French & British view: Causes of WW I

The French and British view following the war was to blame Germany for causing such horror. The allies emerged from the war victorious and so dumping the blame on their enemies was the most apparent solution.

The Treaty of Versailles settled Germany’s ‘War Guilt’:

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 Associated Governments … have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.

British historian A.J.P. Talyor saw Germany’s guilt on a whole new level as he wrote his book later, and therefore had the benefits of hindsight. He claimed the Germans caused the war:

[The German] bid for continental supremacy was certainly decisive in bringing on the European War…

A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe (1954)

Even an Italian historian later emerged as supporting the viewpoint that Germany was responsible, thus shifting the blame (as Italy was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary) to one of their losing allies. Luigi Albertini viewed German mobilisation as the ultimate cause of WWI. Germany had more military plans than other nations including Weltpolitik and the Schleiffen Plan. Albertini states that these were not defensive, but rather offensive military courses of action, and that this mobilisation suggested Germany was preparing for war. Why prepare for war if not intending to take part in war?

German historian Franz Fischer came up with his own hypothesis as to why Germany was to blame for the outbreak of war in his book ‘Grasp for World Power”, 1961 (also with the advantage of hindsight). Essentially the Fischer theory states that the German government wanted war in order to expand. This attitude was supposedly caused by internal social and economic issues in combination with fear from possible international threat.

These concepts can be seen in an extract from a 1960’s British textbook for school students:

The situation in Europe had been dangerously tense for more than thirty years, Germany, ever stronger and more pugnacious, was detested by the French…   Kaiser William II, the arrogant young Emperor, [followed] a policy based on strength instead of caution.   Convincing himself that Germany was being denied her rightful ‘place in the sun’, the Kaiser embarked upon a vast programme of military and naval armament.   For mutual protection, therefore, France and Russia drew closer together …

  1. The German Emperor, who had neither brains nor manners, seemed to go out of his way to give and to take offence.   He wrote rudely to his grandmother [Queen Victoria], openly sided with the Boers, and told Britain to mind her own business in Egypt instead of complaining about German plans to build a railway from Berlin to Baghdad.   Above all, he built a powerful battle-fleet which could only be intended to challenge British sea-power.   In this situation Britain could not afford to remain isolated, and . . . Balfour made an approach to France. . .

R.J. Unstead, A Century of Change (1963)

Balfour was Prime Minister of Britain 1902-5.

For more potted historiography, check this site to discover the German defence:

(Hannah Fyfe)


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