German responsibility for WW1

HideShow resource information

The historical debate

- Aftermath of WW1 (Treaty of Versailles contained a 'war guilt' clause), Germany was compelled to accept responsibility.
- Following the WW2, it was reflected that the First World had been a collective European Failiure. e.g. Competition over Empires and weapons.

THE FISCHER THESIS
Wrote a book which argued that in the years prior to WW1, Germany had a plan for EU domination which led to the pursuit of an agressive foreign policy and ultimatley war.

Germany was responsible:
-
Under Wilhelm II, Germany pursued European Hegemony (dominance); planned to have a war in order to gain Hegemony.

-Before the War, German foreign policy was nationalistic and militaristic.
- Germany antagoised other EU Powers in the years leading up to the war; they followed a course of confrontation with Russia, France and Britain.

Germany wasn't entirely responsible:
-
No clear evidence that Germany had a long-term plan of agression in relation to WW1; just planned for the possibility.
- Maybe
Germany felt they faced encirclement by the Entente powers (possible agressive and hostile coalition)

- Britain, France and Russia contributed to the build up of weapons before WW1.
- Crisis following Franz Ferdinands death in sumer 1914 that led to war, was not started by Germany and nor was Germany the only power to make decisions in 1914 that caused conflict to escalate.

1 of 8

FISCHER THESIS

Fischer (and John Rohl) put forward a number some evidence that support the thesis...
WELTPOLITIK (world politics)
Entailed seeking colonial expansion (into Eastern Europe) and a more dominant position within Europe/world. Germany built military might, especially through Naval expansion (Flottenpolitik) and the Kaiser shaped the Gov. to include ministers/chancelllors that shared his vision (e.g. Von Bulow). Interpreted as confrontational as it challenged the status of other EU powers.

SCHLIEFFEN PLAN 1905
Plan to prevent possibility of having a war on 2 fronts; Invade France via Belgium, defeat in 6 weeks by that time Russia would just be fully mobilised. Can be interpreted as a plan for a war of agression, as it entailed potentially unprovoked German attacks on France and Belgium.

THE WAR COUNCIL 1912
Meeting of the Kaiser and military leaders in 1912; discussed 'possibility' of future war and agitated for armaments development. Fischer indicates this as the planning for war in the East from 1912.

THE SEPTEMBER PROGRAMME
Written by Bethmann Hollweg in early days of the war; outlined German war aims (to sub-ordinate France and plans of domination, with annexation stretching all the way to Ukraine). Indication that previous thought had been given to the outcomes and the need for war.

2 of 8

CRITISMS OF FISCHER'S ARGUMENTS

  • The Schlieffen plan can be reguarded as a plan for the possibility of war on two fronts rather than to start a war on two fronts.
  • May have placed to much emphasis on the War council meeting of 1912, as it wasn't attended by chancellor Bethmann Hollweg and little action occured as a result of the meeting.

    In adition, the War council meeting was in response to Britain's declaration that they would support France unconditionally in the event of war. The meeting may infact reflect German fears of encirclement rather than an agressive desire for war.

  • September Programme was written only after war had commenced, not concrete proof that plans of agression and domonation pre-dated the start of the war.
3 of 8

GERMAN ACTIONS BEFORE 1914 (De-stabilising peace)

Antagonising Russia:
- Re-Insurance Treaty (Russia and Germany wouldn't attack eachother) was left to lapse by the Kaiser and closer relations were seeked with Austro-Hungarian Empire.
-
In 1908, during the Bosnian Crisis, Germany's support/promised military assistance for Austrian annexation of Bosnia antagonised Russia (who demanded an international conference).

Antangosing France:
-
Relations tense to begin with; German involvement in French colonial problems in Morocco  increased UK/French suspicions about Germany.

-1st Moroccan crisis: Germany demanded an international conference on Frances role in Morocco, hoping to isolate them and protect economic interests. Didn't work, everyone was in favour of colonisation except from Germany and Austria-Hungary.
-2nd Moroccan crisis: After an anti-french uprising, Germany said France had gone too far and ordered a gunboat as a threat to France. Resulted in further suspicion and Germany given rights to controll parts of Congo in return for accepting French influence in Morocco.

Antagonising Britain:
-Naval expansion only added to tension left by Boer war. Flottenpolitik saw expansion up to 38 ships by 1900, and further expansion berween 1906 - 1912.

- Brits felt threatned and introduced Dreadnaughts in 1906; they reguarded supremacy crucial to security, believeing UK ships should equal the same as the next 2 naval powers combined.

4 of 8

GERMAN ACTIONS IN THE SUMMER OF 1914

Actions Germans took within the weeks that led to war:
In June, heir to Austrian throne (F Ferdinand) was assasinated by the Serbian nationalist 'Black Hand' organisation; Austria blamed Serbia and a crisis developed that ultimatley led to WW1.

July Crisis and the 'Blank Cheque':
- Early July, Generals Ludendorff and Hindenburg, Bethmann Hollweg and the Kaiser urged Austria to take military action and offered whatever finance/support they needed (Blank Cheque); seen to make conflict more likely.
- Although, supporting Austria in a local war does't necessarily prove Germany sought major EU conflict, it does suggest that wider conflict was considered.

The declaration of war on Russia:
- July 28th - Austria declared war on Serbia; in response Russia (Serbias ally and looking to prevent Austrian expansion into Balkans) began to mobilise. On the 31st, Germany declared war on Russia.

The Schlieffen Plan and the invasion of Belgium and France:
-
German political and military elite decided to enact Schlieffen plan, as war with Russia might have meant war with France (possible war on 2 fronts). Germany demanded Belgium to allow troops across border, when they refused they launched an invasion; resulting in Britain (Belgiums ally) declering war on Germany.

5 of 8

THE ACTIONS OF OTHERS AND THE EUROPEAN SYSTEM

The actions of others:
Britain participated in the Naval race with Germany and launched the Dreadnaught in 1906, this provoked Germany into the 3rd Naval Law; Britain was determined to maintain naval supremacy.

- Russia mobilising her army in 1914 (July) pushed Germany to enact the Schlieffen plan.
- Without consulting Germany, Austria-Hungary created crisis in 1908 by annexing Bosnia; they were responsible for initial antagonisation of Russia. Also, although encouraged by Germany, it was Austria-Hungary that was ultimatley responsible for the decision to go to war with Serbia in 1914 following the murder of Franz Ferdinand. Therefore, the event that triggered the crisis, leading to WW1 did not originate in Germany.

The European System:
-
Alliances (by 1914, the powers of EU were organised into two mutually antagonistic blocs) were formed in order to improve seciruty and increase co-operation, but they ended up heightning tensions and created two opposed, hostile groups in Europe.

e.g Triple Alliance 1882 (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy; agreed to support eachother in event of attack), Franco-Russian Alliance 1894 (French desire to increase security from German attack), The Tripe Entente (loose alliance between Russia, France and Britain; not aimed at specifically challenging Germany, but was interpreted by Germany as a threat of encirclement)
      

6 of 8

... MUTUAL BUILD UP OF ARMIES

.. (continued)...

The Arms Race and Imperialism:

- Germany, France and Russia were all involved in building up their armies in the years before WW1.
- The Army Bills of 1912 and 1913 increased the size of the German army by 20%; in response France decided to increase conscription from two to three years from 1916. Russia also had plans to build their army by a further 500,000 by 1916.

- Furthermore, Britain, France and Germany had all also been engaged in imperialist projects to build their Empires; imperial competition caused tension between the Great Powers.
 e.g.- Boer War 1898-1902, Moroccan Crisis, Flottenpolitik (naval expansion)

7 of 8

POSSIBLE INTERPRETATIONS:

Interpretation: the war was caused by a German desire for EU hegemony
- Germany pursued the war in order to become the dominant power in Europe; War council, September Programme, Schlieffen plan indicate this. Further antagonisation caused by Naval race with Britain, Moroccan crisis, July Crisis (how Germany encouraged Austrian agression)

Interpretation: 'escape forwards'
- Some Structuralists agree with Fischer; Germany was looking for war. They add, German politicians sought a war to try resolve difficulties faced within Germany and 'escape' problems by pusing forward with an agressive war.

- The Gov. faced problems caused by growing power of the SPD, tensions caused by Zabern Affair etc. Arguably the war was seen by elites to possibly strenghten their position, create national unity and distract from the need to reform the political system.

Interpretation: the war was caused by fear of encirclement
-
WW1 was caused by German actions, like their enactment of the Schlieffen plan, but their actions were more defensive, than agressive. Responded to fears created by the Triple Entente.

Interpretation: the war was caused by tensions, rivalry and instability between EU countries
-
Many EU countries contributed to the destabilisation of peace in the years proir to WW1.

e.g. Alliances only created suspicion, not security and a No. of countries contributed to the Arms Race.

8 of 8

Comments

No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The rise of Germany 1871 – 1945 resources »