Origins of WW1 Historiography


Origins of the First World War Historiography

Orthodox Position: Germany was blamed immediately after the war

·       Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles (The ‘War Guilt Clause’ – “Germany accepts the responsibility for causing all the loss and damage as a consequence of the aggression of Germany and her allies”

Revisionist Position: In the 1920s and 1930s the guilt was believed to be shared, and the war was caused by long-term factors alongside incompetent individuals

·       David Lloyd George has a nihilistic view, where random events determine history. He states, “We muddled into war. The nations slithered over the brink. Not one of them wanted war, certainly not on this scale”

·       Lenin held a Marxist view, and argued colonial and economic rivalry led to the Arms Race. This is a structuralist argument, where institutional structures determine history. Trotsky also a Marxist stated "the war of 1914 is the most colossal breakdown in history of the economic system destroyed by its own inherent contradiction" 

·       The Marxist view blamed the businesses of Capitalism due to their mutual competition, which was emphasized by Imperialism. Eric Hobsbawm argued the causes of the war can be found in the system of industrial capitalism that dominated economics. Hobsbawn also argued imperialistic characters of the countries fuelled industrialism, which in turn led to Militarism and the need for resources like the Scramble for Africa. This led a partnership between the Governments and the arms producers to begin setting up for weapons for the next time that war started

·       Some revisionists like Emil Ludwig had an intentionalist view, where individuals determine historical events, stating “hounded by a few dozen incapable leaders, a man need not have been a Bismarck to prevent this most idiotic of wars”. Emil Ludwig, the German Historian also argued in 1914 it was the powerful forces of imperialism that pushed Europe into the war

·       Another intentionalist historian was Balfour, who writes Kaiser William II had “convinced himself that Germany was being denied her rightful ‘place in the sun’”, and so “embarked upon a program of military and naval armament”

·       Stoessinger was also an intentionalist, and stated “none of the leaders had the nerve to order a halt to mobilization, even though this was a completely viable option”. The supreme leaders of Germany and Austria-Hungary had failed to exercise sufficient control

·       Winston Churchill states “everybody was turning to violence to resolve issues”

·       Sydney Fay wrote "the greatest single underlying cause of the war was the system of secret alliances which developed after the Franco-Prussian war”, she blamed Russian mobilization and Austro-Hungarian diplomacy for the outbreak of war

·       Sydney Fay states that Serbia was unable to prevent its actions which would have prevented the actions of war, if it would have stabilized its extremism. She further suggests Serbia failed to take the effective steps in preventing the assassins and warning Austria. This was “part of Serbia’s


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