To what extent was the German government responsible for the outbreak of the First World War in 1914?

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History Coursework question on WW1

By Amardip Sidhu

Q- To what extent was the German government responsible for the outbreak of the First World War in 1914?

The First World War was the result of many complex ideas combined that kick-started the war in 1914. It can be justified that there were many different people and countries that all had a part to play in starting the war. However, a large extent of responsibility can be placed upon the German government & ideology in the long and short-term.

To analyse the uprising of long-term problems from the start, we can push back until the unification of a powerful German territory/country in 1871. The significance behind the formation of Germany lies as to what the people who gathered to create Germany all wanted from a modern country? Therefore, we need to focus on the major factors such motive and intentions. The motive and intentions behind this country came out to be a creation of German-speaking people in a rich and powerful country, meanwhile, attempting to prevent war. This seemed a difficult task considering that the present superpowers of the world were near enough settled and rid of tensions at that time.

We can see that German ideology ran through high status government individuals, e.g. “Welt Politik”- World Politics (Caprivi, new Chancellor after Bismarck), “Social Darwinism”- survival of the fittest, Europeans are the most advanced and can march into any country and take over (Hitler believed in it) and “Imperialism”- wanting to create an empire. As we can see, theories like these were likely to cause disruption amongst other countries and seemed quite physical in terms of needing a powerful army to achieve them. Germany’s aims were to keep peace and that could be done by not unsettling the present superpowers (Britain, France, Russia and Austria-Hungary-A-H) Consequently, and some could say inevitably, this created the first sense of “paranoia” (a key feature which we will come to see) that other countries will feel threatened by the sudden ambitions of Germany.

From this point forward, the other countries were encountering a first-time experience on a newly formed country wanting to progress into their “rankings”. Germany, whose top priorities were to develop, Nationalism, Imperialism, Militarism and Capitalism may not have realized it but they were sure to unsettle the balance of power/friction if they continued and succeeded with their aims.

As Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg said in 1914 in defense of his defeated Germany, “once the dice were set rolling, nothing could stop them.” However, if by looking back all the way it can be said, the unintentional motives and intentions of Germany in 1871 set the dices rolling without taking a cautious approach and looking at their aims from a wider consideration. (I.e. effects on other powers.)

Following on from Germany’s enthusiastic or fearful arrival meant that Germany’s actions which involved strengthening the government physically or economically in any way, would be seen as an attempt to achieve dominance. This is exactly what occurred. Germany’s industrialization was rapidly increased and this too benefited the economy. It was then only second to the U.S. in terms of industrialization.

However, if we consider Germany alternating to increase military power first, rather than industrialization, tensions may have increased earlier and Germany may have realized to take a step down. On the other hand, war could have broken out much earlier and as many countries may not have been involved.

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We have figured that the German government was definitely expanding industrially and economically; therefore, we can use the dice metaphor in this situation too. Furthermore, as figures and statistics were increasing within the government, it meant that major competition was resulting of the gradually uprising of paranoia. Continuing from the establishment of a country introducing tense worries, which were unintended in the start, but could have been eased down by taking careful measures. For example, sharing their worrying intentions with other countries to calm down situations. Germany’s motive to not do this was driven by Otto von Bismarck (Chancellor) ...

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