Possible interpretations for controversy 1

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  • Schools of Thought / Interpretations for Controversy One
    • Interpretation: German desire for European hegemony
      • Germany pursued a war a war in order to become the dominant power in Europe/.
      • The Schlieffen Plan (1905), War Council (1912) and September Program (1914) indicate this.
      • In the years before the First World War Germany deliberatley destablised European peace and sought confrontation with the Entente powers, through, for example, the naval race with Britain and the antagonism with France during the Moroccan crises.
      • When a crisis developed in the Summer of 1914, the German military and political elite sought to capitalise on this, through encouraging Austrian aggression, hoping to escalate the conflict into a larger war.
      • This is Fischer's argument
    • Interpretation: 'escape forwards'
      • Structuralist historians such as Wehler take this view.
      • This theory adds to Fischer's interpretation by arguing that German politicians sought a war in order to resolve domestic difficulties: to 'escape' from these problems by pushing forwards with an aggressive war.
      • The government faced the problem of the stalemate caused by the growing power of the SPD, tensions caused by the Zabern Affair and budget deficit.
      • The conservative political and military elite sought to pursue war to strengthen their own position to try and create national unity and to distract attention away from the need to reform the political system.
    • Interpretation: German fear of encirclement
      • WW1 was caused by German actions, such as their enactment of the Schlieffen Plan, but German actions were more defensive than aggressive.
      • The Germans were responding to fears that the alliances between France, Russia and Britain and Russian and French plans to expand their army might mean that Germany could be crushed in the future by the Entente: Germany felt it faced an aggressive coalition.
      • Many people in Germany accepted this as an explanation for the war, The Schlieffen Plan was Germany's only hope of victory if there was a possibility of France engaging on the side of Russia in a conflict between Russia and Germany.
    • Interpretation: 'calculated risk'
      • This interpretation argues that Germany did not so much have a long-term plan for war, instead they took a risk on war when the crisis developed in 1914.
      • The German military and political elite took the chance to escalate conflict between Austria and Serbia, as they hoped that they would gain easy victories.
      • If a larger conflict developed, the Germans calculated that it would be better to have a war sooner rather than later with the Entente powers, whose military expansion was not yet fully realised.
    • Interpretation: tensions, rivalry and instability between European countries
      • Many European powers contributed to destabilising peace in Europe in the years prior to the First World War.
      • Alliances and agreements created tensions and suspicions and a number of countries contributed to the arms race.
      • In the Balkans, the fallout from the weakening of Ottoman power caused conflict and ultimately triggered the war. In this context, European countries did not deliberately seek war, but in David Lloyd George's phrase 'slithered' almost accidentally towards war.


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