Germany was to blame for the outbreak of the First World War do you agree?
I do not agree fully that the Germans were to blame for the outbreak of war. German intentions were not to start a war, however there are a few events where they unintentionally helped to escalate the situation. There is no doubt that they did help to escalate the situation between Serbia and Austro Hungary. In this essay I will be arguing that Germans did not cause the outbreak of the war. I will be doing this by discussing the blank cheque, the Schlieffen plan, the September programme, the actions of the Kaiser and the actions of Bethmann Hollweg.
Many historians argue that because Germany pre-planed for war that when the chance of war arose they obviously provoked it. The evidence for this argument is the Schlieffen plan, it was a military strategy devised in 1882 as a means of coping with a two front war. Some people argue that the Schlieffen plan is the first traceable reason why the war started. However this is hardly true the Schlieffen plan was drawn up because of the increasing pressure Germany was under because of the triple Entente. Germany was after all geographically in bad position on one side they had France and on the other Russia, to make this situation worse France and Russia were allied.
Therefore it is not surprising that a plan was created in case a war with the both countries was to occur. A war such as this would have to be fought on two fronts so to be able to fight a war like this on side would have to be disabled quickly. The German’s plans to get to Paris in 6 weeks is seen to be an aggressive tactic that is why some people see the Schlieffen plan as a plan to expand Germany if war was to break out. It is clear this is not the case, the Schlieffen plan was a defensive strategy designed to help Germany to come with a war on two fronts.
The Schlieffen plan can hardly be seen as the Germans planning for war because other nations had simial plans such as Russia who had to stick to their plans so completely that hey had to declare war on Germany. An argument has been put forward that Germany declaring war on France is proof that the Schlieffen plan was a form of expansion for Germany and that that it was not a defensive plan. However this is hardly true, Germany declared war on France because Russia had declared war on them and Russia and France were allies. So to Germany I was natural that France would join the war because of the alliance system. Russia also did the same when the Tsar was told that he could not mobilise against Austria alone because the plans were for a war with Austria and Russia.
The September programme drawn up by the chancellor of Germany, Bethmann Hollweg is seen as another piece of evidence suggesting that Germany had planned the war. The September programme was a document that set out Germany’s war aims, including a list of territorial acquisitions. This is seen to be incriminating because it was written so soon after war broke out. However Bethmann Hollweg was under a lot of pressure from military who needed to know their objectives. It should also be considered that the German army had been mobilised for a few months so plans for the army had to be drawn up. Some people argue that because the September programme was released so quickly that these objectives must have been premeditated.
This is not completely true, it was important for the germens to think quickly what they were going to have to achieve in the war after all they were fighting on two fronts. Some of the objective might have been premeditated but these were probably defensive ones thought up long ago. It is clear to see that Bethmann Hollweg was caught between the Kaiser and Moltke. Bethmann Hollweg’s behaviour is often criticized during the July crisis. It is Bethmann Hollweg’s actions that are used as the argument against him. However what he did can be seen as a gamble that went horribly wrong. Bethmann was not consulted on the blank cheque but did back it.
Some people argue that Bethmann wanted to manipulate Russia into mobilising against Germany so they didn’t look as if they started the war. This is untrue because instead Bethmann thought that he could keep the Balkan war localized. The evidence for this argument is that Bethmann thought that Russia would not help Serbia if a war happened because the Tsar would not lend his support to royal assassins. Bethmann also felt that Russia was not military or financially ready for a war. Germany’s mobilisation against Russia was only meant to deter Russia from war not to provoke them into war that is where Bethmann’s gamble failed.
The blank cheque is seen as confirming Germany’s guilt in starting the First World War. The blank cheque is another example of a mistake made by Germany. The Kaiser gave unconditional support to Austria, this was done because Germany felt isolated by the triple entente and wanted to make it clear to Austria that their alliance was strong. However as professor Rohl argues the Kaiser was a very unstable man. There is a lot of evidence to support this argument such as when the Kaiser decided to change is mind about the blank cheque but then was convinced by his wife to “be a man”.
The Kaiser was heavily influenced by others and there are many examples, such as the first Moroccan crisis where he was pushed by Bulow and Holstein into provoking the French. The blank cheque is greatly misunderstood the vague phasing used is open to interpretation. The historian Gerhard Ritter argues “that Germany sought to deter Russia from war, not to provoke conflict with her”. The blank cheque like the September programme is seen as evidence that Germany had wanted a war for some time but really they have both been misinterpreted.
The real nation that was to blame for the outbreak of war was Austro-Hungary who even after finding no evidence that linked the assassins to any terror groups in Serbia and after Serbia agreed to their ultimatum still invaded their country. This is really the behaviour of a nation with war on their agenda. Austro-Hungary it can be said had to avenge the death of Franz Ferdinand. Russia too could have avoided war but much like the Kaiser the Tsar kept on changing his mind.
In conclusion from the evidence above it can be seen that everyone muddled into war and that no one power is to blame. The September programme and the Schlieffen plan which are seen to highlight German guilt, do not and are actually defensive precautions not premeditated plans for war. Bethmann Hollweg and the Kaiser both were trying to achieve the same objective but were both communicating very well. The nations involved in the July crisis can be blamed for standing by their alliances instead of sorting out the situation. Germany did contribute to the mix up between nations in the Balkans and for inciting Austro-Hungary however they are not ultimately to blame for the outbreak of war.