Thursday, July 1, 2021

Ian Ona Johnson's "Faustian Bargain"

Ian Ona Johnson is the P.J. Moran Family Assistant Professor of Military History at the University of Notre Dame. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The National Interest, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, among other publications.

Johnson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War, and reported the following:
Faustian Bargain tells the story of twenty years of on-again, off-again partnership between Germany and the Soviet Union. In its first phase (1922-1933), the Soviet government and the German military built a network of secret bases and factories in Russia, where they developed new weapons of war and trained officers. They renewed their cooperation in 1939, when Hitler and Stalin agreed to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, partitioning Eastern Europe between them.

Page 99 of my book finds the reader in the year 1927. In December 1926, journalists had reported that the German military was illicitly producing arms in the USSR. The resultant scandal brought down the German government. Stalin had been deeply embarrassed by public revelations of the Soviet pact with the arch-reactionary German military. A series of surreptitious meetings followed, where the Soviets demanded better secrecy and closer coordination between the German military and the German state. They were surprised to learn that Germany’s elected leaders had been left in the dark about much of the German military’s operations in Russia.

To remedy the situation, the one great statesman of Weimar Germany - Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann - held a series of meetings behind closed doors with the generals then leading the German Reichswehr (Reich Defense Force, or Army). Streseman made clear that he wanted greater civilian oversight of the military’s activities. He told the Reichswehr that he wanted to personally approve future secret bases on Soviet soil and that all Reichswehr soldiers should “resign” before arriving in Russia as a means of maintaining secrecy - they would, of course, be restored to rank the moment they returned to German soil. If they did so, he believed that their covert work rearming Germany could continue, or perhaps even expand. It eventually would, with the Soviet-German network reaching its peak size in 1931.

Page 99 highlights the secrecy and scandals that marked the Soviet-German relationship, as well as the stakes. Thanks to the work conducted in the USSR, even before Hitler came to power, the German government had already begun expanding the army to 21 divisions - well beyond the limits allowed Germany by international law. The Reichswehr already possessed a new generation of aircraft and armored vehicles. And it had thousands of officers familiar with the new technologies of war. Hitler would accelerate the arms race that had already quietly begun. The end result would be a new European war in 1939.
Visit Ian Ona Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue