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09/08/2019

“Germany must bear the ultimate responsibilty for the outbreak of the First World War.”?

QUESTION
“Germany must bear the ultimate responsibilty for the outbreak of the First World War.”?
How valid is this assertion?

I have to do an essay on this but i am slightly confused as to what to write about. Help please?

ANSWER
I don’t think a serious historian or political scientist would go for that simplistic answer. I do think that Germany is perhaps the primary focus of the conflict, or at least one of the most important.

However, it is very difficult to pin actual _blame_ or _responsibility_ on Germany considering that all the countries in Europe had been fighting each other almost perpetually since the 1500s. Furthermore, the makeshift alliances created during these conflicts were based on political rather than moral principles (despite the propaganda) so that countries could switch between being allies and enemies repeatedly often in short periods of time.

Just take a look at this list of wars in Europe leading up to WW1 (this does not include ALL of the European wars obviously):

> The Great Game of 1813-1907 was a series of diplomatic crisis, covert operations and sometimes small scale military intervention between the Russians and the British in Central Asia, primarily Afghanistan, Tibet, India, Pakistan and surrounding regions.

> First Schleswig War of 1848-1851 involving Prussia vs. Denmark and Sweden.

> First Italian War of Independence in 1848 involving some Italian states vs. Austria.

> The Crimean War of 1853-56 involving the French, British and Turks against the Russians. The allies won. Result was a weakening of Russia’s international position and power.

> Second Italian War of Independence in 1859 involving the Italians vs. Austria.

> Second Schleswig War of 1864 involving Prussia and Austria vs. Denmark.

> The Austro-Prussian War of 1862 in a face-off between Prussia and Austria for German Hegemony. Prussia won and gained German hegemony.

> The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 involving Prussia and allies against the French under Napoleon III. The Prussians won. Result was the formation of Germany.

> Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 involving Russia and Balkan Allies against Ottoman Turks. Russians won. Balkans were partitioned further and Ottoman Turks position was further reduced in the Balkans (Bulgaria, Rumania, Serbia, etc.). This led to a vacuum and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia each attempting to control this area. In 1914 a Serbian nationalist would assassinate Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which created the diplomatic crises leading to WW1.

> Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 involving Russia against the Japanese. Japan won, resulting in an even further weakening of Russia’s power and international position.

In less than 70 years leading up to WW1 you see fighting occurred almost every single year, and just look how often everyone switched sides. Austria and Prussia fought each other in 1866 but were close allies by 1914. The British and French fought against the Russians in Crimean War where they were allies with the Ottoman Empire in the 1850s, but by WW1 the English and French were now allies with Russia and France against Turkey.

If you go back further the situation becomes even more absurd. For example France and Britain were mortal enemies fighting almost non-stop during the two centuries before the WW1 and Britain relied repeatedly on assistance from the German states, especially Prussia. Russia had defeated Napoleon and France in 1815, capturing Paris but in 1914 Russia and France were close allies.

The situation is so chaotic you really can’t make sense of it until you understand the “European Balance of Power” that was occurring at the time. Essentially the “Balance of Power” was an informal mechanism, sort of like Smith’s invisible hand, in which anytime a single European state became too powerful the other states would form bigger and bigger coalitions until the belligerent countries dominance was destroyed and a balance of power between several countries was restored.

Therefore I’ve always thought of Germany’s experience more like an analogy of where they lost a round of musical chairs than that they were some sort of evil empire. Politics involves a lot of calculated risks and sometimes outright gambling (and a lot of conflict) and there are real winners and losers. But it is probably more accurate to view it that way, as winners and losers, rather than a moral battle of right and wrong or good and evil.

Lastly, if you look at the results of the war can Germany really be called the loser? England and France had the biggest empires in the world and afterwards they were stripped of their empires and were bankrupted requiring billions of dollars in aid from the USA. Britain paid off their last WW2 loan in 2006. Germany always killed more enemy soldiers and caused more devastation to their enemies than was ever inflicted on themselves, furthermore they inflated away their war indemnities between the wars and now they stand as the strongest economy in Europe. Russia did gain but eventually collapsed. Austria went from a first class world power to a tiny country of a few million. Italy was shortly restored to its