To what extent was Germany responsible for the outbreak of war?

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The Fischer Thesis

Fritz Fishcer argured in his book Germany's Aims in the First World War 1961 that Germany was to blame for the outbreak of war

He suggests that prior to WWI Germany had plans for European domination, leading to an aggressive foreign policy which led to war.

He further went on to develop his argurement in War of Illusions 1969

His thesis caused consternation especially within the German historical circle

The debate has continued ever since about the extent of Germany's responsibility within the war

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Arguments that Germany was responsible

1. Under Kaiser Wilhelm II's leadership Germany pursued European Hegemony

2. Before the First World War, Germany's foregin policy was nationalist and militaristic

3. Germany planned to have a major European war in order to gain hegemony in Europe

4. Germany antagonised other Great Powers in Europe in the years leading up to war

Germany took decisions in the summer of 1914 following the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that led to war

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Arguments that Germany was not responsible

1. There is no clear evidence that Germany had a long term plan of agression in relation WWI - planned for the possibiliy of war

2. Germany felt that in the Entente powers they faced an aggressive and hostile coalition

3. Other European powers participated in events leading to war e.g. Arms Race

4. All European powers were part of an Alliance system

5. Britain, France, Russia and Germany contributed to the build up of weapons before WW1

6. The crisis following the muder of Franz Ferdinand, not started by Germany and they weren't the only great power to make decisisions in July 1914

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Great powers slithered over the brink

1930s consensus: All the Great Powers were to blame. 

1951 Franco - German Historian's Commision: They accepted the views of the 1930s consenus 

Erdmann challenged Fischer: Germny had slpped into war in 1914 - can be proved by the diaries of Hollweg's private secretary (Riezler) shows Germany had not been planning for war


Britian launches Dreadnought 1906 - May Germany decides to increase size of warships - Arms Race


Britain, France and Russia (Tripple Entente)

Germany, Austria and Italy (Triple Alliance)

Mini wars e.g. Balkan wars - tensions between countires

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Aggressive Foreign Policy

Fischer 1961: The German policy of Weltpolitik was consciously working towards expansionism from 1911 onwards, evidence based on a document written by Riezler which outlines the Chancellor's plans for peace negotiations

Blackbourn: Furthers Fischer's argurements suggests civilian ministers, civil servants, liberal politicians and not just the military

John Rohl: The war was calculated as the bringinf of war through the Balkan crisis would bring three advantages: Austria-Hungary couldn't bail out due to alliance commitments to Germany, the Germany population could be manipulated into believing they were being attacked by Russia and Britian could be persuaded to stay out of war


Weltpolitik - Colonial expansion - aims to become a more dominant country

The Schlieffen Plan

Ministers within the constitution supported the Kaisers's views on Weltpolitik 

Morrocan Crisis

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War as a method to solve internal problems

Structuralist historians strongly influenced by Fischer but place emphasises on domestic factors 1912-1914 as the man reason for the outbreak of war. 'Escape Fowards' Theory

Fischer (1969): The German government used war as a solution to solve internal problems within Germany. He uses the War Council 1912 - The Kaiser insisted that Austra-Hungary should be supported by her actions against Serbia

Wehler: The impact of industrialisation caused tensions in Germany's social and economic structure, including the tension for constitutional change and social change

Berghahn: War was used as a catalyst to stabalise the monarchy at home

Joll: Both the positive pursuit of world power and the desire to solve internal tensions played a role


Morrocon Crisis - Potential economc boost for Germany if they succeeded

Increase in prestige and patriosim if Germany went to war

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Fear of encirclement

Some conservative German historians have come to criticise Fischer for over-emphasising Germany’s aggressive and expansionist tendencies. 1914 was an ‘offensively conducted defensive war’ by Germany as a way to break free from their isolation and threatening power of Russia

Hilderbrand/Hillgruber/Schollgen: Challenge Fischer. The war started because of the sense of encirclement felt by Germany 1909 - 1914 foreign policy was mainly centred around the need to break from encirclement

Stormer: Exposed geostrategic position of Germany and should be seen as a vital factor


Schlieffen Plan

Pressure groups placing pressure on the Government for war

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Calculated Risk

Strongman: Used to strengthen Germany’s domestic and diplomatic saturation. The Kaiser and Benthamm did to actually plan the war, they assessed war in July 1914 as an option because it could be won


War Council 1912

Germany didn’t know war would develop into Trench warfare

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Decisions made by German Military

Niall Feguson: The military secured the mobilisation orders which unleashed the conflict. Claims Fischer’s evidence is flawed, no evidence that Germany’s war aims were the same as they were before hand

James Joll: The detail of the plans to attack Belgium has been kept a secret by the military, even from the Kaiser. The success of the Schlieffen plan required war as soon as mobilisation occurred

Roll and Stachan: Challenge this view as Hollweg was not present, and he was the one who took centre stage int he crisis leading to war


Zabern Affair

Schlieffen Plan

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