Fischer Thesis

Fischer thesis revision cards

The Fischer Controversy

In 1961, a German historian named Fischer launched a historographical revolution. Fischer came to some sensational conclusions:-

  • Germany had gone to war to achieve European and worldwide domination very similar to that aimed for by Hitler and the Nazis in the seocnd world war: it was a bid for world power.
  • Germany had hoped that the blank cheque given to austria in July 1914 would result in war.
  • The roots of German expansionism were to be found in the social, economic and political tensions which troubled Germany before 1914
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Fischer's Evidence

Fischer based his evidence on a document found in the German archives written by Bethmann-hollweg's private secretary Kurt Riezler in 1941, in which he outlines the chancellor's plans for the peace negotiations, which he expected to take place in the near future. Fischer argued that these plans were the continuation of policy made by politicians, military leader and industrialists before the outbreak of war in 1914. To Fischer these plans had the support of the wider political nation. Fischers thesis broke new ground in other ways:

  • It placed Chancelloer Bethmann-Hollweg at the centre of the drive for expansion
  • It removed the distinction between the expansionist military and the supposedly more moderate politicians
  • It linked foreign and domestic policy by suggesting that the proposed annexations were seen as a means of maintaining domestic dominance.
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Fischer Challenged 1

Fischer's analysis brought a storm of protest. On aspect many historian objected to was Fischer's portryal of Bethmann-Holweg as central to the push for war. The diaries of Kurt Riezler were published in the 1980's and many were of the opinion that Germany had slipped into the first world war. It suggested that Germany had pushed for war yet they did not plan it from 1912. However some historians suggest that they were tampered with.

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Fischer Challenged 2

Another challenge made to Fischer's thesis was that there was very little evidence that the outbreak of war constituted a grasp for world power. Instead a group of historians suggested that the war broke out because of a sense of encirclement felt by Germnay. They argued that the majority of Germany's foreign policy was focused on the need to break the encirclement. It stresses that the reasons for war were more defensive rather than agressive.

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War of Illusions

In War of Illusions (1969) Fischer made even greater play of the relationship between German domnestic tensions and foreign policy. He argued that:-

  • The German government used war as a solution to difficult internal problems and the idea that there was a strong "will to war".
  • War in 1914 was a bold leap foward to establish German dominance and to keep domestic peace.
  • The whole decision-making elite had to take responsibility for war. Germany's leaders were culturally pessimistic and needed to break encirclement.

Fischer was able to use the diaries of Admiral Muller, which had been published in 1965 and in which there was reference to a meeting on 8th December 1912 of the kaiser and his top military advisers. Fishcer argued that the War Council was evidence that the path to war had already been decided upon. According to Fischer, war was only postponed because Germany had to prepare herself diplomatically and Military planners were waiting for the opening of the Kiel Canal.

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How Significant was the 1912 War Council?

The Kaiser called a meeting of his top military staff, after a number of events that threatned Germany, this included Admiral Muller whose diaries were used to give a historial insight to Fischer. At the meeting that Fischer called a "war council". At the meeting the following points were made:-

  • The Kaiser insisted that Austria-Hungary should be supported in her actions against Serbia.
  • If Russia decided to fight then so be it. Austria would be supported by Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania. This would leave germany to deal with France on land and Britain on sea.
  • Many believed the war against Russia was inevitable and the sooner the better
  • The military needed to wait for the Kiel Canal to be opened to allow large naval vessels to pass through.

However, there has been debate over the importance of the so-called "war council".

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Primat der Innenpolitik

One of the great traditions in German history is that foreign policy was dictated by events outside Germany. This is known as the Primat Der Aussenpolitik (dominance of foreign policy). Fischer however stressted the importance of the impact of internal pressures on foreign policy, known as Primat der Innenpolitik (dominance of internal policy). The concept has been developed by a number of historians, especially Hans Ulrich Wehler, he argued that the disruptive impact of industrilisation caused tensions in Germany's social and economic structure. These tensions were eventually diverted outwards, into foreign and diplomatic policy in order to preserve the status quo.

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