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Karl Ernst Haushofer (August 27, 1869 – March 10, 1946) was a German general, geographer and geopolitician. Through his student Rudolf Hess, Haushofer's ideas may have influenced the development of Adolf Hitler's expansionist strategies, although Haushofer denied direct influence on the Nazi regime. Under the Nuremberg Laws, Haushofer's wife and children were categorized as mischlinge. His son, Albrecht, was issued a German Blood Certificate through the help of Hess.
Haushofer belonged to a family of artists and scholars. He was born in Munich, Germany, to Max Haushofer, a professor of economics, and Frau Adele Haushofer (née Fraas). On his graduation from the Munich Gymnasium (high school), Haushofer contemplated an academic career. However, service with the Bavarian army proved so interesting that he stayed to work, with great success, as an instructor in military academies and on the general staff.
In 1887, Haushofer entered the 1st Field Artillery regiment "Prinzregent Luitpold" and completed Kriegsschule, Artillerieschule and War Academy (Kingdom of Bavaria). In 1896, he married Martha Mayer-Doss (1877–1946) whose father was Jewish. They had two sons, Albrecht Haushofer and Heinz Haushofer (1906–1988).
Haushofer continued his career as a professional soldier, serving in the army of Imperial Germany, and rising through the Staff Corp by 1899. In 1903, he began teaching at the Bavarian War Academy.
In November 1908 the army sent him to Tokyo to study the Japanese army and to advise it as an artillery instructor. He travelled with his wife via India and South East Asia and arrived in February 1909. Haushofer was received by the Japanese emperor and became acquainted with many important people in politics and armed forces. In autumn 1909 he travelled with his wife for a month to Korea and Manchuria on the occasion of a railway construction. In June 1910 they returned to Germany via Russia and arrived one month later.
Shortly afterwards he began to suffer from several severe diseases and was given a leave from the army for three years. From 1911 to 1913, Haushofer would work on his doctorate of philosophy from Munich University for a thesis on Japan titled Dai Nihon, Betrachtungen über Groß-Japans Wehrkraft, Weltstellung und Zukunft (Reflections on Greater Japan's Military Strength, World Position, and Future). By World War I he had attained the rank of General, and commanded a brigade on the western front. He became disillusioned after Germany's loss and severe sanctioning, retiring with the rank of Major General in 1919. At this time, he forged a friendship with the young Rudolf Hess who would become his scientific assistant.
Haushofer entered academia with the aim of restoring and regenerating Germany. Haushofer believed the Germans' lack of geographical knowledge and geopolitical awareness to be a major cause of Germany’s defeat in World War I, as Germany had found itself with a disadvantageous alignment of allies and enemies. The fields of political and geographical science thus became his areas of specialty. In 1919, Haushofer became Privatdozent for political geography at Munich University and in 1933 professor.
Louis Pauwels, in his book Monsieur Gurdjieff, describes Haushofer as a former student of George Gurdjieff. Others, including Pauwels, said that Haushofer created a Vril society; and that he was a secret member of the Thule Society. Stefan Zweig speaks warmly of him  but says history will have to judge how far he knowingly contributed to Nazi doctrine as more documentation becomes available. Zweig credits him with the concept of Lebensraum, though used in a psychological sense of a nation's relative energies.
After the establishment of the Nazi regime, Haushofer remained friendly with Rudolf Hess, who protected Haushofer and his wife from the racial laws of the Nazis, which deemed her a "half-Jew". During the pre-war years Haushofer was instrumental in linking Japan to the Axis powers, acting in accordance with the theories of his book Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean.
After the July 20 Plot to assassinate Hitler, Haushofer's son Albrecht (1903–1945) went into hiding but was arrested on December 7, 1944, and put into the Moabit prison in Berlin. During the night of April 22–23, 1945, he and other selected prisoners like Klaus Bonhoeffer were walked out of the prison by an SS-squad and shot. From September 24, 1945, on, Karl Haushofer was informally interrogated by Father Edmund A. Walsh on behalf of the Allied forces to determine whether he should stand trial at Nuremberg for war crimes. He was, however, ascertained by Walsh not to have committed war crimes. On the night of March 10–11, 1946, he and his wife committed suicide in a secluded hollow on their Hartschimmelhof estate at Pähl/Ammersee. Both drank arsenic, and the wife then hanged herself while Haushofer was obviously too weak to do so.
Geostrategy as a political science is both descriptive and analytical like Political Geography, but adds a normative element in its strategic prescriptions for national policy. While some of Haushofer's ideas stem from earlier American and British geostrategy, German geopolitik adopted an essentialist outlook toward the national interest, oversimplifying issues and representing itself as a panacea. As a new and essentialist ideology, geopolitik found itself in a position to prey upon the post-World War I insecurity of the populace.
Haushofer's position in the University of Munich served as a platform for the spread of his geopolitical ideas, magazine articles, and books. In 1922, he founded the Institute of Geopolitics in Munich, from which he proceeded to publicize geopolitical ideas. By 1924, as the leader of the German geopolitik school of thought, Haushofer would establish the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik monthly devoted to geopolitik. His ideas would reach a wider audience with the publication of Volk ohne Raum by Hans Grimm in 1926, popularizing his concept of lebensraum. Haushofer exercised influence both through his academic teachings, urging his students to think in terms of continents and emphasizing motion in international politics, and through his political activities. While Hitler's speeches would attract the masses, Haushofer's works served to bring the remaining intellectuals into the fold.
Geopolitik was in essence a consolidation and codification of older ideas, given a scientific gloss:
Ostensibly based upon the geopolitical theory of American naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan, and British geographer Halford J. Mackinder, German geopolitik adds older German ideas. Enunciated most forcefully by Friedrich Ratzel and his Swedish student Rudolf Kjellén, they include an organic or anthropomorphized conception of the state, and the need for self-sufficiency through the top-down organization of society. The root of uniquely German geopolitik rests in the writings of Karl Ritter who first developed the organic conception of the state that would later be elaborated upon by Ratzel and accepted by Hausfhofer. He justified lebensraum, even at the cost of other nations' existence because conquest was a biological necessity for a state's growth.
Ratzel's writings coincided with the growth of German industrialism after the Franco-Prussian war and the subsequent search for markets that brought it into competition with Britain. His writings served as welcome justification for imperial expansion. Influenced by Mahan, Ratzel wrote of aspirations for German naval reach, agreeing that sea power was self-sustaining, as the profit from trade would pay for the merchant marine, unlike land power. Haushofer was exposed to Ratzel, who was friends with Haushofer's father, a teacher of economic geography, and would integrate Ratzel's ideas on the division between sea and land powers into his theories, saying that only a country with both could overcome this conflict.
Haushofer's geopolitik expands upon that of Ratzel and Kjellén. While the latter two conceive of geopolitik as the state as an organism in space put to the service of a leader, Haushofer's Munich school specifically studies geography as it relates to war and designs for empire. The behavioral rules of previous geopoliticians were thus turned into dynamic normative doctrines for action on lebensraum and world power.
Haushofer defined geopolitik in 1935 as "the duty to safeguard the right to the soil, to the land in the widest sense, not only the land within the frontiers of the Reich, but the right to the more extensive Volk and cultural lands." Culture itself was seen as the most conducive element to dynamic special expansion. It provided a guide as to the best areas for expansion, and could make expansion safe, whereas projected military or commercial power could not. Haushofer even held that urbanization was a symptom of a nation's decline, evidencing a decreasing soil mastery, birthrate and effectiveness of centralized rule.
To Haushofer, the existence of a state depended on living space, the pursuit of which must serve as the basis for all policies. Germany had a high population density, whereas the old colonial powers had a much lower density, a virtual mandate for German expansion into resource-rich areas. Space was seen as military protection against initial assaults from hostile neighbors with long-range weaponry. A buffer zone of territories or insignificant states on one's borders would serve to protect Germany. Closely linked to this need, was Haushofer's assertion that the existence of small states was evidence of political regression and disorder in the international system. The small states surrounding Germany ought to be brought into the vital German order. These states were seen as being too small to maintain practical autonomy, even if they maintained large colonial possessions, and would be better served by protection and organization within Germany. In Europe, he saw Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland, Greece and the "mutilated alliance" of Austro-Hungary as supporting his assertion.
Haushofer's version of autarky was based on the quasi-Malthusian idea that the earth would become saturated with people and no longer able to provide food for all. There would essentially be no increases in productivity.
Haushofer and the Munich school of geopolitik would eventually expand their conception of lebensraum and autarky well past the borders of 1914 and "a place in the sun" to a New European Order, then to a New Afro-European Order, and eventually to a Eurasian Order. This concept became known as a pan-region, taken from the American Monroe Doctrine, and the idea of national and continental self-sufficiency. This was a forward-looking refashioning of the drive for colonies, something that geopoliticians did not see as an economic necessity, but more as a matter of prestige, and putting pressure on older colonial powers. The fundamental motivating force would not be economic, but cultural and spiritual. Haushofer was, what is called today, a proponent of "Eurasianism", advocating a policy of German–Russian hegemony and alliance to offset an Anglo-American power structure's potentially dominating influence in Europe.
Beyond being an economic concept, pan-regions were a strategic concept as well. Haushofer acknowledges the strategic concept of the Heartland put forward by the British geopolitician Halford Mackinder. If Germany could control Eastern Europe and subsequently Russian territory, it could control a strategic area to which hostile seapower could be denied. Allying with Italy and Japan would further augment German strategic control of Eurasia, with those states becoming the naval arms protecting Germany's insular position.
Evidence points to a disconnect between geopoliticians and the Nazi leadership, although their practical tactical goals were nearly indistinguishable.
Rudolf Hess, Hitler's secretary who would assist in the writing of Mein Kampf, was a close student of Haushofer's. While Hess and Hitler were imprisoned after the Munich Putsch in 1923, Haushofer spent six hours visiting the two, bringing along a copy of Friedrich Ratzel's Political Geography and Clausewitz's On War. After World War II, Haushofer would deny that he had taught Hitler, and claimed that the National Socialist Party perverted Hess's study of geopolitik. He viewed Hitler as a half-educated man who never correctly understood the principles of geopolitik passed onto him by Hess, and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop as the principal distorter of geopolitik in Hitler's mind. While Haushofer accompanied Hess on numerous propaganda missions, and participated in consultations between Nazis and Japanese leaders, he claimed that Hitler and the Nazis only seized upon half-developed ideas and catchwords (actually Catchphrase). Furthermore, the Nazi party and government lacked any official organ that was receptive to geopolitik, leading to selective adoption and poor interpretation of Haushofer's theories. Ultimately, Hess and Konstantin von Neurath, Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs, were the only officials Haushofer would admit had a proper understanding of geopolitik.
Father Edmund A. Walsh, professor of geopolitics and dean at Georgetown University, who interviewed Haushofer after the allied victory in preparation for the Nuremberg trials, disagreed with Haushofer's assessment that geopolitik was terribly distorted by Hitler and the Nazis. He cites Hitler's speeches declaring that small states have no right to exist, and the Nazi use of Haushofer's maps, language and arguments. Even if distorted somewhat, Walsh felt that was enough to implicate Haushofer's geopolitik.
Haushofer also denied assisting Hitler in writing Mein Kampf, saying that he only knew of it once it was in print, and never read it. Walsh found that even if Haushofer did not directly assist Hitler, discernible new elements appeared in Mein Kampf, as compared to previous speeches made by Hitler. Geopolitical ideas of lebensraum, space for depth of defense, appeals for natural frontiers, balancing land and seapower, and geographic analysis of military strategy entered Hitler's thought between his imprisonment and publishing of Mein Kampf. Chapter XIV, on German policy in Eastern Europe, in particular displays the influence of the materials Haushofer brought Hitler and Hess while they were imprisoned.
Haushofer was never a member of the Nazi Party, and did voice disagreements with the party, leading to his brief imprisonment. Haushofer came under suspicion because of his contacts with left wing socialist figures within the Nazi movement (led by Gregor Strasser) and his advocacy of essentially a German–Russian alliance. This Nazi left wing had some connections to the Communist Party of Germany and some of its leaders, especially those who were influenced by the National Bolshevist philosophy of a German–Russian revolutionary alliance, as advocated by Ernst Niekisch, Julius Evola, Ernst Jünger, Hielscher and other figures of the "conservative revolution." He did profess loyalty to the Führer and make anti-Semitic remarks on occasion. However, his emphasis was always on space over race, believing in environmental rather than racial determinism. He refused to associate himself with anti-Semitism as a policy, especially because his wife was half-Jewish. Haushofer admits that after 1933 much of what he wrote was distorted under duress: his wife had to be protected by Hess's influence (who managed to have her awarded 'honorary German' status); his son was implicated in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler and was executed by the Gestapo; he himself was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp for eight months; and his son and grandson were imprisoned for two-and-a-half months.
The notion of a contact between Haushofer and the Nazi establishment has been stressed by several authors. These authors have expanded Haushofer's contact with Hitler to a close collaboration while Hitler was writing Mein Kampf and made him one of the 'future Chancellor's many mentors'. Haushofer may have been a short-term student of Gurdjieff, that he had studied Zen Buddhism, and that he had been initiated at the hands of Tibetan lamas, although these notions are debated.
The influence of Haushofer on Nazi ideology is dramatized in the 1943 short documentary film, Plan for Destruction. The film was nominated for an Academy Award.