Historiography: the causes of the Great War 2

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  • Historiography: the causes of the Great War 2
    • John Keegan
      • Military historian
      • Focuses on events of July Crisis
      • Suggests although there were long-term and short-term tensions in Europe, war was in fact not inevitable
      • War was unlikely due to interdependence and cooperation necessary for European economy, plus royal, intellectual and religious links between the nations
      • Key to theory
        • Lack of communication during July Crisis
        • Highlights fact Kaiser had 50 people advising him
          • mostly independent and jealous of one another
        • 'The Kaiser...in the crisis of 1914...found that he did not understand the machinery he was supposed to control, panicked and let a piece of paper determine events'
      • Keegan suggests that if Austria-Hungary acted immediately, the war might have been limited to a local affair
        • It was Austria-Hungary's reluctance to act alone, ad its alliance with Germany, that led to escalation
      • No country used communications available at time, such as radio
        • Information was arriving fitfully, and was always 'incomplete'
      • The crisis that followed the expiration of ultimatum to Serbia was not the one that European powers had expected and key problem was that each nation failed to communicate its aims during the crisis
        • Austria-Hungary had wanted to punish Serbia, but lacked the courage to act alone
          • They did not want a general European war
        • Germany had wanted a diplomatic success that would leave its Austro-Hungarian ally stronger in European eyes
          • It did not want a general European war
        • Russia did not want a general European war
          • But had not calculated that support for Serbia would edge the danger of war closer
        • France had not mobilised, but was increasingly worried that Germany would mobilise against it
        • Britain only awoke to real danger of the crisis on Saturday 25 July, and still hoped on Thursday 30 July that Russia would tolerate punishment of Serbia.
          • It would not, however, leave France in danger
      • None of European powers had communicated their objectives clearly in July Crisis
        • Therefore, for Keegan it was the events of 31 July that were the turning point
          • the news of Russia's general mobilisation and German ultimatum to Russia and France made issue one of peace or war
            • Great Powers could step back from brink, but a withdrawal would not be compatible with status of each as a Great Power
              • The Serbs, a cause of the crisis in the first place, had been forgotten.
    • James Joll
      • Joll attempted to link impersonal forces to personal or man-made forces
        • (impersonal forces) factors beyond specific control or influence of an individual leader, regime or government
      • Suggests atmosphere of intense tension was created by impersonal forces in long and short terms and personal decisions made in July Crisis led to war
      • Joll explains outbreak of war in terms of decisions taken by political leaders in 1914
        • But argues that these decisions were shaped by impersonal factors, which meant that leaders had only limited options open to them in final days of crisis
      • Marxist historians have  focused on role of capitalism and imperialism as key causes of World War 1
        • but a limitation with focusing on impersonal factors is that they do not seem to explain why the war broke out when it did
          • Joll's argument links to impersonal factors to personal decision-making taking place during July Crisis, and thus apparently overcomes this problem
    • Niall Ferguson
      • Suggests Germany was moving away from militaristic outlook prior to World War I
      • Highlights increasing influence of Social Democratic Party
      • German Social Democrat Party was founded as a socialist party, with radical agenda for Germany
        • By 1912 they had gained most votes in Reichstag and their influence increasingly alarmed Kaiser's regime
      • Ferguson sees Britain as heavily implicated in causes of war
        • Particularly Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey
        • Britain misinterpreted German ambitions and decided to impede German expansionism
      • Ferguson does not see war as inevitable in 1914, despite forces of militarism, imperialism and secret diplomacy

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