German War Essay, Research Paper
How Far Was Germany Responsible For The Outbreak Of WWI?
The outbreak of World War One was reliant on a number of factors. These include the alliance system, the sense of nationalism sweeping Europe at the time. The imperial and colonial rivalry resulted in the naval and arms race. When Germany’s role in these causes is examined it is possible to come to the conclusion that Germany, whilst not entirely to blame for the out break of World War One, certainly deserves a fair share of responsibility. Its share of responsibility lies in its involvement in the alliance system, its role in the arms race and the nationalistic policies of its government.
At the end of last century Europe was dominated by five powers: Germany; Great Britain; Russia; France and Austria-Hungary. The relationships between these powers was precarious and unsettled. Europe was still coming to terms with the industrial revolution and each world power had internal problems to deal with. At the same time, a sense of nationalism was sweeping Europe. This created additional problems for the leaders of some of the nations. Austria-Hungary, a patch-work empire, was troubled by civil unrest. The ethnic groups within Austria-Hungary were demanding that they be allowed to form their own nations, free from the rule of the Austrian Empire. They was also tension between France and Germany as a result of Prussia’s defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. French morale was low and the population was bitter over the loss of the territories of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. Throughout Europe the economic and political climate fueled nationalistic ideology.
As a result of this nationalism the foreign policies of the governments turned very competitive and at times aggressive. The creation of the German Empire in 1871 was regarded with a lot of suspicion, fear and in some cases resentment, from the other European countries. This ill-feeling towards the newly formed state caused the German government to fear an impending attack from other countries jealous of Germany’s military achievements and burgeoning industry.
The Germans feared encirclement by hostile neighbors and the government responded by building Germany’s army into the most powerful on the continent. Their military supremacy only served to create more suspicion and fear amongst the other nations. As a means of self-defense the nations entered into Alliance agreements.
Two main alliance systems developed in Europe. The Triple Entente, which comprised Great Britain, France and Russia, and the Triple Alliance, which was comprised of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The historians Bradshaw Fay, Barnes, Gooch and Albertini believe that the alliance system and secret treaties created an atmosphere of suspicion in Europe. An atmosphere which led to the outbreak of the war.
From looking at the build-up of Germany’s army and its fear of encirclement, one may consider that the paranoia of Germany’s neighbors led to the increasingly hostile political climate that followed, and that Germany was simply looking after its own best interests without bothering the others. But to say this would ignore the third reason that Germany was creating so much tension in this region. The imperial and colonial race.
Some Germans were not satisfied with the size of their empire, their nationalistic ideas led to them calling for more power and land for Germany. They wanted Germany to expand its colonies and to extend German power further into Europe. These expansionist theories posed a threat to the other nations, as they saw Germany as a threat to the stability of their empires.
Army supremacy was not sufficient in the minds of the German population. They desired a navy that would rival that of the British Empire. Otto Von Bismarck’s metaphors of blood and iron had influenced them to believe that Germany could be made greater. This led to the arms and naval race. Britain was wary of Germany and its threat to create the strongest navy, and as a result the two nations became engaged in a naval race. Between 1906-1914 the British Navy had increased its production of Dreadnought-class battle ships from 1 to 29 and the Germans had increased theirs from none to 17.
There was also a race to prepare for war on land. Each of the great powers possessed detailed military plans. The general staff from each of these powers believed that the best defense policy was to attack. The main flaw with these war plans was that they were based on the assumption that the Alliances would prove to be binding. The inflexibility of the German plan meant that a Russian mobilization would produce an invasion of France via Belgium. Each of the military plans involved the movement of enormous numbers of soldiers, supplies and equipment and was reliant on precise timing and logistical perfection.
Although all the powers were involved in the arms race, the statistics suggest that Germany was the most aggressive, increasing its spending on armaments by 350% between 1872 and 1912. Germany made massive economic and military preparations for war. This willingness to fight a war has been seen by many as an indication of the amount of responsibility Germany owes for the outbreak of the war.
Another argument that backs up claims that Germany should bear the most responsibility is based on its behavior during the Moroccan crises and the July crisis. During the Moroccan crisis German was clearly testing the strength of the Entente Cordiale. Its provocative behavior increased the feeling of mutual antipathy between Germany and France. Its behavior during the July crisis also indicates a eagerness to go to war. It gave Austria-Hungary unconditional support. An act which showed the other nations that Germany was ready for war and prepared to take on anyone. As Gordon Martel says, “the July crisis was, in essence an Austro-Hungarian one; the transformation of that crisis into a war was the responsibility of Germany”. (Matel, 1984:72-76).
Although Germany can bear a lot of responsibility for the outbreak of World War One, it is important that the other nations’ role in this event are also recognized. Germany was not alone in its aggressive attitudes. There was a climate of fear, distrust and suspicion in Europe. All the nations were dealing with the issue of nationalism and war was regarded as a means of proving a nation’s greatness. They were a generation that had not suffered a major war. The indoctrination of ultra-nationalism had led the population to regard war as morally acceptable. The other European nations must also be blamed for their reluctance to allow Germany to gain more power in Europe. This reluctance fueled Germany’s desire to expand its empire and become a ‘great nation’- and fueled the tensions in the region. The last argument against Germany bearing all the blame for the outbreak of the war, is the fact that Russia was the first to mobilize its army. Germany simply gave unconditional support to Austria-Hungary and its declaration of war can be looked upon as reasonable reaction to Russian mobilisation.
In conclusion, there were many long term factors which led to the outbreak of World War One. The alliance system, economic pressure and colonial rivalry led to a Europe being encompassed into a war-like mood. All the nations were guilty of harbouring aggressive policy and making preparations for a war that seemed inevitable. However, Germany played a major part in the creation of the alliance system and was the instigator of the naval and arms race. Germany also made the most preparations for war. It was a nation that was eager to prove its worth through what it deemed to be the only way to prove it- a major war. Thus it is possible to come to the conclusion that, whilst Germany must bear full responsibility for the outbreak of the war, it must certainly bear a large share of it.