Questions by Gene H. Hogberg
Translated by Dr. David Wainwright
Part 1 of 6. (For the rest of the interview, click here.)
Question 1: Since your earlier writings in the 1960s, you have studied the works of the great geopolitical thinkers of the past, men such as Sir Halford Mackinder, Professor Nicholas Spykman, and General Karl Haushofer. How have their theories influenced your own concepts?
Jean Thiriart: The roots of geopolitics go back to well before the time of Mackinder, Spykman, and Haushofer. For some, geopolitics started with Dietrich von Bulow, while for others he was only one stage in its development. In 1799 he published Der Geist Des Neueren Kriegssystems [The Spirit Of Modern Warfare], Von Bulow had fully realized that because of the modern military system (the sudden appearance of the new style of warfare introduced by the massive revolutionary armies of the First French Republic) the age of small states was over. In his book he describes, logically, what Europe would, in fact, become from 1871 onwards, notably that both Italy and Germany would be unified countries. (In 1799 many had smiled or laughed at such a concept.)
Among the thinkers of the geopolitical school, we must also mention Friedrich List. In 1841 List (1789–1846) published his book Systeme National d’Economie Politique [National System of Political Economy], which is known worldwide. What many do not know is that in 1827, in the United States, he had published another book: Elements de I’Economie Politique Americaine [Outlines of American Political Economy]. List lived in the United States and became an American citizen. At the behest of Andrew Jackson he was appointed as consul to Germany, where he served from 1832 to 1845. List had suffered, deeply and personally, because of the division and political misery of the Germany he had known during his youth. Until his death he remained a German at heart, both in a passionate and realistic way. He was a fierce defender of the Zollverein. For List, and for myself, power comes before wealth. In fact, wealth is useless without the unity and the power of the nation. The ability of a nation to make war is measured according to its ability to produce wealth. He wanted a Greater Germany, a Germany absorbing Denmark, Holland, and Belgium. As an individual, I have put List’s theories into practice. During the 1940–45 war I was a member of “The Friends Of The Great German Reich” (AGRA) organization. List wanted to see England no longer able to lay down the law in the Mediterranean. He announced the eventual fall of England and the coming of American supremacy a good century ahead of time. List was also the spiritual father of the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad project.
List’s thought was partially fulfilled around 1880, under the leadership of Bismarck. There are some fine pages on List in Makers of Modem Strategy, by Edward Mead Earle, published by Princeton University Press, in 1943. Geopolitics is an easy science for the person who belongs to a rational school of thought. Everything is revealed in maps. One just has to read “physical” maps: mountains, deserts, wide rivers, climates, seas; seas, in particular! For me it is incongruous, inconceivable that one can write a history book without profusely illustrating it with maps. Yet, this is precisely what 95, if not 98, percent of the authors do, thus proving their lack both of thoroughness and serious approach.
Chance had me born a Belgian, in a small country. I have suffered deeply because of this since my teenage years. By age 18,1 was already looking for a large country. For a larger country. Germany exercised a great romantic fascination over me at the time. The Thiriarts are people from the areas located in the triangle formed by Maestricht (Holland), Liege (Belgium), and Aachen (Germany). The best known branch is that of Mutzhagen. Remember that Charles Martel and Charlemagne were also born in that region. Charlemagne said he was “A German of the Frankish nation.” So, I was led to the scientific concepts of geopolitics by this detour through the romantic paths of my teenage years. However, better than anyone else, from 1960 to 1968, I wrote important papers to show that it was German nationalism that prevented the birth of a united Europe between July 1940 and May 1941.
Today, I am one of the most resolute opponents of any kind of “German reunification” proposed outside the state-controlled bonds of a European nation. The title of my German book Das Vierte Reich: Europa [The Fourth Reich: Europe] accurately symbolizes my thought: There will never be another German Reich. The Fourth Reich (Das Vierte Reich) will be the whole of Europe this time. If I had time, I would write quite a severe criticism of Haushofer’s thoughts. Haushofer was an author who wanted to mix a science and a passion, the German passion. That is antinomical; contradictory. A science by definition is universal. It is made by all and for all. And the same is true for astronomy, ballistics, optics, medicine, optometry, physics, and chemistry. These intellectual disciplines all belong to the entire human race; there is no place in them for any (idiotic) nationalism.
Scientific geopolitics ought to be able to be understood — and above all be able to be used — equally well by leaders in Peking, Moscow, and Washington — and tomorrow by leaders in Brussels. It’s a kind of logic that deeply affects the military, economic, political and even social fields. Haushofer didn’t understand the importance of the Mediterranean — at all. Yet the Mediterranean is the belly of Europe. Haushofer’s Europe is only Central Europe, Mitteleuropa. Chapter two of Haushofer’s book is entitled “The Continental Bloc of Central Europe — Eurasia — Japan.” Haushofer reveals a prejudicial bias in looking down on the people of southern Europe. He writes: “If this southern race, the Italians . . . goes beyond its borders and pushes north, it will subsequently be forced to retreat.”
Haushofer has sometimes written things as stupid as those we find in the archaic thought of de Gaulle. He envisages a European “Confederation” in which each member would keep his own language (sic). He does not want a “rape of souls.” How can this be called scientific study — the soul (sic) of a people? All the same, even though Haushofer’s concepts cannot be used by the advocates of European Empire (Euro-Soviet Empire), he is valuable as a source. He pinpointed the mistake of William II, repeated by Hitler: a vacillation, a hesitancy, between a maritime policy and a continental one. In his book, Haushofer describes the birth of the Soviet school of geopolitics. It was at the time the magazine Novy Vostok [The New Orient] was pubiished by Sun-Yat-Sen University in Moscow, under the leadership of Karl Radek. What I mainly retain from Haushofer is the maxim of the military leaders during the birth of the Roman Republic: “Fas est ab hoste doceri,” which means, “It’s a sacred duty to let oneself be taught by the enemy.”
Another author, little known but worth remembering in geopolitics, is Anton Zischka, born in Vienna in 1904. In 1952 he published his book, Afrika, Europas Gemischftaufgabe Tummer [Africa, Complement of Europe]. In 1952, Africa was still totally controlled by the Belgians, the French, and the Portuguese. In 1952, Eastern Europe was already lost to us. In his book, Zischka suggests a kind of North-South Empire, from Stockholm to Johannesburg. Ten years later, the idea would no longer be valid. Another geopolitician, probably not known to the American public, is General Jordis von Lohausen, one of my friends. He has greatly praised my European concepts in his Titings. In 1981 General von Lohausen published his brilliant volume Mut zur Macht — Denken in Kontinenten [The Courage To Power — Thinking On A Continental Scale], by the publisher Kurt Vowinckel. Vowinckel also happened to be a close friend as well as Haushofer’s publisher. General von Lohausen’s book has been translated into French by Madame Elfriede Popelier, who worked in my political bureau for many years.
I particularly enjoy Latin maxims. The General quotes an extremely choice one: “Ducunt fata volentem, nolentem trahunt;” which means: “Destiny carries the willing man; the man who is unwilling it drags.” Oswald Spengler had already used it. Von Lohausen is a disciple of Haushofer, whose student he was. He remains very German — like Haushofer but I had the honor of influencing him somewhat, intellectually that is, with my work of 1964. In part, the General has been influenced by me. I personally was influenced by Ortega y Gasset, the brilliant Spanish liberal (during the 1940-45 war, he was to write in the SS university students’ review — the magazine Jeune Europe, published in Berlin in more than 10 languages). Here is what von Lohausen writes, influenced by my own thoughts (which in turn had been influenced by Ortega y Gasset): “A nation is not necessarily a unity of language, origin, or citizenship. It can, of course, be all that, but first and foremost, it is a unity of will.” It is essentially the “nation as a political entity,” such as was the great Roman Republic to begin with. Later this was the thought of Sieyes, and then mine.
General von Lohausen speaks of the “unity of the continent from Madrid to Vladivostok.” Fifty years ago, the national-communist Niekisch wrote about “the great space Vlissingen-Vladivostok.” Niekisch ended his days as a deputy in Eastern Germany (DDR). For many years he was incarcerated in one of Hitler’s concentration camps. At any rate, several of his old friends who had gone over to the SA or the SS were able to save his life.
First and foremost, the American reader should be made aware of the unity of thought of four geopoliticians: Haushofer, Niekisch, von Lohausen, and myself, Thiriart: The Soviet Union is an intrinsic part of our territorial concept. It is a “Eurasian” Europe, a Very Great Europe, the New Rome. Eurasian Europe, as opposed to Lesser Europe which, in von Lohausen’s terms, is called “Frankish” Europe. I have attached to my letter “Karte 5”, which shows the West-Franken-Reich and the Ost-Franken-Reich around 850, after the death of Charlemagne. It is my belief that from a strictly scientific point of view all American teachers of geopolitics are bound to accept this “Vladivostok to Dublin” (or rather “to Reykjavik”) concept. By 1961 I had already excluded the concept of a Europe against the Soviet Union. Now a Europe without the Soviet Union is excluded from my thinking. Geography dictates it. From von Lohausen’s book, I cite the following extremely important passage: “For Russia, there are four possible Europes: a hostile Europe, a subjugated Europe, a devastated Europe, and an allied Europe (associated) by mutual consent. An independent Europe, allied by mutual agreement with its neighbor, is the only Europe that counts. For the Russians, only such a Europe dispenses with the need for a military presence either of a supervisory nature or in order to weld it together. Only such a Europe is an all-around winner. The Kremlin is much mistaken for never having felt the need to work for the creation of this type of Europe.”
I tried to convince the Soviet historian Vsevolod Kniajinski about this when he came to see me in Brussels in April, 1986. Kniajinski has published in several languages (including French, which he speaks fluently), L’Integration Ouest-Europeenne: Politique et Relalions Internationales [West-European Integration: Politics And International Relations]. I failed to convince him in spite of my efforts. After a day of historical discussion and an evening in the lounge of the Villa-Lorraine — one of my favorite restaurants — nothing came of it. He dedicated his book to me. I dedicated mine to him. Thankfully, I have other connections over there. Nevertheless, on page 322 of the French edition, the Soviet professor points out that England is being used as a Trojan horse by the Americans in present-day Europe. Kniajinskfs attitude toward Europe is reminiscent of that taken by Richelieu or Mazarin toward Germany. It displays a strong desire to reduce Europe to a “Kleinstaaterei” just as Germany was reduced (amazingly) to 343 states by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Soviet professor’s book is heavy and cumbersome to read. It’s written in political jargon. His bibliographical index is very well documented.
For the record, you should know that Haushofer’s huge personal library was literally stolen in 1945 by two United States Army officers. Lieutenants Morgenstem and Kaufmann. I say stolen advisedly, not confiscated. The most complete source materials on Haushofer, though tedious to read, are found in the two volumes of Hans-Adolf Jacobsen’s painstaking work Karl Haushofer: Leben And Werk. In all 1,600 pages. Exhausting!
The way I see it, geopolitics should try to imagine and delineate States that would be viable both from an economic and military point of view. It should plot out the minimal size of such states. It should also determine where to place maximal frontiers, those beyond which productivity begins to be at risk. Geopolitics must also lead to redistribution of zones of influence. Geopolitics must help to create larger units. In economics there are critical thresholds below which economic survival, and consequently historical survival, are no longer even possible. Athens, Thebes, and Sparta disappeared from history because they weren’t able to see that the City-State would be dominated by the Territorial-state, first by that of Philip of Macedon, then by the Roman State.
The 1939–1945 war killed 40 to 45 million men. The next war would kill 400 million. The white race would be eliminated from history. It is the American authors, thinkers, polemists, and military men who are most dangerous at the moment. War has hardly ravaged the United States. Here in Europe, Germans and Russians know what war is all about. Europeans are mature, Americans immature, in this area. So modern geopolitics must help to defuse some dangerous mines: the American Fleet in the Mediterranean, Soviet influence in Cuba, the Soviet presence in Indochina, Chinese claims to the North, and so on.
The ancient Greeks did not understand the necessary progression from City-State to Territorial-State. The vast majority of Europeans do not perceive the necessary progression from territorial States to continental States. The same holds true for Latin America.
Question 2: Thinking in terms of geopolitics, what primary strategic mistakes did Adolf Hitler make in the Second World War?
Jean Thiriart: First, we must dispense with the simplistic, black-and-white approach that views communism and National Socialism as being at opposite poles from each other. They were competitors far more than they were enemies. This is why the totally unexpected German-Soviet treaty in the summer 1939, for the first time, put the pawns in their right places on the chessboard.
True fascism is definitely not right wing. (Cf. the analyses of Zeev Stemhell, the Israeli historian.) The “leftist” roots of National Socialism are numerous. After leaving prison, I managed to meet and interview the last surviving Strasser brother, Otto. Around 1962, my press brought out two personal interviews with Otto Strasser. The SA (brownshirts) were sometimes nicknamed the “Beefsteaks.” In fact, most of the SA were communists who had gone over to Hitler. Brown on the outside, but red inside. In East Germany, about 1950, many of these became red on the outside once again.
As of 1943, it became obvious that the Third Reich could not win on two fronts. It was necessary to try to negotiate a separate peace with one side. Goebbels didn’t hesitate: “Negotiations must be made with Stalin.” In 1986, a historical study on the German occupation of Belgium came out: La Belgique sous la botte [Belgium Under The Jackboot], by Jacques Willequet (Editions Universitaires, Paris). On page 75, the Belgian historian publishes abstracts of analyses made by the Catholic Church (Canon Van de Elst — secretary to Cardinal-Primate Van Roey) pertaining to the way people were thinking in Germany at the time: “The SS is pro-Soviet: intellectual circles and the middle classes lean toward the West.” This conclusion comes from an analysis on the possibilities for a separate peace at the beginning of 1944. Let me quote Michel Heller and Aleksandr Nekrich, Soviet authors who came over to the West. Opening their book L’Utopie au pouvoir [Utopia in Power], we read: “Hitler, for his part, told his comrades of his conviction that a communist could always make a good Nazi, whereas a social-democrat never could.”
The two ex-Soviet historians give many details about “dividing up the world.” On November 14, 1940, Molotov left Berlin with the German proposals. He returned to Berlin post-haste after 12 days working with the Soviet leadership. Unfortunately, the agreement fell through because of the extremists on both sides. It was Ribbentrop who, on October 13, had taken the initiative of sending a very long letter to Stalin. In this letter, Ribbentrop proposed that Stalin join the Tripartite Pact. The Pact of Three would have become a Pact of Four.
The axis envisioned by Haushofer was Tokyo/Moscow/Berlin/[Rome]. The prize: the British Empire. There were choice pickings, abundant spoils to share. Ribbentrop’s sincerity cannot be doubted. Here, I’m going to make use of a recent Soviet source. The author is Valentin Beriejkov, attache at the Soviet Embassy in Berlin, and a personal interpreter to Stalin. The French title: J’etais interprete de Staline [I Was Stalin’s Interpreter]. Beriejkov was at the Berlin Chancellery in June 1941 when the Reich declared war on the USSR. Ribbentrop announced Hitler’s decision to them. Beriejkov writes as follows: “We turned round and headed toward the door. At that moment something unexpected happened. Quickening his step, Ribbentrop drew level with us. Speaking rapidly with a shaky voice, he assured us that he was personally opposed to the Fuhrer’s decision. He considered it sheer madness. But he had not been able to do anything about it. Hitler had made the decision and had refused to listen to anyone. . . . Let Moscow know that I was against the attack, we heard the Reichminister say, even though we were already in the corridor.”
Beriejkov corroborates the climate described by the Soviet fugitives Heller and Hekrich. Stalin’s interpreter was personally present when Hitler made the statement about dividing up the world. The following extract is from page 25: “At this juncture, Hitler once more developed his fantastic plan for dividing up the world. In the coming months, he assured us, England would be beaten and occupied by the German armies. The United States would not be in a position to constitute a threat to the ‘New Europe’ for many years to come. This was why the time was ripe for planning the creation of a ‘New Order,’ ruling over the whole world. As far as the German and Italian governments were concerned, continued the Führer, they had already determined their respective spheres of interest. These were to be Europe and Africa. Japan’s interests were in Eastern Asia.” With this in mind, he continued, the Soviet Union could move beyond her southern borders toward the Indian Ocean. This would give her access to warm-water ports.
Like many before him, Jacques Doriot, one of the international communist leaders and a senior member of the Comintern, also changed from communism to National Socialism. Doriot had enormous prestige in France in 1926. He was one of Stalin’s confidants, and everyone knew it. In 1925 Ho Chi-Minh relied on him. Doriot ended his career in the Charlemagne Division of the SS, which was made up mainly of French volunteers. In Belgium, Henri De Man, president of the Belgian socialist party, was intensively involved in intellectual collaboration with the Third Reich. In 1938 he was, at least as far as Europe was concerned — the greatest theoretician of the doctrine of modern socialism. He published a large number of works. De Man, like Doriot, and following in the footsteps of so many others, became fascinated by National Socialism.
By contrast, the interests of others began with national socialism and ended with communism. In his memoirs, Walter Schellenberg mentions Heinrich Muller, the famous SS field officer who led the Gestapo — after being Heydrich’s assistant. In 1945 Muller defected to the Soviet camp. Ever since 1943, at least among his close associates, he has been referring to the West as a “garbage can.”
I have made these digressions to explain the reason for the continuous osmosis between communism and National Socialism. Now that I have briefly sketched the psychological or ideological climate of osmosis between the two systems, let’s take a look at the geopolitical reasons for the Ribbentrop plan. Germany and the USSR came out of the war reduced in stature and strength, the former in 1918, the latter already by 1917. We must not forget the English and French military incursions on Russian territory from the very birth of the USSR. Germany and the USSR were defeated in the 1914–1918 war. They were poor nations compared to the “have” nations, England and France. Strategically speaking, the USSR and Germany are not separated from each other by water, but by a plain — an endless plain ever vulnerable to unimpeded military ventures. For the two countries to be able to defend themselves, considerable numbers of ground troops have to be deployed on both sides. This, in turn, causes an enormous and debilitating drain on the economy.
The point I am making is even more valid in 1987 than it was in October 1940. Currently, the USSR is exhausting itself economically to maintain an enormous land army, an effort that England didn’t have to make before 1940 and that the United States doesn’t make even in 1987. Ribbentrop had accurately sized up the negative side of this potential confrontation in 1939–1940. The war of 1941–45 proved him right: The two largest land armies in the world were to mutually exhaust each other. Ribbentrop had a vision that was both strategic and geopolitical. His choice of friend and foe was correct. As for Hitler, because of his racist approach to the problems, he underestimated, terribly under-estimated, the Slavs. The rest is history.
Ribbentrop’s position was influenced by the Prussian tradition of avoiding an enemy to the East. The Prussian kings always avoided any military thrust to the East. Bismarck was even more careful. The situation remains the same today; but the stakes are higher. The whole of Western Europe has nothing, absolutely nothing to gain by embarking on crusades to the East. In any case it doesn’t have the courage for such undertakings. The Soviet Union has everything to gain by wooing Europe. More than that, it has everything to gain by bringing about a total integration from Vladivostok to Dublin.
The Soviet Union can have no grand political design as long as its Western flank remains exposed on the European side; that terrible plain, the “naked belly” between Lubeck and Sofia, inviting military aggression. The USSR has actually been on the defensive since 1945 because of its geographical position. As a continental power, the USSR cannot afford to lose a war. Additionally, for a totalitarian state, losing a war entails the regime’s own demise. A sea-going, mercantile power, as England was in the past and as the United States is today, can lose a war without necessarily disappearing from the scene. The insular nature of England in the past, like that of the United States today, provides obvious strategic advantages. The USSR (that is the Heartland), is in a permanent state of “siege” or “blockade.” The United States, with its string of satellites stretching from Norway to Turkey by way of Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Greece controls the Rimland (the coastal ring). The Rimland can easily be transformed into a type of economic-military boa constrictor.
The fact must be clearly grasped that the USSR is under blockade and that the United States is imposing blockade, even in times of cold war and peace. In this game of “blockade,” the rules to remember are that the blockading power need only plug the gaps; whereas, to extricate itself, the country under siege must actually defeat the enemy. The one must win; whereas the other can be satisfied with not losing.