Who Caused The Great War? Paper

2575 words - 11 pages

World War I, otherwise known as the Great War, was the first war that a significant sector of the globe was involved in, however in its initial stages was concentrated in the European region. A series of events and reasons set the stage for the origin of this war, caused by the actions of various countries and their policies. However, if the blame for the start of the First World War could be attributed to one specific country, Germany would be the nation most responsible for the outbreak of the war, even if they were not quite fully to blame for the entirety of the war. Because of their strategic alliances, their desire to be in a war in the first place with their foreign policies, and their initiation of several crises leading up to the war, Germany can be appropriated the most blame in starting the war among those who were first involved, even though other nations also played a minor role in the instigation of the war.The alliances Germany had formed, even decades prior to the outbreak of the war was one of the reasons why they were responsible for the outbreak of WWI. In 1882, Germany formed an alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy, known as the Triple Alliance. This alliance would later act as a bond which propelled the actions of the beginning of the war to the proportions it escalated into. Austria-Hungary, as the nation who declared war on Serbia on 28th July after the assassination of their Archduke Franz Ferdinand a month prior, made the first move in the chessboard that was to become the maneuvers that made up the events leading up to the outbreak of war. However, being the mere pawn that was Austria-Hungary, the Austro-Hungarians had no means of truly checkmating the opposing side, that is, conducting a full-blown war, without the support of a more powerful backing-in this case, the queen, Germany. However, on this chessboard of alliance systems, Germany felt it was under the uncomfortable situation of "diplomatic encirclement", from the Triple Entente. The Triple Entente, signed by Britain, France, and Russia in 1907, acted as a surrounding perimeter for Germany whose leader at the time, Kaiser William II, felt enclosed and possibly threatened by this new threat. This feeling of being threatened could have contributed to Germany's actions within their own alliances, demonstrating to the British and their allies that Germany was not to be dealt with lightly, and that they were a force to be reckoned with. This would explain Germany's strong support of Austria-Hungary during the pre-war months, as well as various other events in the years leading up to WWI. However, Germany was not the only side forming alliances with other nations to form rival blocs. The British, French, and Russians had signed an agreement known as the Triple Entente as a precaution against the growing threat of the Germans. Furthermore, Japan and Britain had signed a naval agreement in 1902, basically stating that Japan would act as Britain's patrol in the seas where the British could not be at all times. This further restricted the movements of the growing German navy, and hampered the views and policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II, which was the aim that was intended by the British. In this light, the British and their allies were equally to blame for the complication of the movements of the chess pieces and the final battle which led to the outbreak of war. Additionally, Germany could not necessarily be blamed most for WWI, as the Serbs and Austro-Hungarians also formed alliances which complicated matters away from the direct interference of the Germans. In 1881, the Austro-Serbian Alliance was signed between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, in order to prevent Russia gaining control of Serbia. However, in 1914, the Austro-Hungarians broke this alliance by directly declaring war on Serbia, which then forced Germany to be involved due to their alliance. In this light, it can be stated that Germany was acting in an honorable fashion in respecting their alliances whereas Austria-Hungary chose to act in an underhanded manner by disregarded prior agreements. Nevertheless, Germany was not forced to support Austria-Hungary in the manner that they did, as Germany provided Austria-Hungary with unqualified support of their actions on 5th July, known as the "blank cheque" provided by Kaiser Wilhelm. Also, the Triple Entente with Britain, France, and Russia was not strictly a military alliance that required military backing in times of crisis of one country; "entente" is defined as a 'friendly relationship' which merely states that the three nations were to cooperate together in their international relations. With Germany and its allies, the choice of name for their agreement was crucial in that it implied a military agreement, or alliance. In any case, analyzing the system of alliances in Europe at the time, it shows that Germany has a significant role in the outbreak of the war due to the intricacies of the alliances.The foreign policies of Germany were a major part in their deserving the responsibility for the outbreak of the war, especially as they had a desire to actually engage in a war. First of all, Kaiser William II decided to enforce a new policy in 1897 called "Westpolitik", or "world policy", which endorsed the idea of creating a large German colonial empire, to greatly increase their navy to surpass Britain's own, and to enforce foreign policy that would increase the power of Germany's monarchy. The language in which these goals were presented was highly "bold and confrontational", leading to increased tensions in European affairs, presenting the idea that Germany was intent on European, if not world domination. This sentiment is echoed by British "anti-revisionist" historian AJP Taylor, who in his book "The Struggle for Mastery in Europe", claimed that German ambition was responsible for the war. These articulated foreign policies meant that Germany would be eager for a large-scale war to occur in Europe-this would mean that if their rivals for colonial empires, Britain and France, were distracted and focused on a war in Europe, that would take away the attention from Germany attempting to establish colonies elsewhere and so decrease competition and possible military opposition from Britain and their allies. This 'plot' gave Germany every reason to encourage a war-however they would have only wanted a war localized in Europe, a sentiment which was expressed when Germany presented their blank cheque to Austria-Hungary: Kaiser William made it clear that he hoped that "such a war could remain localized", according to historian Frank McDonough. Germany's other actions also support the idea that they wished to begin a war in Europe with France and Britain so they could establish their own colonies. The Schlieffen Plan, drawn up by General von Schlieffen, was a military plan that was designed to attack France through Belgium, and then turn towards Russia. The implementation of this particular detailed military plan was the main reason that France and Britain became involved in the war. However, the main issue with this plan lies in the fact that it was drawn up in 1905, almost a decade before the outbreak of war, which demonstrates Germany's intricate detailing of plans for war. Drawing up military plans with no imminent war in sight, which were specifically targeted towards drawing France, Britain, and Russia into military combat certainly underscores the possibility that Germany truly wanted a war that would distract their opposition. Italian historian Luigi Albertini supports this view in his book "Origins of the War of 1914", claiming that the primary responsibility of the war lay in Germany's plans for mobilization . However, it must be noted that Britain and its allies also played a part in the outbreak of war with their own foreign policies, as they were both colonial imperialists. It can be argued that if Britain and Germany were to have their own colonies, evidenced by the "scramble for Africa" from 1890-1900, where 90% of African territory was under British, France, German, Italian and Belgian rule, then there should be no reason that Germany should not be allotted the same rights. Simply declaring that since Germany wished to have their own colonies and did not wish British and French interference and so were responsible for the war denies the fact that other European nations were in the same situation, and actually refused to give up colonies of their own, such as Britain with India. Furthermore, the articulated policies of increasing military strength was again reflected in the ideas of the opposing side, with Russia possessing the fastest-growing army at the time, and with Britain continuing to increase their navy. Therefore, it is very simplistic to state that because Germany wished to increase their influence, they were interested in causing a war and so deserve all the blame in its outbreak. Nevertheless, Germany's actions in events prior to the war, especially the creation of the Schlieffen plan, ordered by the politicos, was suspicious in that it neatly created the diversion necessary to accomplish many of Germany's expressed aims. Hence, Germany's foreign policy played a large role in their being the country weighted with the most blame for the outbreak of the war.Finally, Germany's role in many international events in the years and weeks before the outbreak of war was one of the main reasons why they should be held most responsible for WWI. A number of events demonstrated Germany's involvement in the increase of tensions among the European nations which eventually led to the breaking of tensions in the form of war. For example, the Moroccan Crises of 1905-06 and 1911 each had different outcomes for Germany but both presented a further reason that they were responsible for the war. In 1905, the Kaiser sailed into Tangier on a warship and demanded equal trading rights for the Germans as the French. This resulted in the French agreeing to a conference, with the German demands being yielded to, at least to an extent. This event displays the audacity of the Germans after a mere five years after declaring their policy of expanding their influence, having the impudence and boldness to sail with a battleship, an extremely risky move, into another country's harbor and make demands. Furthermore, the fact that they were given what they wanted increased their confidence in interfering with other affairs, as well as the fact that the English did not make a very enthusiastic showing at the side of the French, showing that the Franco-British alliance was not as strong as it could be. This encouraged the Germans in their later actions when the war was drawing near, as this experience gave them the idea that they could exert their superiority over their rivals without much opposition. However, the second Moroccan crisis, where another gunboat arrived demanding trade concessions, resulted in the French refusing to back down and the Germans receiving a consolation of a small piece of Congolese territory. This placed them in a position of humiliation, which instead of cowing them down, made them determined to avoid backing down in future crises, escalating their resolve to appear powerful to the rest of Europe. Moving to July of 1914, otherwise known as the July crisis, Germany's role was crucial in moving the events of the war. The blank cheque, already mentioned, followed by the ultimatum sent to the Russian government on the 31st demanding Russia stop mobilizing troops in support of Serbia, and on the 1st, Germany was the first indirectly involved country to declare war. These actions directly contributed to the outbreak of the war, as firstly without the German support, the Austro-Hungarians would have not confronted Serbia as they did, as they did not have the economic or military power to combat the Serbs. The Germans knew this, and so provided the blank cheque of assistance. Furthermore, the situation was escalated when Germany sent the ultimatum to Russia, as it meant the complying of Russia's demands to Germany's wishes, which they knew would never occur, and so provided Germany with an excuse to officially declare war with Russia and begin the war. However, on the other hand, the increase of international tension cannot solely be attributed to Germany, other events at the time, such as the Balkan wars and the Bosnian Crisis of 1908. The other nations in Europe also contributed to such tensions with their internal and international problems. Furthermore, the British public was also encouraging the start of a war, with declaration of building their naval army and declaring "We want 8, we won't wait!" in reference to the new navy ship being built by the British, the dreadnoughts. Also, when the Austria-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia on the23rd July, and the Serbs accepted all but one of the harsh stipulations, the entire European community was amazed at the cooperativeness of the Serbs with the Austro-Hungarians. Even Kaiser William II commented on the submissiveness of them, saying there was no way war would be waged because of the Serbian humbleness. Even with this missive from the Kaiser, still the Austro-Hungarians pursued in their quest for a war, which cannot be blamed on the Germans. In any case, Germany still played a massive role in the buildup to the Great War, especially with their choice of action escalating the entire situation after Austria-Hungary's decision to follow through with their campaign against the Serbian government.The events that caused the Great War were complicated and all intertwined, each having their own repercussions in the buildup as well as contributing on the whole to the situation in Europe. Germany's role in the prelude to the Great War was of utmost significance for the entire reason WWI broke out in the first place, even though other European nations also contributed to the start of the war; still, Germany can be apportioned the largest amount of blame for the outbreak, because of their position in the European network of alliances, their foreign policies aimed towards creating war, and their role in the events that prefaced the war. This blame for the war was again directed towards Germany after the war, where at the Versailles Conference Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty placed all the blame for the war upon Germany, known as the "guilt clause". In any case, Germany has been the most traditional and orthodox recipient of the title of most responsible for the war, and this view certainly has rational roots, sentiments echoed by historians such as Fischer, AJP Taylor and other notable historians. In the end, the Great War was one that took everyone involved in the war to continue it and expand to the proportions that it did, and that finally, it did not matter who began the war, but who chose to persist in it.Main Source: Conflict, Communism, and Fascism, by Frank McDonough

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