The Nazi Past of US Geopolitics

Photograph Source: Portrait of Karl Haushofer – Public Domain

Geopolitics is the linking of political power to geographic space. Perhaps Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard remains one of its best abstract representations. It’s not only the USA that has geopolitical goals; many other countries, like the UK, France, Russia and Germany, also developed distinct geopolitical ideas. In nineteenth century Germany, geopolitics included imperialist expansion based on a biological conception of geography.

Germany’s geopolitics was turbo-charged in 1923 when a German general, geographer, politician, professor and teacher of top-ranking Nazi, Rudolf Hess, founded the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik (Journal for Geopolitics). During the 1920s, the journal’s editor Karl Haushofer had been a student of Rudolf Hess. In 1933, he became Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Führer until his infamous flight to Scotland in 1941. The goal was to convince none other than the wartime prime minister Winston Churchill to join Nazi-Germany’s invasion of the Soviet-Union. The effort failed, of course.

Karl Haushofer might not be the inventor of term Lebensraum (living space) but he certainly was the one who shaped the term into a strategic plan and introduced the idea to Adolf Hitler. The relatively uneducated Hitler (who was born Adolf Schicklgruber in Austria’s rural hinterland) never attended university, never completed the typical German apprenticeship, never received any military training beyond being a relatively inconsequential foot-soldier during the Great War I (WWI).

In short, Hitler was utterly incapable of grasping the intellectual depth of the rather abstract concept of geopolitics. To understand the basics of geopolitics Hitler needed a clever associate like Rudolf Hess, whom Hitler called “mein Hesserl,” as well as his other adviser Karl Haushofer, “the general” as he was usually called. Unlike Adolf Hitler who had been merely a little message boy at the relatively safe regimental headquarter, Haushofer was the one who moved up the ranks during WWI to become a Major General – a rank in which Haushofer would never have as much as recognized the existence of the little dogsbody named Adolf.

The utter stupidity of Hitler was made even more obvious by the Office of US Chief of Council. In September 1945, it stated that it was Haushofer rather than Hess who wrote Mein Kampf – never mind the half-illiterate nobody later self-named Hitler. Dumkopf (dim-witted) Hitler relied on Haushofer. By the time Hitler met Karl Haushofer, “the professor,” as he was called—they loved to give each other new names—had written plenty of books on geopolitics and had completed a full military career. He became the true mastermind behind Hitler’s geopolitical plan to enslave the world. Yet Haushofer offered even more to the Nazi cause. He was the author of The National Socialist Thought in the World. Some regard Karl Haushofer as one of the intellectual fathers of Nazi ideology.

Meanwhile, Haushofer wasn’t just one of the ideological tutors of Hitler; he was someone who suggested the expansionist wars as well as the creation of the SS to Hitler. In any case, the Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich) professor turned his beloved crypto-science of geopolitics into a Nazi science. During Hitler’s internment at the rather luxurious Lansberg “Prison” following the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Haushofer became a frequent “Wednesday-visitor” to Hitler (residing in the always unlocked cell No. 7). Rudolf Hess occupied cell No. 5, less then ten feet down the hall. These months in the Lansberg retreat shaped Hitler’s ideological Weltanschauung (world view) based on a cosy the relationship between Hitler, Hess and Haushofer. Later Adolf claimed that Haushofer was merely “a useful idiot”. About Lansberg, Hitler once said ,“It was my university education at the state’s expense.”

Nonetheless, Hitler, Hess and Haushofer all fancied German dogmas, like the glorification of the military, manly discipline, mythical monarchism, nationalism and race, dreaming of a perfect blend of geopolitics, army, state, war, and heroic self-sacrifice. The Nazi ideology was spiced up with a hefty dose of Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Social Darwinism. To express all of this, Haushofer once wrote to his two sons, “Man’s greatest treasure is his Volk. He must sacrifice himself for that. And sacrifice and expending one’s self are the meaning of life.”

Unlike for the rather unintelligent Hitler, for semi-intellectuals like Haushofer, the concept of geopolitics guided the decision to go to war for the greater good of their Aryan nation. In any case, Haushofer’s antisemitism reflected that of most German conservatives and nationalists. He too believed in the hallucination that there is a Jewish treason against Volk, race and country. Like Hitler and Hess, he also dreamed that the Jews were responsible for the losing WWI.

Antisemitism was also the guiding ideology of the right-wing Free-Corps Marine Brigade Hermann Ehrhardt. Which proudly displayed white Swastikas fixed to their steel helmets during the 1920s. The ancient sun-wheel of the swastika was a symbol of good luck and prosperity in Hindu and Buddhist countries, such as Japan where Haushofer spent a considerable time before meeting Adolf Hitler at the Lansberg boarding-house.

Unlike Hermann Ehrhardt, Hitler, and their type, Karl Haushofer had an acute sense of geopolitics’ space perception or Raumsinn. The idea of human geography was something Haushofer discussed at length with his pupil Rudolf Hess during long walks in Bavaria. Like Hitler and Hess, Haushofer also believed that those who had survived WWI’s barrage of gas, fire and steel at the front were best qualified to lead post-war Germany. Even though the minor HQ runner Hitler did not have many of these experiences, Nazi propaganda later made up for these shortcomings.

Meanwhile Karl Haushofer’s wife started to teach Hess English – an important precursor for the flight of Hitler’s deputy to Scotland in May 1941. It Hess failed in his attempt to put Haushofer’s version of geopolitics into reality. Like his mentor, Karl Haushofer, Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess imagined geopolitics to be the cornerstone of all greatness. It was supposed to be the Aryan Volk’s way towards self-preservation based on German blood. No wonder that Hitler thought that Karl Haushofer’s writings on geopolitics were the best geographical reading material.

Via Haushofer and Hess, Hitler even learned about Clausewitz’s Political Declaration of 1812. It instructed Hitler on nationalism while under foreign occupation. Hitler used this propagandistically against the Weimar Republic and the Jews which he blamed for the Versailles Peace Agreement. The professor, as Haushofer was known, strengthened Hitler’s awareness that war is the best means of reaching political objectives – a highly Clausewitz-like policy and the ultimate goal of German geopolitics.

Haushofer, Hess and Hitler’s version of geopolitics, a race-based concept of Lebensraum soon became one of the core eight elements of Nazi ideology. Lebensraum also fit rather neatly into the geographical expansion into less populated areas. The idea was that a nation only survives by the purity of its blood and by the sword. Much of what Hess and Haushofer discussed may have been beyond the half-educated Hitler. Still, Hitler was smart enough to transfer some of their ideas into his eight core Nazi ideologies:

1) denunciation of the Versailles peace treaty;
2) hatred of the democratic Weimar Republic;
3) struggle against international Marxism (Bolshevism);
4) antisemitism and biologically-based racial hatred of Jews;
5) exaltation of Nordic (i.e., Aryan) blood;
6) militarism and the glorification of the front experience;
7) a national and blood-based Aryan Volksgemeinschaft; and
8) the expansion of German “space” of Lebensraum to the east, Drang nach Ostern

In all this, one idea stuck with Hitler to the end: Germany will either become a world power or cease to exist. Yet years before that, all three – Hess, Hitler and Haushofer – agreed on their twisted Social-Darwinist mind-set of geographical expansion, now seen by them as a civilizing missionbased on national and race. They also concurred that Germany had been manipulated by dark, secret forces operating from hidden quarters. This is something akin to occult conspiracy theories which Hess and Haushofer more than the feeble-minded and unschooled Hitler mixed with elements of Bulwer-Lytton’s 1871 novel The Coming of Race. This mixture created a pseudo-biological natural law of territorial expansion, the ultimate goal of German geopolitics.

This meant expanding Germany’s national territory by colonization, amalgamation, diplomatic conquest and armed invasions. The expansion of Lebensraum didn’t follow Napoleon’s 1789 ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity but the Germanic ideas of Order, Duty and Nation. German geopolitics saw the world divided into two entities. First, there are the countries with imperial power and then there all the other countries to be colonized. Today the latter are no longer colonized by armies and gunboats. Such states are now called Global South, as imperialism (bad) became globalization (good).

Back in Karl Haushofer-Hess-Hitler’s bad old days, the goal of German geopolitics was a raumbedingte Rassengemeinschaft or racial community determined by geographical space, i.e.,  Lebensraum. These theoretical concepts Hitler neither was able to develop nor potentially fully understand. What Hitler could do is use them as slogans for Nazi propaganda.

For the tripod of evil (Haushofer-Hess-Hitler), German geopolitics was always determined by the primacy of Aryan blood. This alone was able to help those countries deemed “rejuvenating powers” (Germany, Italy, Japan) and should win over those other nations deemed to be “persisting powers” (Britain, France, etc.). The entire crypto-scientific enterprise of German geopolitics, racial expansionism and the natural right to seek Lebensraum was ideologically justified through the following measures:

+ Britain: possessed a world empire of 479 million people over an area of 41 million km2;
+ France: 111 million people over 12 million km2;
+ USA: 145 million people over 10 million km2.

Set against:

+ Italy: 41 million people huddled together on a mere 310,000 km2
+ Japan: some 65 million people on just 382,000 km2; and the
+ Greater German Empire: 90 million people on 696,000 km2.

In the mind of Karl Haushofer, these numbers justified the Blitzkrieg attack on Germany’s neighbours that his pupil Rudolf Hess and his master Adolf Hitler launched in September 1939. More than a year before that in March 1938, Haushofer supported Hitler’s Anschluss of the Sudetenland that returned 3.5 million Aryans back into the Reich. Yet it occurred in a way far too intellectual for anyone to understand, leaving the “professor” (Haushofer) always an outsider. He was never admitted into the Nazis’ inner circle. Frequently, Karl Haushofer bitterly (and in an understatement to understate all understatements) complained that intellectuals were unpopular with the Nazi leadership.

Nonetheless, Karl Haushofer thought – always in strict geopolitical terms – that Hitler had indeed projected his invention of the “rejuvenating power” of Germany, Italy and Japan onto world stage. Further verification came via the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that carved up Poland. For him, it was German geopolitics put into action for the Führer. Haushofer’s geopolitics in Poland had five goals:

1) to create borders reflecting historic, ethnographic, and economic realities;
2) to restore calm and order to central Europe;
3) to establish security for the Reich and its new zones of interest;
4) to revitalize the economic and cultural life of Greater Germany; and
5)to create a new Aryan order on the basis of ethnographic resettlement.

Lebensraum also meant the elimination of friction caused by the question of minorities. In otherwords, the Holocaust. Their Lebensraum included in its first stage the planned relocation of Poles and Semites farther to the East.

Karl Haushofer’s geopolitics also meant that 29,202 Lithuanian Germans were settled in the East and 9,400 in the Reich, while 57,171 Baltic Germans in Estonia and Latvia were settled in the East and 6,000 in the Reich. They filled Hitler’s expansion of the Lebensraum with German blood while Haushofer envisioned them becoming part of a future Wehrbiologie, an Aryan militia based on racial selection. Hitler thus seemed to be in lockstep with Haushofer’s ideas.

Yet one issue divided Hitler and Haushofer—Great Britain. Karl Haushofer thought that Germany and Britain needed to forge a strong alliance against Soviet-Russia’s Eurasia. This spurred the deputy Führer Rudolf Hess’ to fly to Britain on the 10th of May 1941 in his Bf-110 Messerschmitt fighter-bomber. Hitler had every intention to see his “Hesserl”, as he called his old comrade-in-arms succeed. Both wanted to seal a deal with Britain against the Soviet Union. For the flight, Hitler’s personal pilot Hans Baur gave Hess secret maps for his mission. It is most unlikely that Hess who was, after all, one of Hitler’s most slavish servants would endanger his life, career, reputation and his position as deputy Nazi Führer by flying to the UK without Hitler’s approval. This would have contradicted their intimate relationship that, after all, dated back to 1919.

A few weeks later, on 22 June 1941, Hitler’s three-million-men strong Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union to seize, as Karl Haushofer called it, “plenty of natural resource such as iron ore and oil” Hitler’s chief of the general staff of the army, General Franz Halder, later wrote confidentially of the attack: “These people dream in continents”.

This collaborative dream included Karl Haushofer’s plan for a European federation. Of course, it would be under Hitler’s dictate. It was to include Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy. The German Reich already encompassed Alsace-Lorraine, South Tyrol, Eupen-Malmedy, Luxembourg, Bohemia, Moravia, and western Poland. That is what Nazi geopolitics had in store for the rest of Europe.

Overall, German geopolitics was driven by the Nazi super-brain of Karl Haushofer. Even America’s military recognized this. In September 1945, the Office of the US Chief of Council stated unequivocally,

Herr Haushofer was Hitler’s intellectual godfather. He was the author of a criminal master plan for aggression; the brain-trust behind Mein Kampf; the behind-the-scene choreographer of Hitler’s illegal wars; the secret commissioner of war crimes; and the architect of the Aryan Lebensraum.

Karl Haushofer committed suicide in March 1946. His farewell note read, “I want to be forgotten.” Today, the man behind Hitler’s geopolitics remains largely forgotten. Yet the evil of his geopolitics lives on. In 1979 President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, framed the Cold War in purely geopolitical terms. In Kissinger’s 1,500 page magnum opus Herr Kissinger avoided any mention of Karl Haushofer.

Almost twenty year later, President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote in his masterpiece The Grand Chess Board about geographical pivots, geostrategic players, geostrategic imperatives, and geopolitical pluralism with one brief reference to Karl Haushofer.

Yet by 2021, the extremely influential Council on Foreign Relations (with members such as for example: Madeleine Albright, James A. Baker, Warren Beatty (the actor), Antony Blinken, Michael R. Bloomberg, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Clooney, Thomas Friedman, Francis Fukuyama, Mikhail Gorbachev, John Kerry, Henry Kissinger, Paul R. Krugman, Jim Lehrer, Walter Mondale, six Rockefellers, Eric Schmidt (CEO), Eric Schmidt (NYT), George Soros, Barbara Walters, Robert Zoellick and many more), listed 1,400 articles on geopolitics ranging from Energy, Geopolitics, and the Global Map to The Geopolitical Flash Points. In short, Haushofer, Hitler and Hess are dead but their ideas on geopolitics live on.

Thomas Klikauer is the author of 550 publications include a book on the AfD. Norman Simms is a retired academic who lives in New Zealand and continues to write articles and books, as well as editing an online journal.