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World War 1: German Guilt. Essay

4221 words - 17 pages

IntroductionFew historical areas can have aroused as much debate as that of the origins and causes of WW1. The thousands of documents and eyewitness testimonies collated have allowed historians to construct exceedingly detailed illustrations of what happened in the days, months and years leading to the outbreak of war. Despite having researched, in many cases, identical material, there is no end of disagreement among historians as to who, or what, caused the war. Just some of the more plausible theories include apportioning the blame to Germany; Austria; Russia; Serbia; France; Britain; everybody (collective responsibility); nobody (accidental war) and Capitalism. It is difficult to believe but (perhaps unsurprisingly considering the historical talent involved) each case is stated with such conviction and sense that, in isolation, all appear essentially unquestionable. While some of the theories can be dismissed as fundamentally flawed, a more convincing reason is needed to explain the multitude of conflicting exegeses. The above suggests that, "on the one hand (WW1) was massively over-determined and on the other that no effort to analyse the causal factors involved can ever fully succeed.1" Most previous attempts have failed to procure a satisfactory answer because they have attempted to reduce the various contributing factors to some fundamental cause. This is riddled with problems, but there arises an even greater difficulty; every cause announced has itself got a cause, ad infinitum. Therefore, any effective account, while recognising the multitude of interwoven causes, must pick a cut-off point, where causes stop being causes and start being conditions. 'Long-range factors were part and parcel of the mood and the realities of early twentieth-century Europe. This was the world in which the nations and their leaders had to operate, and the truly significant question is how well they did so.2' I contend that the problem here is one of ambiguity; it is to be expected that people answering different questions will procure different answers. To this end, the heterogeneous affair will be hewn into separate strands; each analysed on its own merits; all with an eye to determining how much, if at all, Germany can be blamed for the advent of war. I shall conclude to the effect that while long-term causes, most notably the rise of Germany as a 'Weltmacht', left Europe destined for war, they should be seen as conditions, not causes. This leaves the shortsighted mobilisation plans (of Russia and Austria) and the actions of the great powers in the July Crisis as the more important, immediate causes of war. Bethmann-Hollweg and Moltke will be singled out as the men who most directly led to war. The evidence will show that Germany cannot be blamed for planning a war as such, but its leaders can be held culpable for their incompetence.Was War Inevitable?In short, yes. A culmination of many inveterate factors pointed directly toward armed conflict on a grand...

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