the outbreak of war in august 1914

‘The outbreak of war in August 1914 was the logical conclusion of German military and expansionary plans confirmed by the September Program of 1914’ How far do you agree with this judgement? Explain your answer using sources 1, 2 and 3 and your own knowledge of the issues related to this controversy. 40 marks) According to the writer of Source 1, there is a fundamental flaw in Fischer’s assumption that Germany’s war aims already existed before the war and also caused it, he writes that if Fischer is right that this would mean that “Bethmann-Hollweg’s ‘September Programme’ for a separate peace with France – drafted on the assumption of a quick German victory in the West – is sometimes portrayed as if it were the first open statement of aims which had existed before the war”. However, he continues ‘no evidence has been found by Fischer that these objectives existed before the war’.

But Fischer famously argued that Germany’s Spetember Programme of war aims represented the climax of a conscious policy of German expansionism which had its roots in the Weltpolitik of the pre-war years. In his book, War of Illusions, he suggests that the Second Moroccan Crisis in 1911, was an important year in German foreign policy, because from that point there existed a clear continuity of German aims and policies aimed at fighting a European war as a means of achieving world-power status for Germany, that would have directly led to war in August 1914.

Also his final conclusion was: “Consciousness of strength, an urge for expansion and a need for security combined to mold the policy of Wilhelm II’s Germany. ” Thus, Germany had sought war as a means to assert her world power. Also, in Source 2, John Rohl gives the war aims and the calculated advantages of these aims, thus validating Fischer’s reasoning in Source 1. John Rohl, argues that it is now apparent that the ‘men of 1914’ were planning for a war, that would give them world power.

Sources 1 and 2 contain similarities in Fischer’s and Rohl’s findings, in where the two agree on the German expansionary and military plans before the war. In the September Programme a view is given of German intentions such as ‘a quick German victory in the West’, this reveres back to the Schlieffen Plan in 1905. In which a military strategy had been planned if there would have been a possibility to avoid a two-front war, in which France would be defeated before dealing with Russia, the Eastern Front.

Another similarity was Bethmann’s main aim to break up the Triple Entente, in order to effect a massive diplomatic revolution, to pursue world power. This break-up would have strengthened Germany’s position and avoided a two-front war too. The Schlieffen Plan had been evolving for over 20 years. Furthermore, Source 2 suggests that Germany also was planning on how war could be brought about through a Balkan crisis rather than through some incident in Western Europe.

Much of what is said in this source can be supported by the ‘Blank Cheque’ given to Austria-Hungary; a guarantee of almost unconditional support in a war against Serbia, who was backed by Russia and France. The explanation for the ‘Blank Cheque’ to Austria-Hungary was thus that Germany was seeking to provoke a war. Germans claimed that they were being deliberately and maliciously encircled by the Entente. According to Fischer, the German General Staff had decided in December 1912 to exploit the next suitable major European crisis to unleash a major war.

However, in source 3, Stachan writes that this meeting of 8 December, or the War Council of 1912, ended in nothing, than that a press campaign should prepare for war with Russia. And he also writes that ‘there is no evidence that the press chief of the Foreign Ministry attempted to orchestrate such a campaign, or that the newspapers could have been so manipulated if he had… ’ Thus undermining Fischer’s view as it had no results. Also it ‘excluded the political leadership’, the meeting took place without any politician present and even Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg was not present.

Thus, Stachan on the contrary argues that not the war council, but the policy that Bethmann Hollweg and Germany followed must have been marked for the outbreak of the war. On the other side, Rohl argues that if this War Council did not reach a binding decision, which it clearly did not, it did nonetheless offer a clear view of their intentions or at least their thoughts, which were that if there was going to be a war, the German Army wanted it before the new Russian armaments program began to bear fruit. They believed that by 1916 Russia would be overwhelmingly powerful.

Thus war was considered to be a possible and viable option, one seen as a limited war, mainly because they saw an opportunity for a victorious war around 1914. Rohl’s analysis of the War Council makes clear that the people who counted were the Kaiser’s naval and military friends, thus making a war inevitable, as the civilian leaders, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary took second place. Moltke: “I consider a war inevitable—the sooner, the better. But we should do a better job of gaining popular support for a war against Russia, in line with the Kaiser’s remarks. Historian, Pogge von Stranmann suggests that the German leadership undertook a ‘calculated risk’ to strengthen Germany’s domestic and diplomatic situation. By gaining support of the ‘Volk’ for a war against Russia, nationalistic feelings would have grown. Following the Zabern affair, there was a huge public outcry against the army’s action with the Kaiser’s support, which led to an increase in popular movements. Also the growing political power of the social democrats, served to increase the fears of conservatives of a possible democratic and socialist revolution.

This domestic situation encouraged Prussian elites to pursue a war policy as a means of deflecting political opposition and thereby preserving their own threatened position. This is referred as the ‘escape forward’ theory. So, it could be argued that this war was fought to solve the great problems; social conflict, nationalism. Some other historians argue that the distracting power blocs within the Kaiserreich, that had become ‘ a polycracy of forces’, made the structure of the Kaiserreich so chaotic that the pursuit of an offensive war policy was effectively beyond the governments capability.

In conclusion, to some extent the outbreak of war in August 1914 was the logical conclusion of German military and expansionary plans confirmed by the September Program of 1914, but also due to the domestic and diplomatic situation.


Sources +From Kaiser to Fuhrer: Germany 1900-45 http://www. history. ac. uk/reviews/review/47 http://www. answers. com/topic/council-of-war-1#ixzz1oBa4mpcq http://forum. axishistory. com/viewtopic. php? f=31&t=181859 http://germanhistorydocs. ghi-dc. org/sub_document. cfm? document_id=799 http://colonialwarfare18901975. devhub. com/blog/627715-german-world-war-i-aims-the-september-programme/

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