Who is to blame for the First World War?

Discussions on all aspects of the First World War not covered in the other sections. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
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MVSNConsolegenerale
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Who is to blame for the First World War?

Post by MVSNConsolegenerale » 03 Mar 2003 20:14

I'm currently reading a book called The German Wars by
Colonel D.J. Goodspeed which was written in 1985. He argues that while the Second World War can plainly be laid at the feet of Nazi Germany, the First World war is mistakenly laid at the feet of Germany, and instead should be lain at the feet of France.

He argues five main points, in support of this hypothesis.

1. Germany, like Britain, had nothing to gain from a continental war. They had achieved what they wanted after the franco-prussian war ended in 1870; namely they had united most of the German speaking provinces of europe under one empire. Germany had no serious colonial ambitions, and Bismarck quite accurately voiced public opinion with such quotes as "My map of Africa is Europe", "The Balkans are not worth one Pommeranian Grenadier", and "One acre of the land we fought for [in the franco-prussian war] is worth a thousand acres in Africa". Etc.

France on the otherhand had much to gain. Isolated since the fall of Napolean in the earlier half of the century, and humiliated by the Germans during the Franco-Prussian war (who annexed GERMAN SPEAKING PROVINCES from France at it's close). France was in effect, waiting for a chance at revenge; and pounced when it came.

2. France was speading for more money on the military than Germany during the period of 1900 to 1914. Also, Germany did not by any means have as large an army as is propagandized in 1914. French Army doctrines were also offensive rather than defensive; it is clear that much planning (decades and decades) and the conquering of territory was in their High Command's minds.

3. French diplomats brought about the Dual Alliance between themselves and Russia, a former ally with Germany and Austria. This was an amazing shift in the balance of power.

4. This is what I find the most interesting. Apparently, it was the allied powers of France and Russia that first mobilized. And Austria and Germany which mobilized last. I am not expert on this level of military affairs....but Colonel Goodspeed puts forth a good argument that this was in itself a declaration of war. As he puts it "mobilization is like putting a gun to someones head", and that "person will instinctively reach for his own gun to defend himself."

5. Lastly, if blame is to be put on one of the triple alliance partners...it should be austria and not germany. Germany was simply honouring an alliance.

What are you're thoughts on this? Colonel Goodspeed mentions that if the French were responsible for the First World War, and the Second World War would never have happened without the the First....could the French also arguably be blamed for the Second?

P.S. In the poll I've also listed some other possible countries that could be responsible; in my personal experience Russia is also given much of the blame.

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Post by T.R.Searle » 03 Mar 2003 20:34

Technically wasnt WWI started by Gavrilo Princip, who assasinated Franz Ferdinand?And started what I think of it as almost a "chain-alliance reaction" which led to WWI

T.R.Searle :)

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Technically.

Post by MVSNConsolegenerale » 03 Mar 2003 20:51

Technically, Yes.

But I am apt to support the author's opinion that if one murder could cause one of the bloodiest wars of all time; we'd all be dead a long time ago.

Besides, many people had commented that a war was going to happen years before. That implies that larger issues than one duke were involved.

Anyways...the treaty signed between all players at 1919...undeniably placed blame for the war on Germany and soley Germany. So even then they knew the assasination was not the "real" cause (if it was, why such hard restrictions against the people the act was commited against?).

-MVSN

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Post by T.R.Searle » 04 Mar 2003 00:34

Yeah, I agree with your post when it comes to that matter, thanx for posting that information 8)

T.R.Searle :)

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Post by Qvist » 04 Mar 2003 13:16

Not that simple I think.
1. Germany, like Britain, had nothing to gain from a continental war. They had achieved what they wanted after the franco-prussian war ended in 1870; namely they had united most of the German speaking provinces of europe under one empire. Germany had no serious colonial ambitions, and Bismarck quite accurately voiced public opinion with such quotes as "My map of Africa is Europe", "The Balkans are not worth one Pommeranian Grenadier", and "One acre of the land we fought for [in the franco-prussian war] is worth a thousand acres in Africa". Etc.
Yes, but in 1914 Bismarck was no longer at the helm and German policy at that time cannot be described with the same words - to miss this is to miss a serious shift in German policy from Bismarck to 1914, when Germany most certainly did have colonial ambitions. Post-Bismarck Germany ceased to play the stabilising role it had under Bismarck after 1871, becoming instead increasingly preoccupied with throwing it's weight around and giving considerable cause for nervousness among the other major powers. I think it is true that war in 1914 was not in the German interest, but I am less sure that the Kaiser and Moltke felt the same way. anyway, it was certainly the case that IF there was going to be a war (which all European major capitals increasingly assumed there would, one way or the other), better then than later from the German perspective, because Germany had in fact a large lead on it's adversaries in armaments - for the time being.
France on the otherhand had much to gain. Isolated since the fall of Napolean in the earlier half of the century, and humiliated by the Germans during the Franco-Prussian war (who annexed GERMAN SPEAKING PROVINCES from France at it's close). France was in effect, waiting for a chance at revenge; and pounced when it came.
She also had a great deal to lose, and was very conscious of her vulnerability and inferiority to Germany.
2. France was speading for more money on the military than Germany during the period of 1900 to 1914. Also, Germany did not by any means have as large an army as is propagandized in 1914. French Army doctrines were also offensive rather than defensive; it is clear that much planning (decades and decades) and the conquering of territory was in their High Command's minds.
It is true that the reconquest of Alsace-Lorraine was a standing feature of French policy and a clear national ambition. The spending point seems to me very unlikely and conflicts with what I have seen elsewhere. I don't know what German forces were propagandised as in 1914, but they were certainly larger than the French, and also apparently larger than what the French believed they were.
3. French diplomats brought about the Dual Alliance between themselves and Russia, a former ally with Germany and Austria. This was an amazing shift in the balance of power.
It certainly was, and this was of course an alliance directed against Germany. But it belongs to the story that it was Germany who rashly chose to not renew the Russian alliance, leaving the Russians ripe for the French fold.

Blame for the war? That is a vastly complex question. It certainly cannot be reasonably attributed to Germany alone, or mainly to Germany. I think it is correct that Austria must shoulder considerable blame, with her lack of restraint in the Balkans after the assasination. On the other hand, Austria was acting from a position of weakness, and for decades it had been up to Berlin to keep the reins over Vienna. On this occasion they did no such thing, instead egging the Austrians on. Then there was of course the general Russian mobilisation, which was general rather than partial simply because the Russians had made no preparations for a partial mobilisation. The French mobilisation followed more or less directly from that of their Russian allies, and both guaranteed a general German mobilisation, and the German war plan did not allow for hanging around waiting, but demanded an immediate massive attack in the West. Ultimately, I think there is merit in Henry Kissinger's description of the European system at the time as a "doomsday machine". The events and moves interact in so many unforeseen and unfortunate ways that it seems exceedingly difficult to lay the blame at any one place.

One way to answer the question is to ask "what opportunities did each state have to take actions that would have averted the risk of a general war, or to avoid taking actions that would bring it about?"

Austria could have been less intransigent against Serbia, and much more careful in it's military preparations. But Vienna was too eager to show strength to mask it's weakness, too confident of their ability to counter Russia if neccessary and too weary of being restrained by Berlin. Germany could, above all, have avoided giving Vienna an unexpected carte blanche to deal with the Serbian crisis, and could on the contrary have restrained the Austrians as she had many times before. Conceivably, Germany could also have held off mobilising despite the Russian mobilisation, mobilised but not gone to war or even left Austria in the lurch, but neither could be reasonably expected. Russia could have held off mobilising, or mobilised only partially in response to the Austrian mobilisation. The first would not have been reasonable, the second would but they simply lacked the option due to the structure of their call-up system. To withdraw from the Austrian challenge would have been to lose all credibility in the Balkans, a vital area for russia and the focus of her foreign policy for decades. France could have demanded Russian restraint, which would have been a severe blow to the alliance on which French security depended, or left the Russians in the lurch, which was of course not an option. Britain, while least involved in the chain of events leading up to the war, ironically probably also had the greatest opportunity to hinder the outbreak of the war - she was not directly threatened by any of the actions of the others, and so alone retained considerable freedom of action. A clear British commitment to one side or the other might have been decisively influential in discouraging war. On the other hand, this was probably not politically possible inside Britain.

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Re: Interesting.

Post by MVSNConsolegenerale » 04 Mar 2003 20:56

Yes, but in 1914 Bismarck was no longer at the helm and German policy at that time cannot be described with the same words - to miss this is to miss a serious shift in German policy from Bismarck to 1914, when Germany most certainly did have colonial ambitions.
Yes, obviously...Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck in 1890. The Kaiser made some pretty life threatening moves for Germany. He appointed Count Leo von Caprivi, a Prussian General, as chancellor. Described as intelligent, honest, sincere, and simple. He is quoted as knowning he was over his head, and couldn't quite understand Bismarck's "ingenously concieved political chaos". Caprivi, from what I can tell, was mainly responsible for the break with Russia. He believed that the secret aggreement with Russia was contrary to the spirit of the alliance with Austria. Caprivi was the one who recommended to the kaiser that germany should persue a "peaceful, clear and loyal policy". However, most of the Kaiser and subsequent chancellor's moves seemed not to be of themselves overtly aggressive, unlike the French, who the same summer as Bismarck's fall sent their Chief of the General Staff, General Boisdeffre, to St. Petersburg. It is as if with Bismarcks fall "ears all over France pricked up, and those who had never ceased to hope for a reversal of the verdict of the Franco-Prussian War felt their pulses quicken", to quote Colonel Goodspeed.
Germany had in fact a large lead on it's adversaries in armaments
Incorrect. Germany had more advance munitions, and the potential to create them at a far higher rate (through firms like Skoda in Austria and Krupp in Germany), but armament spending was smaller in Germany for two decades when compared with France. As soon as the war broke out however, Germany did outstrip every other country.
She also had a great deal to lose, and was very conscious of her vulnerability and inferiority to Germany.
I don't agree with this. To paraphrase Colonel Goodspeed, France was in all material things weaker than Germany. Her population was smalled, her indulstry not as developed. Despite her grave military weaknesses, the French attempted to explain away earlier defeats; victory was not always to the strong, the French spirit would triumph over all disadvantages. A "semimystical quality developed in the French military, bound up with the idea of revenge and the recovery of lost provinces". From my research I agree with this.
I don't know what German forces were propagandised as in 1914, but they were certainly larger than the French, and also apparently larger than what the French believed they were.
Incorrect. The German army was some 761, 000; the French army some 790, 000. Also of note; Russian (2,300,000), Austrian (500,000), and Italian (400,000). I'm not going to bother to post English, but it should be mentioned that they were the best trained of them all, with their seven year minium service.
Britain, while least involved in the chain of events leading up to the war, ironically probably also had the greatest opportunity to hinder the outbreak of the war - she was not directly threatened by any of the actions of the others, and so alone retained considerable freedom of action.
Britian was incredibly threatened by the actions of the others. A continental power was the last thing she wanted; and she had more in common with Germany than France. It was some unfortunately political mistakes of the Kaiser that forced England into an alliance with France, countries which hated each other. That political mistake is of course the telegram to President Kruger of the Boers.

You have some interesting comments, and I realize that this is all subjective. No one is right or wrong here.

- MVSN

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Re: Who is to blame for the First World War?

Post by Anthony EJW » 05 Mar 2003 00:35

MVSNConsolegenerale wrote:2. France was speading for more money on the military than Germany during the period of 1900 to 1914. Also, Germany did not by any means have as large an army as is propagandized in 1914. French Army doctrines were also offensive rather than defensive; it is clear that much planning (decades and decades) and the conquering of territory was in their High Command's minds.
I find this strange. The French army was smaller on mobiliztion than the German army, with less equipment; and in addition the French fleet was much smaller than the German one. Does Goodspeed analysis what the money was being spent on?
4. This is what I find the most interesting. Apparently, it was the allied powers of France and Russia that first mobilized. And Austria and Germany which mobilized last.

Austria Hungary had decided on partial mobilization on the 25th July. This was to be decreed on the 28th July- the same day that Austria Hungary issued a declared of war- not just mobilization, but the real deal- on Serbia. Austrian artillery shelled the Serbian capital on the same day.

Neither Russia nor France had begun partial or general mobilization at this point.
I am not expert on this level of military affairs....but Colonel Goodspeed puts forth a good argument that this was in itself a declaration of war. As he puts it "mobilization is like putting a gun to someones head", and that "person will instinctively reach for his own gun to defend himself."
I disagree with this assessment- pulling out one's gun doesn't neccessairly mean one will fire it. It is certainly an escalation, but it is not equivilient to a declaration of war.
5. Lastly, if blame is to be put on one of the triple alliance partners...it should be austria and not germany. Germany was simply honouring an alliance.
If Russia had attacked Austria-Hungary then Germany would have been fully justified. They didn't- Russian forces ended their mobilization comfortablely within Imperial Russia. Russia certainly esclated ther situation, but it was Germany that decided to go to war.
What are you're thoughts on this? Colonel Goodspeed mentions that if the French were responsible for the First World War, and the Second World War would never have happened without the the First....could the French also arguably be blamed for the Second?
Disagree- this ignores the decisions made by statesmen, soldiers and ordinary people in the twenty years between the two wars.

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Re: Interesting.

Post by Anthony EJW » 05 Mar 2003 00:44

Incorrect. The German army was some 761, 000; the French army some 790, 000. Also of note; Russian (2,300,000), Austrian (500,000), and Italian (400,000). I'm not going to bother to post English, but it should be mentioned that they were the best trained of them all, with their seven year minium service.
The WWI Data Book by Ellis & Cox says the following:

Peacetime forces:

Austria-Hungary: 450,000
Germany: 880,000
Total Central Powers: 1,330,000

France: 739,000
Russia: 1,400,000
Total Entente Powers: 2,139,000

Numbers after mobilization are:

Austria-Hungary: 3,350,000
Germany: 4,500,000
Total: 7,850,000

France: 3,781,000
Russia: 5,000,000
Total: 8,781,000

The Germany army was kept small pre war for budgetory reasons- as with all powers, they were able to mobilize many more men than those peace time standing armies; but in the German army this was particually dramatic.

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Post by Achtung Panzer Buff » 05 Mar 2003 03:03

Germany wanted the war.

Germany embraced the war.

so it really doesn't matter what the excuse is to get a war started.

Germany deserves lot's of blame...but France can certainly share in it.

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Post by WaffenSS27 » 05 Mar 2003 04:26

In my own opinion it is all the country's faults. Here is why. Prior to the war Germany, France, Britian built up their militaries, and for what? It was definitly not for show, it was to outdo the other major european powers. Like to mock them saying look I have the bigger gun. And the confusing treaties saying if this happens Im behind you. America was the smart one it signed treaties with foreign countries that did not bound our country to war. Thats my opinion blast me if you want.

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I contest that...

Post by MVSNConsolegenerale » 05 Mar 2003 05:05

The WWI Data Book by Ellis & Cox says the following:

Peacetime forces:

Austria-Hungary: 450,000
Germany: 880,000
Total Central Powers: 1,330,000

France: 739,000
Russia: 1,400,000
Total Entente Powers: 2,139,000

Numbers after mobilization are:

Austria-Hungary: 3,350,000
Germany: 4,500,000
Total: 7,850,000

France: 3,781,000
Russia: 5,000,000
Total: 8,781,000
I contest that. I have many sources which state France as having a larger army.

- Boisdeffre on mobilization: Ministere des Affaires estrangeres - L'alliance franco-russe. Origine de l'aliance 1890 1893. Convention militaire 1892 - 1899, et convention navale 1912, (Paris, 1918), 42 annex.

- G.Ritter, The Schlieffen Plan: Critique of a Myth (London, 1958), 143.

- Albertini, I, 55--51, 576.

- Balfour, 176.

- Cabinter Government and WarL 1890 - 1940 (Cambridge, 1958) 15 -16.

- Hobsbawm, 155, 161-62.

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Post by Achtung Panzer Buff » 05 Mar 2003 05:11

WaffenSS27 wrote:America was the smart one it signed treaties with foreign countries that did not bound our country to war. Thats my opinion blast me if you want.
Nothing to blast you have valid points...but

The treaties certainly had a role, but Germany wanted it's place in the sun and was eager for war. Masses of German citizens rejoiced in the streets because at last there was war and Germany could makes it's place in the world.

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Post by Qvist » 05 Mar 2003 09:19

The treaties certainly had a role, but Germany wanted it's place in the sun and was eager for war. Masses of German citizens rejoiced in the streets because at last there was war and Germany could makes it's place in the world.
This was by no means particular to Germany. The same thing happened on the streets of Paris, St.Petersburg, London and Vienna.

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Post by Qvist » 05 Mar 2003 09:47

Hm - it seems you have read rather a lot on the subject, so it shouldn't be neccessary to point out that there are elements in Godspeed that can only be called a little simplistic, without being erroneous as such. Such as:
He believed that the secret aggreement with Russia was contrary to the spirit of the alliance with Austria. Caprivi was the one who recommended to the kaiser that germany should persue a "peaceful, clear and loyal policy". However, most of the Kaiser and subsequent chancellor's moves seemed not to be of themselves overtly aggressive, unlike the French, who the same summer as Bismarck's fall sent their Chief of the General Staff, General Boisdeffre, to St. Petersburg. It is as if with Bismarcks fall "ears all over France pricked up, and those who had never ceased to hope for a reversal of the verdict of the Franco-Prussian War felt their pulses quicken", to quote Colonel Goodspeed
This is not the post-Bismarck Germany I know from Kissinger, Taylor, Kennedy and other writers.

"I don't agree with this. To paraphrase Colonel Goodspeed, France was in all material things weaker than Germany. Her population was smalled, her indulstry not as developed. Despite her grave military weaknesses, the French attempted to explain away earlier defeats; victory was not always to the strong, the French spirit would triumph over all disadvantages. A "semimystical quality developed in the French military, bound up with the idea of revenge and the recovery of lost provinces". From my research I agree with this. "

This is IMO confusing different things and extrapolating far too much. What you describe is the spirit of "cran" that was indeed cultivated by the French military before the war. But obviously, French foreign policy was not run on this basis.

"Incorrect. The German army was some 761, 000; the French army some 790, 000. Also of note; Russian (2,300,000), Austrian (500,000), and Italian (400,000). I'm not going to bother to post English, but it should be mentioned that they were the best trained of them all, with their seven year minium service"

OK, there seems to be some conflicting sources here. I'll hold off that one.
Britian was incredibly threatened by the actions of the others. A continental power was the last thing she wanted; and she had more in common with Germany than France. It was some unfortunately political mistakes of the Kaiser that forced England into an alliance with France, countries which hated each other. That political mistake is of course the telegram to President Kruger of the Boers.
Again, this is much too simple. You can't explain English entry into the war against Germany largely by the Kruger telegram and a couple of other unfortunate mistakes. The Anglo-German relations are much more fundamentally complicated than that.

My point with Britain not being threatened like the continental powers was perhaps more limited than you assume. I simply meant that unlike the others, she was not immediately threatened if she fell a week behind in mobilisation, and that there were no armies masing on her border. Thus, Britain did not face the restraints that impinged on the other powers in their handling of the actual political crisis. In a more general sense, Britain was of course threatened by an impending European general war.

As always, an interesting discussion this!

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Post by Beowulf » 05 Mar 2003 10:55

The Kruger telegram was relatively insignificant by the time 1914 came around.. good grief, Britain and Germany were in alliance talks for a couple of years there after the telegram was sent, and during the Boer War proper, William pretty much kept his mouth shut. I think most people in England with half a brain knew that the Kaiser was not all-powerful, and that he had an unfortunate way of putting his foot in his mouth, but he loved England and certainly loved his dear Grandmama Victoria. By 1914, William had kept the peace for his entire reign of 26 years.

Holstein had a different view of course, and probably accurate in its own right, that the Kruger telegram was the beginning of a string of faux pas, threats, sword rattling, and so forth, which alienated Britain from Germany bit by bit over the years. He should know, though.. Holstein himself was the architect of this foreign policy (a point he does not care to dwell upon). Bülow helped quite a bit, with the mess, too. Without these two schemers, the British would probably have been quite forgiving of William's big mouth. After all, when it came down to it, William loved England, and it showed.

What I think really drove the wedge was the Algeciras conference. This bit of heavy-handed bullying did not sit well with Britain at all. It really drove the British and French together.

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