Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Monday, December 1, 2008

Word of the month: Dolchstoßlegende

Word of the Month: Index

Our word of the month is composed of three compounds: Dolch (dagger), Stoß (stab, thrust), and Legende (legend, myth). It means literally "dagger stab legend (or myth)". The phrase has its origin in the aftermath of WWI: Reactionaries of various stripes claimed that Germany lost the war not on the battlefields, but on the home front, where socialists, communists, liberal democrats, or Jews (i.e. all the usual bugaboos of the German right at the time) "stabbed the fighting troops in the back" by sabotaging the war effort (through strikes, anti-war writings etc.).

The term is now generally used to characterize efforts to assign blame for a lost cause not to the real culprits, but to those that the blamers consider their adversaries. Right now, we can observe a Dolchstoßlegende in the making when we follow right-wing commentators trying to blame the outcome of the recent election not on the deficiencies of the McCain campaign, but on the (alleged) pro-Obama stance of the so-called "liberal media".

Addendum: Dolchstoßlegenden after the 2016 election.


Marlene said...

Hi Ulrich, I found this really interesting, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I had read a discussion of this term in Harper's a couple of years ago. Sure enough, I found a history of what one blogger on the web calls the "stabbed-in-the-back" myth at
The author is Kevin Baker, whom I'm pretty sure writes historical novels. I found the history of the word's development to be really fascinating, and according to Baker, it's first used here after World War II about the conference at Yalta, where American interests were supposedly betrayed. I have also seen a cartoon where an American soldier is being stabbed in the back and on the knife is written "Congress." So, unfortunately, the "stabbed-in-the-back myth" is still alive and well.

Marlene said...

Oops. You have already seen the cartoon. I hadn't hit your link when I wrote my comment.

Ulrich said...

@Marlene: The Harper's article is very interesting as far as the portions dealing with America go. I have to point out, though, that its summary of the end of Wagner's Ring Cycle is utter fabrication: The cycle concludes with the gods and their abode, Walhalla, going up in flames--end of story. There is no rebirth, not of Siegfried, and certainly not of a German Volk(a notion completely missing from the Cycle)--it's not in the text, it's not in the music.

Laraine said...

Well I might be prejudiced in your favor, but I found this month's word pretty fascinating. I'm supposed to be working and instead of that, I've been googling "dolchstosslegende," and I'm surprised how widely discussed it is in on political blogs, mainly because I had never heard the word and my assumption is if I never heard of it, no one else has either. In a discussion of the article Marlene mentioned (which I found very good, despite the author's apparently talking through his hat about Wagner's ring cycle), Ezra Klein at the American Prospect makes the point that the "stabbed-in-the back"myth was consciously used by the German military to explain away its loss i.e. the explanation of betrayal as the source of their failure did not arise by chance and then get exploited. They purposely propagated that notion. Actually, the dolchstosslegende is listed on some blogs as a propaganda technique like the "bandwagon effect," only more malevolent.

Doug said...

Hi Ulrich,

Chef Bea, Barbara, recommended this to me. I'm "Doug" from the Crossword blog. To clarify, NOT "Evil Doug," but friendly Canadian Doug.

I'll come back regularly, and thanks for writing it. I am a big fan of Germany and have spent a decent amount of time there (I have often be found in Munchen at the tables outside the Spaten tent, waiting for the Oktoberfest countdown in early Sept.)


Ulrich said...

@Doug: Welcome to the blog--I'm delighted to have you among my readers.

mac said...

@Doug: what is your connection to Holland? I noticed the remark about the canal-background; then the interest in Miep. Have you lived in Amsterdam?