Historiography: Origins of the Great War 3

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  • Historiography: Origins of the Great War 3
    • Sydney Bradshaw Fay
      • The Origins of the World War, 1929
      • Writing in response to finding of Paris Peace Conference that Germany was solely responsible for outbreak of war
      • Fay maintained that it was a complex assortment of causes
        • Notably imperialism, militarism and alliances, that pushed Europe into war
      • No one country plotted an aggressive war and many, including UK and Germany, made genuine, though unskilled, efforts at mediating the July Crisis
      • In some ways, Fay and those who agreed with him are part of larger movement to reintroduce Germany to community of nations in same way that spirit of Locarno was
    • Fritz Fischer
      • Grasp for World Power, 1961
      • Written in wake of WW2
      • Reevaluated his country's role in causing WW1
      • In contrast to Fay, Fischer found Germany sought aggressive war of expansion in 1914
      • Germany was surrounded by hostile countries and her economy, culture and influence in decline
      • A successful war of expansion would solve these problems and was therefore plotted and encouraged in years 1912-14
        • The July Crisis was deliberately managed to this end
      • Fischer maintained that these attitudes and desires were not held solely by maleficent and deluded leadership
      • After examining a broad cross section of German society in 1914, Fischer concluded that these attitudes and aims had broad support from business interests, academics and all political parties in Germany
        • It is not difficult to understand why this was a contentious position in post-Second World War Germany
    • Eric Hobsbawn
      • The Age of Empires, 1987
      • Wrote in Marxist historical tradition
      • Does not find causes of war in any one country or person, but rather in system of industrial capitalism  that dominated economies of Western Europe
      • Argues industrial capitalism's insatiable hunger for resources and markets fuelled New Imperialism of C19th
      • While this need was temporarily slaked by the 'scramble in Africa', it was soon brought European countries into conflict
      • Further, within industrial powers, this competition required a close partnership between government and arms producers, for whom peacetime profits had to be maintained
        • these profits required so that industry would be around for next war, a war in which strength would be measured not in military strength alone, but also in industrial capacity
      • By arguing a systematic cause of war, Hobsbawm and other Marxist historians bring a degree of inevitability to the war
      • Regardless of who led the countries, or which countries were involved, they believe system would have caused a war eventually
    • Niall Ferguson
      • The Pity of War: Explaining World 1, 1999
      • Like Fischer, blames one country in particular
      • Responsibility rests with actions, and in some cases of inaction, of the UK
      • Believes Fay was wrong, that anti-militarianism was rising in Europe by 1914, secret diplomacy has solved many disputes, and that Germany and UK  were more than capable of settling their differences
      • Maintains British political and military leaders had planned to intervene in European conflict from 1905 and in fact would have violated Belgian neutrality themselves had Germany not done it first
      • Further, he maintains that UK misinterpreted German intentions, seeing them as Napoleonic, rather than as essentially defensive
        • These leaders misled British parliament into declaration of war
    • John Stoessinger
      • Why Nations Go To War, 1974
      • Finds liability for war largely in personal failings of those trying to manage the July Crisis
      • He believes that each of leaders acted out of an over-inflated sense of both their own country's weakness and their enemy's strength
      • Further, the Supreme leaders in Austria-Hungary and Germany failed to exercise sufficient control over their subordinates, who actively conspired to provoke at least a regional war in not a general European war
      • Once the 'iron dice' were cast, none of the leaders had nerve to order a halt mobilisation
        • Even though this was a completely viable option
      • Had different personalities been in positions of authority in July 1914, there may never have been a war

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