‘German aggression was responsible for the outbreak of a general European war in August 1914’. How far do you agree with this judgement? Many historians argue that the reason for Germany going to war was due to the aggressive behaviour of Germany in the build up to the war. Throughout this essay I will be addressing this issue looking at whether Germany was responsible for the outbreak of a general European war in August 1914.
There are many factors which contribute to the outbreak of the war from a short-term trigger such as the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the long-term annexation aims Germany implemented in the years building up to the war, the most important reason was Germany’s aggressive foreign policy, they had provided Austria-Hungary with a ‘blank cheque’ while also pressurising them into presenting an ultimatum to Serbia, there had been vast amounts of preparation in the follow up to the outbreak of war, the overall military spending of Germany had been increased by fivefold, way ahead of any other developing country, however it is also important to consider other factors which may have played a role in the outbreak of war such as the isolation of Germany by the remaining superpowers which is described as forcing them into a defensive war and the role that Austria-Hungary played in the outbreak of war as well as the individual involvement of the military in relation to the outbreak of war.
Source 1 unlike sources 2 and 3 has a clear opinion, this opinion agrees with the judgement posed in the question that Germany was responsible for the outbreak of war due to high levels of aggression. As early as 1906 Germany had in place a plan for an aggressive war’, this statement strongly suggests that Germany always had intentions of a war based on aggressive motives, most likely to have been driven by annexation views possessed by the Kaiser and the military in general, this was seen within the war council meeting of 1912 where they had decided upon the path of war, this provides evidence which strengthens the argument presented in source 1 which clearly agrees with the question. Under the surface of this source the language used suggests that the events involving Austria-Hungary that triggered war was not planned and was a hurried, irrational decision.
By offering unconditional support to Austria-Hungary in her dispute with Serbia, precipitated the events that led to war’, not only does this imply that Austria-Hungary were not responsible for the war as the decision to declare war on Serbia was rushed and not fully considered, this statement also suggests to the reader Germany had a big influence on Austria-Hungary’s decisions through the ‘blank cheque’ which would have pressurised Austria-Hungary into thinking war is the only option after being intimidated by a much larger Germany who had increased their military spending by five-fold providing further evidence that Germany were responsible for the outbreak of war through their aggressive behaviour. The arguments presented in sources 2 and 3 however are not as clear cut as those within source.
1. On the surface source 2 also supports the judgement that is presented in the question, ‘The crisis got out of control because Bethmann pushed Austria into a premature declaration of war on Serbia’ This tells us that this source believes Germany’s government had aggressive aims as they forced Austria-Hungary into war with Serbia which led to a series of events that then lead to war, this therefore also coincides with the arguments presented in source 1 as that source also implies Germany’s aggressive intentions heavily impacted Austria-Hungary who had a long-term alliance which was the ‘triple alliance’, this then heavily influenced their decision to go to war. Unlike source 1, source 2 takes into account other factors which would have contributed to the outbreak of war. ‘The French General Staff drove Russia along the fatal path to mobilization’ this essentially implies that source 2 does not deem Germany fully responsible for the outbreak of war and that the outbreak of war was due to a number of factors yet was driven by Germany’s aggressive behaviour especially the military’s role in the outbreak of war. This leads onto my next point that source 2 implies the military had a large role to play in the outbreak of war. ‘In the final phase, military considerations were of decisive importance.
Although the government was in favour of expansion and annexation this statement suggests the military took the decision of war into their own hands, there is evidence which backs this up as many important government officials such as the chancellor was not present at the war council meeting of 1912, however people may argue that the military was controlled directly by the Kaiser who shared similar views to those of the military and was the person that made all important decisions for the country. Therefore although this source agrees that Germany were responsible for the outbreak of war due to aggressive behaviour people may argue that it disagrees to some extent as they look at Frances role in provoking war. Similarly to source 2 there are differing opinions within source 3, however unlike sources 1 and 2, source 3 does not see Germany’s aggressive behaviour as a factor in the reason for the outbreak of war in Europe, instead it suggests the arms race was a major factor in itself.
The arms race… has contributed to the sense that war was bound to come’, although this does not directly state the superpowers armament as a factor it implies it had a ‘domino effect’ which essentially lead to war as ‘no government had, in fact, been deterred from arming by the arms programmes of their rivals, but rather had increased their own armament production’ therefor the superpowers programmes for arming created a sense of rivalry and competition which intensified tensions which were extremely high at this point, this suggests that this source takes into account all superpowers roles in the outbreak of war which included Germany therefore could be argued that Source 3 distributes the blame for war evenly. On the other hand people may argue that this source disagrees with the judgement within the question, ‘Tirpitz had hoped that the German fleet would be so strong that no British Government would risk going to war’. This statement infers that Germany genuinely wanted to avoid war, providing evidence for the argument that Germany wanted only a ‘defensive war’, there is some evidence to back this argument up, Britain had isolated Germany through the triple entente both geographically and politically, they felt exposed and the only logical way to ensure Britain did not attack was to increase arms which actually had the opposite effect.
Therefore source 3 highlights that the armament of all superpowers was the most significant factor in the outbreak of war as it caused high levels of tensions on international relations as well as economically, overall this source disagrees that Germany were responsible through aggression as it also implies Germany were actually trying to avoid war with Britain, a country with better allies and the most powerful navy in the world. Overall there are many different factors which contributed to the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, this results in historians having different opinions which are reflected in sources 1, 2 and 3 all of which have conflicting views.
Source 1 clearly states Germany is fully responsible for the outbreak of war due to its ‘plan’ for an aggressive war and therefore agrees with the judgement within the question. The views presented in sources 2 and 3 on the other hand consider a number of other factors in the outbreak of war. Source 2 to some extent is similar to source 1 as it sees Germany as the main reason for the outbreak of war yet looks at the importance of particular areas such as the military. Source 3 in comparison to sources 1 and 2 disagrees with the issue posed in the question and sees all countries involved in the arms race as responsible for the outbreak of war.
Although there are many factors that contributed to the outbreak of war, Germany’s aggression was responsible, they had devised plans of annexation long before war was considered, once tensions were rising due to factors such as the Balkan wars and the isolation of Germany they created a war council and here they decided to pressure Austria-Hungary into war with Serbia which lead onto the events that was world war 1, it is essential however to understand the importance of other relevant factors such as Austria-Hungary’s role in the war as they provided the ‘July ultimatum’ to Serbia which was effectively created so they could go to war as well as the isolation of Germany from the triple entente.