Historiography: the causes of the Great War 1

  • Created by: Alasdair
  • Created on: 27-05-18 19:32
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  • Historiography: the causes of the Great War 1
    • Background
      • Responsibility for causing World War I was placed on Central Powers by Versailles settlement in 1919
        • In war guilt clause of Treaty of Versailles with Germany (Article 231), Germany had to accept responsibility as one of the aggressors
      • Whilst Treaty of Versailles was being drawn up,by victorious powers
        • German Foreign Office was already preparing documents from their archives to prove that all belligerent states were to blame
          • To this end, between 1922 and 1927 Germans produced 40 volumes of documents backing this claim
      • Other governments felt need o respond by producing their owns volumes of archives
        • Britain published 11 volumes between 1926 and 1938
        • France its own version of events in 1936
        • Austria produced 8 volumes in 1930
        • Soviet Union brought out justificatory publications in 1931 and 1934
      • Germany's argument gained international sympathy in 1920s and 1930s
        • Growing sentiment that war had been caused by failure of international relations rather than specific actions of one country
      • Lloyd George, writing in his memoirs in 1930s, explained that 'the nations slithered over brink into the boiling cauldron of war'
      • S. B. Fay and H. E. Barnes
        • were two American historians who, to some extent, supported revisionist arguments put forward by Germany regarding causes of World War I
        • Barnes argued in 1927 book, The Genesis of the War
          • Serbia, France and Russia were directly responsible for causing the war, Austro-Hungarian responsibility was far less, and that least responsible were Germany and Britain
            • supported this view by arguing Franco-Russian alliance became offensive from 1912, and their joint plans intended to manipulate any crisis in the Balkans to provoke a European war.
              • Both countries decided that Serbia would be central to their war plans and early in 1914 officers in the Serbian General Staff  plotted the assaination of Franz Ferdinand
        • The Russian and French  motives for starting a European war were to attain their key objectives
          • The seizure of the Dardenelles Straits and return of Alsace-Lorraine, which could only be realised through war
      • Luigi Albertini
        • Italian historian
        • wrote a thorough and coherent response to revisionist argument in 1940s
        • Argument focused on responsibility of Austria-Hungary and Germany in immediate term
          • Austria for ultimatum to Serbia
          • Germany for its 'naivety' in demanding a localised war
        • Overall, Germany was in his view fundamentally to blame, as it was clear that Britain could not have remained neutral in a war raging on continent
    • Fritz Fischer
      • Published 'Germany's Aims in he First World War' in 1961
      • Argument focused responsibility back on Germany
      • Discovered document called 'September Programme'
        • Written by German Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg
        • Memorandum dated 9 September 1914 (after war had started)
        • Set out Germany's aims for domination of Europe
      • Fischer claimed document
        • proved that ruling elite had always had expansionist aims and that a war would allow them to fulfil these
        • War would also consolidate their power at home and deal with threat of socialism
      • Went on to argue in another book that War Council of 1912 proved Germany planned to launch a continental war in 1914
        • At this War Council, von Moltke had commented that 'in my opinion war is inevitable and the sooner the better'
      • Argument is persuasive, as he links longer-term policies from 1897 to short-term and  immediate actions taken in the July Crisis
        • In short, he is able to explain why war began
      • Fischer's arguments have been criticised in following ways:
        • Fischer argues 'backwards' from the German ''September  war aims'
          • This is limited evidence to prove Germany had specific expansionist aims prior to September 1914
        • The December War Council is also limited evidence
          • its importance is debatable as imperial Chancellor was not present
        • Fischer holds domestic crisis in Germany as central to why war was triggered in 1914
          • Bethmann-Hollweg dismissed war as a solution to rise of socialism
        • It could be argued German policy lacked coherency in decade before 1914
        • Fischer focuses too much on Germany
          • this priority leads to emphasis on German actions and he neglects role played by other powers
    • After Fischer
      • Since Fischer's theses on German guilt
        • Historians have continued to debate the degree of German responsibility
      • Conservative German historians such as Gerhard Ritter's rejected Fischer's view in 1960s
      • Immanuel Geiss
        • Defended Fischer by publishing a book of German documents undermining arguments of revisionists of 1920s
      • Majority of historians around world now agree that Germany played pivotal role in events that led to war
        • Through their policy of Weltpolitik and their role in July Crisis
          • Though this was not necessarily as part of any set 'plan' as Fischer had argued
      • Ruth Henig
        • 'It has been widely asserted that German policy held the key to the situation in the summer of 1914 and that it was the German desire to profit diplomatically and militarily from the crisis which widened the crisis from an Eastern European one to a continental and world war'

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