'The First World War arose primarily as a result of German aggression.' How far do you agree with this opinion? Use Sources 1, 2 and 3 and your own knowledge related to this controversy

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June 2013

‘The First World war arose primarily as a result of German aggression.’ 

How far do you agree with this opinion?

Although the war guilt clause in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles burdened Germany with the complete responsibility for starting WWI, German aggression cannot be held solely accountable for the outbreak of WWI, as implied by Sources 1, 2 and 3. In fact, as a result of the alliance systems and recent troubles in the Balkans; tensions across Europe had been simmering for quite some time prior to WWI. What is more, the increasing competition between Britain and Germany to drastically develop their navies indisputably made these countries more open to the prospect of war due to having such an advanced naval force. Indeed, the German War Council in 1912 and the annexation of Belgium in summer 1914 emphasises how Germany was acting aggressively; yet this alone cannot be considered the only reason why war transpired in July/August 1914.

Firstly, Sources 1 and 2 acknowledge the existence of German aggression in the run-up to war. Predominantly, Taylor in Source 1’s assertion that the German people had, ‘Trained themselves psychologically for aggression’ represents underlying aggressive behaviour from Germany. In fact, Taylor could be alluding to the 1912 War Council with regards to the psychological aggression in Germany. This Council involved the Kaiser discussing the possibility of war with Russia with his advisors, demonstrating how the intention of war and the preparation for such an eventuality had already existed for 2 years by 1914. Furthermore, Eckstein in Source 2 reiterates the responsibility of German aggression in starting war: ‘German power, whose time, it was felt, had come’. It is plausible that this ‘power’ highlighted by Eckstein refers to the German annexation of Belgium in summer 1914. Belgian neutrality had been guaranteed since the 1837 Treaty of London, therefore, it seems possible that Germany felt ‘grand’ enough (Source 2) to invade neutral Belgium in order to secure a victory over the French. This annexation reflects aggression from Germany and the key role it played in starting war. However, the subsequent British declaration of war after the Belgian invasion can also be seen as the main factor in provoking war as Britain had failed to ignore German actions. For this reason, German aggression contributed greatly to WWI transpiring, yet was not the only reason for its outbreak.

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Likewise, Sources 2 and 3 convey the fundamental role that the European alliances had in triggering WWI. Source 2 stresses the importance of ‘The aggressive designs of the hostile powers surrounding Germany’ making war more of a possibility due to the hostile nature of the alliances, notably the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia. In fact, the implications of Germany being surrounded geographically by the Entente Powers imply that Germany would be unable to avoid a conflict with such Powers; making this strict Triple Entente alliance mainly responsible for the descent into war. However, Howard in Source 3 ...

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