/20. Now tell me if you are aware of every megolamanic who is now in jail or has been in jail recently, in every country of the world, who 15 or so years from now will rise to power and then within five or six years will start another war that will engulf the world in flames... and what are you doing about it today? You are looking at Hitler through the lens of History. His contemporaries did not have the same vantage point. And you can’t jail someone indefinitely for something they haven’t done yet. Real life isn’t like a science fiction movie. –KerryL

The above was lifted from the comments below the question. The author of this answer does not agree on all accounts to that.


The actual international reactions, as covered by the press at the time or later analysed by historians follows. This might injure your ideology.

That Hitler had attempted a coup together with the much more prominent Ludendorff together with officials from the local Bavarian government against the government in Berlin, just like Mussolini did in Italy, only successfully so, was making the headlines. It's a good story. Sex sells, violence sells.

But my guess is that the book quote has to be interpreted differently.

When the voters started to flock to Nazism people internationally took note of the leader as "that guy who attempted a coup". The immediate international political reactions – on a level like League of Nations – had to be minimal note taking, but no action allowed, required or possible. But individual powers like France were perfectly capable to act like they wished.

The New York Times for example has headline way before the putsch in 1923:

HITLER THREATENS MUNICH OUTBREAK; Nationalist Chief Announces He Will Hold a Prohibited Demonstration. MARTIAL LAW DECLARED Grave Fears of Civil War Are Felt as Germans Face Accumulated Dangers.
By WIRELESS TO THE NEW YORK TIMES.JAN. 27, 1923

BAVARIA GIVES IN TO HITLER THREATS; National Socialists Force Premier to Allow Demonstration Even Under Martial Law. CROWDS SWARM IN MUNICH Delegations With Bands and Provocative Banners Take Possession of the Streets. By WIRELESS TO THE NEW YORK TIMES.JAN. 28, 1923

DICTATOR CHOSEN IN BAVARIAN PLOT; Seized Documents Show a Full Outline of the Proposed New State. FRENCH CAPTAIN ACCUSED Mayer Was Said to Be a Go-Between for Minister Dard and M. Alize. By WIRELESS TO THE NEW YORK TIMES.MARCH 10, 1923

GERMAN CABINET IS NEAR BREAK-UP; BAVARIA MENACING; Two Ministers Resign -- Socialists Join Reds in Demanding Emergency Decree Repeal. By WIRELESS TO THE NEW YORK TIMES.OCT. 3, 1923

Hitler Troops Occupy City.
NOV. 9, 1923 –– MUNICH, Nov. 8 (Associated Press). -- The Bavarian Government has been declared overthrown by Adolph Hitler, the Fascist leader, and the administration placed in the hands of General Ludendorff, as Commander-in-Chief.

ITALY TAKES NEWS CALMLY.; Government Not Inclined to Interfere in German Affairs. By WIRELESS TO THE NEW YORK TIMES.NOV. 10, 1923 ROME, Nov. 9. -- The Italian Government is of the opinion that the Allies should not interfere in German movements unless they in some way violate the treaty of Versailles. Thus Mussolini would probably resist attempt to restore the Hohenzollern monarchy as he would any move to exploit nationalist movement sweeping over Germany further to evade payment of reparations.

The newspaper headlines leave of course out that the right-wing conspirators from Germany informed Mussolini of their plans before they took action. The Italians already suspected a coup in Bavaria and this was confirmed when Lüdecke was sent by Hitler to Mussolini to acquire the Duce's support, particularly money. But the Duce dismissed him and later talked of these buffoni (clowns). Only later to actively seek out deals and alliances. (Alan Cassels: "Mussolini and German Nationalism, 1922-25", The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Jun., 1963), pp. 137-157)

And this is the main effect to observe: Germany continued to make headlines and Hitler especially, as his linkage with Ludendorff indicated a much wider support from traditionalist, nationalist and even monarchist circles. Some equally right-wing politicians were already in deep sympathy with that. But self-interest and possible gains from every opportunity prevailed.

This putsch was then noted, analysed in foreign countries. And acted upon. But apart from Italy, which in hindsight seems obviously pleased with fascists trying a grab for power, other countries reacted with some surprisingly cunning calculations:

In 1923 Poincaré refused to establish France's attitude towards a putsch in Bavaria beforehand. Starting from the feeling of France's military superiority, he concluded that even a Hitler/Ludendorff military dictatorship would seek recognition from France. This suggests that Poincaré's attitude towards Hitler's putsch depended on its destabilising effect on the Berlin government and the profit that French politics could make from it. As long as Prussia dominated Germany and as long as the problem of the security of France and the Ruhr affair were not resolved, Paris had no reason to condemn a right-wing putsch likely to endanger the stability and freedom of action of the Berlin government, provided only that the success of the putschists was not too great.

Indeed Poincare reacted very quickly to Hitler's putsch and the return of the German hereditary prince, and he fought tenaciously from 9 to 19 November for the continuation of the allies' policy of sanctions. His failure was due to the fact that the coup had failed too quickly.

If the coup had lasted a little longer and started a civil war - even a short one - the Weimar Republic would have lost all the confidence it had been given in foreign countries. The fear of Prussian militarism would have been reinforced all over the world and Poincare could have appeared as the savior of peace in Europe.

Herbert Behrendt: "L’angleterre Et La France Face Ä Hitler Et Son Putsch En Novembre 1923", Francia, Institut historique allemand, Vol 12, 1984. (DOI)

From this it becomes clear that the person Hitler might have become much more prominent, but it's just that Germany as a whole and its elites especially continued to be seen as the embodiment of evil and militarism.

As should be obvious from the newspaper headlines alone, that year was especially turbulent. And as noted already, the Hitler-Ludendorff putsch crumbled quickly. For those who remembered the much closer call of the Ludendorff-Lüttwitz-Kapp putsch in 1920, which lasted 100 hours and brought the Reich to real brink of civil war, the Hitler attempt must have looked like not only like a Germany internal affair but also like a localised phenomenon. In fact it didn't take a precognitive genius to see what will happen if most of the conservative criminals from the earlier putsch could continue to conspire in ultra-reactionary Bavaria.

And to the Ludendorff-Kapp-Lüttwitz putsch the French did react. Militarily. Just not against the putschists. They just marched in and occupied for example Frankfurt and Darmstadt as punishment for the unilateral actions of the Reichswehr against the communist and other worker's efforts to defend democracy against the conservative putschers. To be clear: The Reichswehr was violating the Versailles treaty and only stopped their advance when the British forces threatened to occupy the Bergisches Land as well, which is on the other side of the Rhineland, which was occupied anyway, until 1930.

Apart from politicians, those more ordinary people who wanted to be informed had sometimes a hard time to really get reliable news on fascist politics. Not in the least because even American journalists displayed an awkward fascination, and way too often outright sympathy:

Benito Mussolini secured Italy’s premiership by marching on Rome with 30,000 blackshirts in 1922. By 1925 he had declared himself leader for life. While this hardly reflected American values, Mussolini was a darling of the American press, appearing in at least 150 articles from 1925-1932, most neutral, bemused or positive in tone.

The Saturday Evening Post even serialized Il Duce’s autobiography in 1928. Acknowledging that the new “Fascisti movement” was a bit “rough in its methods,” papers ranging from the New York Tribune to the Cleveland Plain Dealer to the Chicago Tribune credited it with saving Italy from the far left and revitalizing its economy. From their perspective, the post-WWI surge of anti-capitalism in Europe was a vastly worse threat than Fascism.

Ironically, while the media acknowledged that Fascism was a new “experiment,” papers like The New York Times commonly credited it with returning turbulent Italy to what it called “normalcy.”

Yet some journalists like Hemingway and journals like the New Yorker rejected the normalization of anti-democratic Mussolini. John Gunther of Harper’s, meanwhile, wrote a razor-sharp account of Mussolini’s masterful manipulation of a U.S. press that couldn’t resist him.

The ‘German Mussolini’

Mussolini’s success in Italy normalized Hitler’s success in the eyes of the American press who, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, routinely called him “the German Mussolini.” Given Mussolini’s positive press reception in that period, it was a good place from which to start. Hitler also had the advantage that his Nazi party enjoyed stunning leaps at the polls from the mid '20’s to early '30’s, going from a fringe party to winning a dominant share of parliamentary seats in free elections in 1932.

But the main way that the press defanged Hitler was by portraying him as something of a joke. He was a “nonsensical” screecher of “wild words” whose appearance, according to Newsweek, “suggests Charlie Chaplin.” His “countenance is a caricature.” He was as “voluble” as he was “insecure,” stated Cosmopolitan.

John Broich, The Conversation: Normalising Fascists: How Journalists Covered the Rise of Mussolini and Hitler –– Reports on the rise of fascism in Europe were not the American media’s finest hour, 2016.

Q Why didn't the league of nations act?

Apart from the timing problem already mentioned – you do not expect an international body to react quickly? – This conglomerate was a nice idea but very weak, and was replaced by the UN because it utterly failed in most cases like these.

Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations is the section calling for assistance to be given to a member that experiences external aggression.

Putsch was 1923, internal German affair, and Germany only became a member in 1926.

Summary

The international public had taken note of Hitler and those around him, even if for example Ludendorff was well known already. They did this from quite early on and the failed 1923 operation could add little to that image. Few did see the ultimate potential of evil and many were mislead about the intentions. Quite a few more were outright sympathisers.

The League of Nations was not only largely powerless to begin with, built on a consensus principle that failed to materialise most of the time. But the US was not a member and Germany only became one in 1926 to participate in "preventing wars through collective security and disarmament and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration." Only in 1923 on November 12 that putsch was all over already. An affair settled, or so it seemed.

America ran away from Europe into isolationism. Less so the British but the Belgians, and even more so the French and Italians were keenly aware of the ongoings and in a very nice position to act immediately, being already on German soil in force. But they had their own interests to observe. Parts from the French and the Italians were even in cahoots with the conspirators as they saw their own gains and opportunities as more important.

Finally the timing. It was all over so quickly that a "halt the presses" was out of the question. To a (para) military coup there was just no international reaction necessary.

This now would lead to another open question: How were international reactions to the scandalous farce that was called a tribunal for the putschists?

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    If you are going to combine comments into an answer, you should probably attribute them correctly. – sempaiscuba Nov 13 '18 at 19:10
  • @sempaiscuba Meta says it's optional, so that is really a courtesy per SE policy. And I can't shake the feeling that this gives credit to answers-in-comments and unhelpful downvoters – even on a low rep user! Not nice. But OK, since I cannot know who dv'ed this I included all handles of those quoted? – LangLangC Nov 13 '18 at 19:21
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    It may be optional, but by attributing you are at least avoiding the appearance of plagiarism. Besides, while those individuals have felt that their comments were insufficient as answers in themselves, they are actually someone else's work. – sempaiscuba Nov 13 '18 at 19:27
  • Also, I'm not sure what constitutes an 'unhelpful downvoter'. From our meta site: a vote represents the opinion of a user, to identify whether a question is useful or not useful", and - as such - just represents that particular user's opinion "on the validity of a topic to the community". – sempaiscuba Nov 13 '18 at 19:34
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    Meh - I didn’t dv and my comments were regarding the implied implications of the gist of the question - why didn’t someone outside of Germany realize that Hitler was eventually going to become a serious world problem and deal with him so much sooner rather than allowing him to come to power in Germany? As worded, that is basically what the question says. I’m flattered my comments warranted inclusion :-) but I don’t need attribution in this case (thanks though for mentioning that!). I recall asking a somewhat similar plaintive question about Hitler of my mother when I was 4 or 5 years old. – Kerry L Nov 13 '18 at 20:55

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