" The ignoble clown! Vile dog's excrement! England alone bears the responsibility for war or peace and it is no longer we! This must be proved publicly!.”
– Kaiser Willem II, 1914
" "The Allied and Associated Governments affirm, and Germany accepts, the responsibility of Germany and her Allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associate Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of a war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her Allies.".”
– Article 231, “War Guilt Clause,” Treaty of Versailles, 1919
INTRODUCTION: Arguably, the Great War of 1914 to 1918 was the most cataclysmic event of the twentieth century. It was responsible for the destruction of four world empires, and the rise of a new global power – the United States. The conflict spawned fascist dictatorships, communist revolution, a world wide economic collapse in the 1930s, and ultimately, a second, more destructive world war. Little wonder that the generation who fought in the first world war of the modern age thought of themselves as the “lost generation.” It changed humanity’s unquestioned belief in progress, demonstrated the destructive capacity of modern technology and completely transformed social values. At the end of it all, Germany was blamed for causing the war and forced to compensate Europe for its losses – a circumstance that left the German people embittered by the 1930s and ready to support a aggressive Nazi regime. In this way, and in others then, the origins of the First World War are linked to the causes of the second and the debate among diplomats and historians concerning responsibility for the war’s outbreak has raged continually since 1914.
The important historical questions to ask are why did the war occur and who was responsible? Was one nation and its policy makers responsible for the onset of this destructive conflict? Was the verdict reached at the Versailles Conference in 1919 a “fair and just” peace?
Carefully read the enclosed documents and sources, and answer the questions that accompany them.
Consider the DISC question as you read, then collect evidence on the Data Collection Chart in support of a position you think is best supported by historical evidence.
Come prepared to debate and discuss the question in class and then write your final conclusion on this issue after considering different perspectives.
MAP: Europe in 1914
Extract from: Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (the German Imperial Chancellor) appeared before the Reichstag on August 4, 1914, just after the German invasion of Belgium, to define the German war position.
A stupendous fate is breaking over Europe. For forty-four years, since the time we fought for and won the German Empire and our position in the world, we have lived in peace and have protected the peace of Europe. In the works of peace we have become strong and powerful, and have thus aroused the envy of others. With patience we have faced the fact that, under the pretense that Germany was desirous of war, enmity has been awakened against us in the East and the West, and chains have been fashioned for us. The wind then sown has brought forth the whirlwind which has now broken loose. We wished to continue our work of peace, and, like a silent vow, the feeling that animated everyone from the Emperor down to the youngest soldier was this: Only in defense of a just cause shall our sword fly from its scabbard. The day has now come when we must draw it, against our wish, and in spite of our sincere endeavors. Russia has set fire to the building. We are at war with Russia and France -- a war that has been forced upon us…
On whom does the German Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg place blame for the onset of the continental war?
Extract from: Daily Mirror (newspaper), The Declaration of War, published 4 August 1914 in London.
It would seem as if Germany, in her ambition to control the destiny of the whole of Europe, were ready to embark on any grandiose scheme of adventure, however precarious her chances.
At the present time Germany is in a state of war with: Great Britain, Russia, France and Belgium. So far as Great Britain is concerned, her attitude has always been plain, straightforward and perfectly intelligible. She was prepared to stand aside from the conflict that has now involved practically the whole of Europe.
But she insisted and had to insist on two things: these were that Belgium's neutrality should be respected; and that the German fleet should not bombard defenceless French towns. Germany tried to bribe us with peace to desert our friends and duty. But Great Britain has preferred the path of honour.
Whose perspective is captured in Source B? How does this source differ from Bethmann-Hollweg in Source A?
Extract from: Poincaré's (French president) War Message, Paris, August 5, 1914.
GENTLEMEN: France has just been the object of a violent and premeditated attack, which is an insolent defiance of the law of nations. Before any declaration of war had been sent to us, even before the German Ambassador had asked for his passports, our territory has been violated. The German Empire has waited till yesterday evening to give at this late stage the true name to a state of things which it had already created.
For more than forty years the French, in sincere love of peace, have buried at the bottom of their heart the desire for legitimate reparation.They have given to the world the example of a great nation which, definitely raised from defeat by the exercise of will, patience, and labour, has only used its renewed and rejuvenated strength in the interest of progress and for the good of humanity.
Since the ultimatum of Austria opened a crisis which threatened the whole of Europe, France has persisted in following and in recommending on all sides a policy of prudence, wisdom, and moderation.
To her there can be imputed no act, no movement, no word, which has not been peaceful and conciliatory.
At the hour when the struggle is beginning, she has the right, in justice to herself, of solemnly declaring that she has made, up to the last moment, supreme efforts to avert the war now about to break out, the crushing responsibility for which the German Empire will have to bear before history. (Unanimous and repeated applause.) . . . Our fine and courageous army, which France today accompanies with her maternal thought (loud applause) has risen eager to defend the honour of the flag and the soil of the country. (Unanimous and repeated applause.)
The President of the Republic interpreting the unanimous feeling of the country, expresses to our troops by land and sea the admiration and confidence of every Frenchman (loud and prolonged applause).
Closely united in a common feeling, the nation will persevere with the cool self-restraint of which, since the beginning of the crisis, she has given daily proof. Now, as always, she will know how to harmonise the most noble daring and most ardent enthusiasm with that self-control which is the sign of enduring energy and is the best guarantee of victory (applause).
In the war which is beginning, France will have Right on her side, the eternal power of which cannot with impunity be disregarded by nations any more than by individuals (loud and unanimous applause).
She will be heroically defended by all her sons; nothing will break their sacred union before the enemy; today they are joined together as brothers in a common indignation against the aggressor, and in a common patriotic faith (loud and prolonged applause and cries of 'Vive la France') .
She is faithfully helped by Russia, her ally (loud and unanimous applause); she is supported by the loyal friendship of Great Britain (loud and unanimous applause).
And already from every part of the civilised world sympathy and good wishes are coming to her. For today once again she stands before the universe for Liberty, Justice, and Reason (loud and repeated applause)
'Haut les coeurs et vive la France!' (unanimous and prolonged applause).
According to the French President, why has this war started?
Extract from: V. R. Berghahn, Imperial Germany, 1871-1914 (1994). By looking at Germany’s society, politics and economy, the author holds Germany primarily responsible for World War One.
In the afternoon of August 1, 1914, when the German ultimatum to Russia to revoke the Tsarist mobilization order of the previous day had expired, Wilhelm II [German kaiser] telephoned [Chief of the General Staff Helmuth] von Moltke, [Reich Chancellor Theobold von] Bethmann Hollweg, [Admiral Alfred von] Tirpitz, and [War Minister Erich von] Falkenhayn to come without delay to the Imperial Palace to witness the Kaiser’s signing of the German mobilization order that was to activate the Schlieffen Plan and the German invasion of Luxemburg, Belgium and France. It was a decision that made war inevitable…
…it was the men gathered at the Imperial Palace in Berlin who pushed Europe over the brink. These men during the week prior to August 1 had, together with the “hawks” in Vienna, deliberately exacerbated the crisis, although they were in the best position to de-escalate and defuse it. There is also a broad concensus that during that crucial week that major conflicts occurred between the civilian leadership in Berlin around Bethmann Hollweg, who was still looking for diplomatic ways out of the impasse, and the military leadership around Moltke, who now pushed for a violent settling of accounts with the Triple Entente…
…Uncertain of Berlin’s response, Franz Joseph [Austria’s emperor] sent Count Alexander von Hoyos to see the German Kaiser, who then issued his notorious “Blank Cheque.” With it the Reich government [German] gave its unconditional support to whatever action Vienna [Austria] would decide to take against Belgrade [Serbia… What did Wilhelm II and his advisors expect to be the consequences of such an action? Was it merely the pretext for starting a major war? Or did Berlin hope that the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia would remain limited? The trouble with answering is that we do not possess a first hand account of the Kaiser’s “blank cheque” meeting with Hoyos and of the monarch’s words and assumptions on that occasion…
…That Moltke, clearly a key player in any German planning, had… approved of the localization strategy [the plan to encourage Austria-Hungary to attack and attempt to humiliate the Serbians in a short conflict similar to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866] is evidenced by his comment: “Austria must beat the Serbs and then make peace quickly, demanding an Austro-Serbian alliance as the sole condition. Just as Prussia did with Austria in 1866.”
If in the face of this evidence, we accept that Berlin adopted a limited war strategy at the beginning of July which turned out later on to have been badly miscalculated, the next question to be answered is: Why did the Kaiser and his advisors fall for the “illusion of a limited war”? To understand this and the pressures on them to take action, we must consider the deep pesimism by which they had become affected… The sense of crisis in the final years was most tangible in the field of foreign policy. The monarch and his civilian and military advisors along with many others felt encircled by the Triple Entente. Over the years and certainly after the conclusion of the Franco-British Entente Cordiale in 1904 and the Anglo-Russian Accord of 1907 they had convinced themselves that Britain, France and Russia were bent on throttling the two Central Powers. While the Anglo-German naval arms race had gone in reverse due to Tirpitz’s inability to sustain it financially, the military competition on land reached new heights in 1913 after the ratification of massive army bills in Germany, France and Russia… What, in the eyes of Germany’s leadership, made the spector of a Russo-German trade war around 1916 so terrifying was this was also the time when the French and Russian rearmament programs would be completed. Not surprisingly, the realization added the powerful Army leadership to the ranks of German pessimists… Moltke [said to the Austrian military leadership in March 1914], to wait any longer [means] diminishing our chances; [for] as far as manpower is concerned, one cannot enter into a competition with Russia.”
…However serious Germany’s international situation may have been, the Reich Chancellor and his colleagues were no less aware of the simultaneous difficulties on the domestic front. Surveying the Prusso-German political system in early 1914, it was impossible to avoid the impression that it was out of joint. The Kaiser’s prestige was rapidly evaporating… The government was unable to forge lasting alliances and compromises with the parties of the Right [conservatives] and the centre [moderates] – the only political forces that a monarchial Reich Chancellor could contemplate as potential partners for the passage of legislation. Meanhwhile the “revolutionary” Social Democrats were on the rise and had become the largest party in the Reichstag [German parliament]… [There was an expectation] that a war would result in Germany’s and Austria-Hungary’s domestic situation. The question was, what kind of war would achieve this objective? From all we know and have said about the early response to the assassinations of Sarajevo, this was not the moment to unleash a world war with uncalculable risks. The conservatives in Berlin and Vienna were not that extremist. They expected that war would lead to a major breakthrough in the Balkans and would stabilize the Austria-Hungarian Empire against Serb nationalism…
And so the Kaiser and his advisors encouraged Vienna to launch a limited war in the Balkans. Their expectations that the war would remain limited turned out to be completely wrong. The Kaiser and his entourage, who under the Reich Constitution at that brief moment held the fate of millions in their hands, were not prepared to beat a retreat to avoid a world war. The consequences of total war and the turmoil it caused in all spheres of life were enormous. The world had been turned upside down.
What evidence does Berghahn offer to support his position that Germany was responsible for the onset of the First World War?
Extract from: Samuel R. Williamson, “The Origins of the War” (1998).
The deaths of Franz Ferdinand and Spohie stunned the Hapsburg [Austrian] leadership. While there were only modest public shows of sympathy, limited by the [royal] court’s calculation to play down the funeral, all of the senior leaders wanted some action against Belgrade. None doubted that Serbia bore responsibility for the attacks… The most aggressive of the Hapsburg leaders, indeed the single individual probably most responsibel for the the war in 1914, was General Franz Conrad von H’otzendorf, chief of the Austro-Hungarian general staff. In the previous crises [Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913] he had called for war against Serbia more than fifty times…
The Hapsburg resolve intensified from with reports from Sarajevo that indicated that the trail of conspiracy did indeed lead back to at least one minor official in Belgrade. While the evidence in 1914 never constituted a “smoking gun,” the officials correctly surmised that the Serbian government must have tolerated and possibly assisted in the planning of the deed. Given this evidence, the Hapsburg leaders soon focused on three options: a severe diplomatic humiliation of Serbia; quick decisive military action against Serbia; or an ultimatum that, if rejected, would be followed by military action…
Germany’s decision of 5-6 July to assure full support to Vienna ranks among the most discussed issues in modern European history. A strong belligerant German response came as no surprise… However explained, the German leadership reached a concensus: it would support Vienna in a showdown with Serbia. Thus the German Kaiser and chancellor gave formal assurances (the so-called “blank cheque”) to Vienna. From that moment, Austria-Hungary proceeded to exploit this decision and march toward war with Serbia. Berlin would find itself – for better or for worse – at the mercy of its reliable ally as the next stages of the crisis unfolded.
…Then as instructed, at 6 p.m. on 23 July Wladimir Giesl, the Hapsburg minister in Belgrade, delivered the ultimatum to the Serbian foreign minister… News of the Hapsburg ultimatum struck Europe with as much force as the Sarajevo murders. If the public did not immediately recognize the dangers to the peace, the European diplomats (and their military and naval associates) did. The most significant, immediate, and dangerous response came not from the Germans, but from the Russians. Upon learning of the ultimatum, [Russian] Foreign Minister Serge Sazonov declared war inevitable. His actions thereafter did much to ensure a general European war… At Sazonov’s urgings [the Russian Tsar and leadership council agreed] to initiate various military measures preparing for partial or full mobilization. The Council agreed further to partial mobilization as a possible deterant to stop Austria-Hungary from attacking the Serbs. These Russian military measures were among the very first of the entire July crisis; their impact would be profound… Not surprisingly, the Russian actions were interpreted by German military intelligence as tantamount to some form of mobilization. No other actions in the crisis, beyond Vienna’s resolute determination for war, were so provocative or disturbing as Russia’s preliminary steps of enhanced border security and the recall of certain troops… By 28 July Sazonov had concluded that partial mobilization against Austria-Hungary would never deter Vienna. Indeed his own generals argued that a partial step would complicate a general mobilization. Sazonov therefore got the generals’ support for full mobilization. He then won the Tsar’s approval only to see Nicolas II hesitate after receiving a message from his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II. The so-called “Willy-Nicky Telegrams” came to nothing however. On 30 July the Tsar ordered general mobilization, with a clear recognition that Germany would probably respond and that a German attack would be aimed at Russia’s French ally.
… In each country the war plans contained elaborate mobilization schedules which the generals wanted to put into action at the earliest possible moment. While mobilization raised the risks of war, in only two cases did it absolutely guarantee a generalized engagement: (1) if Russia mobilized, Germany would do so and move at once to attack Belgium and France; (2) if Germany mobilized without Russian provocation, the results were the same. Any full Russian mobilization would trigger a complete German response and, for Germany, mobilization meant war. Very few, if any, civilian leaders fully comprehended these fateful interconnections and even the military planners were uncertain about them…
The legacy of Germany’s bombastic behaviour…after 1898, also meant that Berlin was thoroughly mistrusted. Its behaviour introduced fear into the international system, since only for Germany did mobilization equal war. Ironically, and not all historians agree, the German policy in 1914 may have been less provocative than earlier [such as during the Moroccan Crises in 1905 and 1911]. But that summer Berlin paid the price for its earlier agressiveness.
Serbia allowed a terrorist act to proceed, then sought to evade the consequences of its action. It would gain, after 1918, the most from the war with the creation of the Yugoslav state. Paradoxically, however, the very ethic rivalries that brought Austria-Hungary to collapse would also plague the new state…
Germany believed that it must support its Danubian ally [Austria-Hungary]. This in turn influenced Berlin’s position towards Russia and France. Without German backing, Vienna would probably have hesitated to been more conciliatory toward Belgrade. But, anxious to the support Vienna and possibly detatch Russia from the Triple Entente, Berlin would risk a continental war to achieve its short and long-term objectives. Berlin and Vienna bear more responsibility for starting the crisis and making it very hard to control.
Nevertheless, the Russians must also share some significant responsibility for the final outcome. St. Petersburg’s unwavering support of Serbia, its unwillingness to negotiate with Berlin and Vienna, and then its [mobilization] escalated the crisis beyond control. Russia’s general mobilization on 30 July guaranteed disaster… In July 1914 one or two key decisions taken differently might well have seen the war averted. As it was, the July Crisis became a model of escalation and [unpurposeful] consequences. The expectation of a short war, the ideology of offensive warfare, and continuing faith in war as an instrument of policy: all would soon prove illusory and wishful…
How does the author of Source E differ from Source D?
Extract from: Sidney B. Fay, “The Origins of the World War (1930). The author was educated in Germany and wrote about the history of Prussia. This excerpt is from a classic example of revisionist history – one that sought to reverse the popular view during the interwar period that Germany was primarily responsible.
… Nevertheless, a European War broke out. Why? Because in each country political and military did certain things which led to mobilizations and declarations of war, or failed to do certain things which might have prevented them. In this sense, all the European countries, in a greater or less degree, were responsible. One must abandon the dictum of the Versailles Treaty that Germany and her allies were solely responsible. It was a dictum exacted by victors from vanquished, under the influence of the blindness, ignorance, hatred, and the propagandist misconceptions to which war had given rise. It was based on evidence which was incomplete and not always sound. It is generally recognized by the best historical scholars in all countries to be no longer tenable or defensible. They are agreed that the responsibility for the War is a divided responsibility. But they still disagree very much as to the relative part of this responsibility that falls on each country and on each individual political or military leader.
Serbia felt a natural and justifiable impulse to do what so many other countries had done in the nineteenth century-to bring under one national Government all the discontented Serb people. She had liberated those under Turkish rule; the next step was to liberate those under Hapsburg rule. She looked to Russia for assistance, and had been encouraged to expect that she would receive it. After the assassination, Mr. Pashitch [Serbian leader] took no steps to dish cover and bring to justice Serbians in Belgrade who had been implicated in the plot… That Mr. Pashitch was aware of the plot three weeks before it was executed, failed to take effective steps to prevent the assassins from crossing over from Serbia to Bosnia, and then failed to give Austria any warning or information which might have averted the fatal crime, were facts unknown to Austria in July, 1914; they cannot therefore be regarded as in any way justifying Austria's conduct; but they are part of Serbia's responsibility, and a very serious part.
Austria was more responsible for the immediate origin of the war than any other Power. Yet from her own point of view she was acting in self-defence - not against an immediate military attack, but against the corroding Greater Serbia and Yugoslav agitation which her leaders believed threatened her very existence. No State can be expected to sit with folded arms and await dismemberment at the hands of its neighbours. Russia was believed to be intriguing with Serbia and Rumania against the Dual Monarchy. The assassination of the heir to the throne, as a result of a plot prepared in Belgrade, demanded severe retribution; otherwise Austria would be regarded as incapable of action, "worm-eaten" as the Serbian Press expressed it, would sink in prestige, and hasten her own downfall. To avert this Berchtold [Austria’s minister of foreign affairs] determined to crush Serbia with war. He deliberately framed the ultimatum with the expectation and hope that it would be rejected…
Germany did not plot a European War, did not want one, and made genuine, though too belated efforts, to avert one. She was the victim of her alliance with Austria and of her own folly. Austria was her only dependable ally, Italy and Rumania having become nothing but allies in name. She could not throw her over, as otherwise she would stand isolated between Russia, where Pan-slavism and armaments were growing stronger every year, and France, where Alsace-Lorraine, Delcasse's fall, and Agadir [the Moroccan Crises of 1905 and 1911] were not forgotten. Therefore, Bethmann [Germany’s Chancellor] felt bound to accede to Berchtold's request for support and gave him a free hand to deal with Serbia; he also hoped and expected to "localize" the Austro-Serbian conflict. Germany then gave grounds to the Entente for suspecting the sincerity of her peaceful intentions by her denial of any foreknowledge of the ultimatum, by her support and justification of it when it was published, and by her refusal of Sir Edward Grey's conference proposal. However, Germany by no means had Austria so completely under her thumb as the Entente Powers and many writers have assumed…
Germany's geographical position between France and Russia, and her inferiority in number of troops, had made necessary the plan of crushing the French army quickly at first and then fuming against Russia. This was only possible, in the opinion of her strategists, by marching through Belgium, as it was generally anticipated by military men that she would do in case of a European War. On July 29, after Austria had declared war on Serbia, and after the Tsar had assented to general mobilization in Russia (though this was not known in Berlin and was later postponed for a day owing to the Kaiser's telegram to the Tsar), Bethman took the precaution of sending to the German Minister in Brussels a sealed envelope. The Minister was not to open it except on further instructions. It contained the later demand for the passage of the German army through Belgium. This does not mean, however, that Germany had decided for war. In fact, Bethmann was one of the last of the statesmen to abandon hope of peace and to consent to the mobilization of his country's army. General mobilization of the continental armies rook place in the following order: Serbia, Russia, Austria, France and Germany. General mobilization by a Great Power was commonly interpreted by military men in every country, though perhaps not by Sir Edward Grey, the Tsar, and some civilian officials, as meaning that the country was on the point of making war-that the military machine had begun to move and would not be stopped. Hence, when Germany reamed of the Russian general mobilization, she sent ultimatums to St. Petersburg and Paris, warning that German mobilization would follow unless Russia suspended hers within twelve hours, and asking what would be the attitude of France. The answers being unsatisfactory, Germany then mobilized and declared war. It was the hasty Russian general mobilization, assented to on July 29 and ordered on July 30, while Germany was still trying to bring Austria to accept mediation proposals, which finally rendered the European War inevitable.
Russia was partly responsible for the Austro-Serbian conflict because of the frequent encouragement which she had given at Belgrade-that Serbian national unity would be ultimately achieved with Russian assistance at Austrian expense. This had led the Belgrade Cabinet to hope for Russian support in case of a war with Austria, and the hope did not prove vain in July, 1914. Before this, to be sure, in the Bosnian Crisis and during the Balkan Wars, Russia had put restraint upon Serbia, because Russia, exhausted by the effects of the Russo-Japanese War, was not yet ready for a European struggle with [Germany and Austria-Hungary]. But in 1914, her armaments, though not yet completed, had made such progress that the militarists were confident of success, if they had French and British support… Russia's responsibility lay also in the secret preparatory military measures which she was making at the same time that she was carrying on diplomatic negotiations. These alarmed Germany and Austria. But it was primarily Russia's general mobilization, made when German, was trying to bring Austria to a settlement, which precipitated the final catastrophe, causing Germany to mobilize and declare war.
The part of France is less clear than that of the other Great Powers, because she has not yet made a full publication of her documents. To be sure, Poincaré, in the fourth volume of his memoirs, has made a skilful and elaborate plea, to prove "La France innocents." But he is not convincing. It is quite clear that on his visit to Russia he assured the Tsar's Government that France would support her as an ally in preventing Austria from humiliating or crushing Serbia…
Sir Edward Greg made many sincere proposals for preserving peace; they all failed owing partly, but not exclusively to Germany's attitude. Sir Edward could probably have prevented war if he had done either of too things: If, early in the crisis, he had acceded to the urging of France and Russia and given a strong warning to Germany that, in a European war, England would take the side of the Franco-Russian Alliance, this would probably have led Bethmann to exert an earlier and more effective pressure on Austria; and it would perhaps thereby have prevented the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia, and brought to a successful issue the "direct conversations" between Vienna and St. Petersburg. Or, if Sir Edward Grey had listened to German urging, and warned France and Russia early in the crisis that if they became involved in war, England would remain neutral, probably Russia would have hesitated with her mobilizations, and France would probably have exerted a restraining influence at St. Petersburg. But Sir Edward Grey could not say that England would take the side of France and Russia, because he had a Cabinet nearly evenly divided, and he was not sure, early in the crisis, that public opinion in England would back him up in war against Germany. He could resign, and he says in his memoirs that he would have resigned, but that would have been no comfort or aid to France, who had come confidently to count upon British support. He was determined to say and do nothing which might encourage her with a hope which he could not fulfil. Therefore, in spite of the pleadings of the French, he refused to give them definite assurances until the probable German determination to go through Belgium… Though the German violation of Belgium was of enormous influence in forming public opinion as to the responsibility for the War after hostilities began, it was not a cause of the War, except in so far as it made it easier for Sir Edward Grey to bring England into it.
In the forty years following the Franco-Prussian War, as we have seen, there developed a system of alliances which divided Europe into two hostile groups. This hostility was accentuated by the increase of armaments, economic rivalry, nationalist ambitions and antagonisms, and newspaper incitement. But it is very doubtful whether all these dangerous tendencies would have actually led to war, had it not been for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. That was the factor which consolidated the elements of hostility and started the rapid and complicated succession of events which culminated in a World War, and for that factor Serbian nationalism was primarily responsible.
But the verdict of the Versailles Treaty that Germany and her allies were responsible for the War, in view of the evidence now available, is historically unsound. It should therefore be revised. However, because of the popular feeling widespread in some of the Entente countries, it is doubtful whether a formal and legal revision is as yet practicable. There must first come a further revision by historical scholars, and through them of public opinion
Who does Sidney B. Fay believe is primarily responsible for the war? Why?
Extract from: Lawrence Lafore, The Long Fuse: An Interpretation of the Origins of World War I (1965). The author is an American historian who also worked for the State Department and the Office of War Information for the United States during World War II.
… it has been frequently said by both sides that a clearer stand by Sir Edward Grey [Britain’s Foreign Secretary] would have saved the peace. If the Germans had been told, early and with conviction, that Britain would take part in the war, they would very probably have averted instead of encouraging the Austrian ultimatum [to Serbia] and declaration of war. There is strong evidence for this; some Germans have even taken the weird moral stand that Grey was responsible for starting the war because if he had made his position clear the Germans would never have permitted it to start. The ethics of this argument are not convincing, but the facts are. A less fastidious [hard to please], conciliatory [peace making] and correct statesman [than Grey] might have acted more effectively. A modest measure of deceit, such as many diplomats regard as a proper tool for their trade, would have permitted him to make much stronger representations much sooner than he did. No absolute commitment was necessary, … he could have told Berlin that Great Britain did regard the Austro-Serbian problem as of European and British concern and that if war broke out Great Britain would almost certainly take part in it on the allied side…
Extract from: German Kaiser Willem II’s response to a dispatch from the German ambassador at London (July 29, 1914).
If, instead of mediation an urgent necessity, there should be a warning to St. Petersburg and Paris to the effect that England would not help them, it would immediately calm matters. England uncovers herself, now that she thinks us chasing scarecrows and that our fate is, so tospeak, sealed. The vile rabble of shopkeepers [England] ought to deceive us by means of dinner and speeches. The grossest deceit lay in the words addressed to me by the King through Henry: "We shall remain neutral and try to keep out of this as long as possible.” …At the same time, it is a threat combined with a bluff for detaching us from Austria, preventing mobilization, and throwing back upon us the responsibility for war. He [the British foreign minister Edward Grey] knows quite well that if he said one single word in earnest and energetically to Paris and St. Petersburg and invited them to be neutral, both would instantly be quiet. But, instead of this, he threatensus! The ignoble clown! Vile dog's excrement! England alone bears the responsibility for war or peace and it is no longer we! This must be proved publicly!
Extract from: Franz Fischer, Germany’s War Aims in the First World War (1961). Partly because he was German, Fischer’s thesis is one of the most controversial.
…The official documents afford ample proof that during the July crisis the Emperor [Kaiser], the German military leaders and Foreign Ministry were pressing Austria-Hungary to strike against Serbia without delay, or alternatively agreed to the dispatch of an ultimatum to Serbia couched in such sharp terms as to make war between the two countries more than probable, and in doing so they deliberately took the risk of a continental war against Russia and France… The July crisis must not be regarded in isolation. It appears in its true light only when seen as a link between Germany’s “world policy,” as followed since the mid-1890s, and her war aims policy after August 1914.
Is Fischer’s argument supported by any of the other sources? How?
NAME: _________________________ BLOCK: _____ DATE: _____________________ DATA COLLECTION CHART:To be completed before the discussion/debate.
D.I.S.C. QUESTION: Of all the European belligerents in 1914, was Germany most responsible for the onset of the Great War?
Source / Author
Evidence & INTERPRETATION
Collect and list points from the sources that may help formulate a position on this question. Use quotes, paraphrases and explanations or descriptions of the sources to strengthen your argument and to refer to during our class debate and discussion.
CONCLUSION:To be completed after the discussion/debate.
After considering the evidence presented in the sources, answer the discussion question in a well-reasoned response that draws from the sources to support your position.
Of all the European belligerents in 1914, was Germany