Level 16 - Colossus
World War I
The Fallout of the Versailles Peace Conference was more than anyone had expected. The infamous “Guilt Clause” had led to more repercussions than had been expected. Sure, Germany played a major part in the War and could be blamed for its beginnings. Many believed that war could have been avoided if Germany was not involved. But was Germany completely to blame? Could conflict and the Great War have been avoided if Germany had minded its own business? Were they fully deserving of the fault for War? Or was the whole world, not just the Balkans, a “Powder Keg”, filled with alliances, imperialism, nationalism, and militarism, waiting for a spark to set it off? Was the entire world to blame, but using Germany as a scapegoat. Was Germany the Criminal or the Victim of the War and its eventual peace? Some of these questions are still debated today, and it is the inability to answer them after the First World War that would eventually cause Germany to start a Second.
Although WWI started in 1914, the events that transpired to start it date back to the 1800s. Germany was the most powerful country in Europe, coming off of its victory over the French in the Franco-Prussian War. However, it had many enemies. France was the most notable, eager for revenge from its defeat. because of its foes, Germany sought out protection. It allied itself with Austria-Hungary in what was known as the Dual Alliance. But the rest of Europe was caught up in alliance fever as well. England and France, had an understanding, or Entente, as well as France and Russia. But Russia was also tied secretly to Germany. So in the years leading up to the War, enemies were connected throughout Europe to Germany. It was like “Six Degrees of Kaiser Wilhelm”. The dangerous alliances would be ended by the time war would begin, but the connections that remained are contributed with the fast spread of the war. The tensions among Europe increased, waiting to be set off.
On June 28, 1914, the spark was lit. Nationalism among Balkan nations was growing, due to the plan of Austria to absorb Bosnia and Herzegovina and combine the remaining countries into one state. The Slavs in those areas felt unappreciated and oppressed by their new leaders, and desired independence. When Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, he was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Serbian nationalist group called the Black Hand. What Princip and the Black Hand did not know was that the Archduke had plans to give the Slavs an equal voice in the Austrian government once he came into power. Had they known this, the murder would not have taken place, but they didn’t, and it did. This led to the retaliation of Austria Hungary. According to William O. Shanahan, Count Leopold von Berchtold, the foreign minister of Austria, felt that Serbia must be punished (Collier’s, 30). The Serbian government had been implicated in the killing, and Princip himself was a Serb. Berchtold issued an ultimatum to Serbia, knowing himself that it was impossible for them to accept fully. When the Serbs produced a less-than-satisfactory answer, Austria-Hungary declared war. Soon after, Russia, who was considered to be the “big brother” of Serbia and the Slavs, mobilized its army. Several more declarations and mobilizations later, War had begun.
It is easy to look over a brief description of WWI like the one above and not see the involvement of Germany. But Germany was deeply involved in the causes, so much so that it has been considered the root of the troubles. Fearing that Ferdinand’s death would cause the Hapsburg family to look weak, they took action. Austria-Hungary was wary of declaring war with Russia looming on the horizon, but Germany promised to defend them if they needed. Germany also promised to support Austria if the conflict escalated. Many believe that Germany did not need to do this, but the Web Site “Germany During World War One” shows that indeed they did. If they had not made such an offer, or if Austria refused it, it would result in the breakdown of the Dual Alliance, thus leaving Germany with enemies on all sides. Obviously this would jeopardize their power in Europe. Therefore, Germany was forced to join WWI itself to maintain its stature. Together, Germany and Austria-Hungary had a plan to win the conflict quickly. If Yugoslavia, or what would become Yugoslavia, were annexed into Austria-Hungary, Russia would lose an important contact in Europe and back off. Similar events had occurred in 1908, but Russia was in turmoil then and now it could take on Germany or Austria alone, supposedly. Unfortunately, several misconceptions on Germany’s part led to the failure of their quick victory. Germany became reckless in its containment of the hostilities. Most of Europe agreed that Serbia did not need to be conquered, even if it had organized Ferdinand’s murder. The German Reichstag government could not stop the events transpiring in the Balkans isolated. Believing that England would not join a war with Russia as an aggressor, they invaded neutral Belgium, which was protected by the British and eventually led them to join the war. Between that and thinking that a new alliance with Turkey would make them powerful enough to take on anyone, Germany was not prepared for what it had begun. The alliances among the major European powers , instead of preventing war, caused a domino effect, making them choosing sides as World War I was approaching. The Spark had taken effect.
With the Allied Powers consisting of Great Britain, France, Russia, Serbia, Belgium, and later, the U.S., Japan, and Montenegro, and the Central Powers being made up of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey/Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria, Germany made no move to back down. Executing the Schlieffen Plan, say Mounir Farah & Andrea Berens-Karls, included moving into take France before battling the slow-mobilizing Russians (WH: THE, 699). Actually, Germany had plans to move outward and take over all surrounding enemy nations. It even tried to take over the still-neutral United States with the help of Mexico. When the U.S. heard of this, they immediately joined the war, a move that would sway the conflict in the Allies favor for good. Now, we all know what happened after that, and my paper is not about the ENTIRE war, so let’s skip ahead to the end, and the Treaty of Versailles.....
Finally, in 1919, conflict ended. Germany was the last Central Power to surrender, giving up its Navy on the same day that it signed for peace. The Versailles Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles included 32 nations and 3/4 of the world’s population. Led by the Big Four (the Prime Ministers of England, France, and Italy, and President Wilson of the U.S.), the Conference and Treaty was based on Wilson’s original Fourteen Points. Some of the points were partially accepted and some not accepted at all. But the ones that were accepted had a great effect on Europe and the world. Among those was the Point that is the focus of my paper: Germany was to take full and sole responsibility for causing World War I. It was required to pay reparations to all of the Allies. It had to give up all colonies to France and England. The power of Germany had been nearly destroyed. Still, several questions remain about the Treaty. Was the “Guilt Clause” a mutual agreement of all countries involved or a mission of France and Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau? Had they used Clemenceau’s high status as part of the Big Four to push for such harsh punishments on Germany? It is hard to tell if the French used the Treaty as a means for revenge, or if other nations proposed the forcing of blame. After all, Germany was also the cause for both England and the United States of America, in addition to many other countries, joining the war. Some see Germany as THE definite cause of World War I, while others would see it as a scapegoat for the causes and problems of the other European countries. Closer looks at the details of the war only leads to more questions.
Although it was not apparent on the surface, Germany was so deeply involved in the beginnings of the War that the rest of the world deemed it worthy of the blame in Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points at the Treaty of Versailles. It is very possible that war could have been avoided without the Germans playing the role of instigators. But it is not proven. If we can so easily blame Germany for causing World War I, we might as well blame them for the sequel, World War II. After all, if there was no WWI, how could there be a WWII? Then we could blame the Germans for the massacres that resulted from WWII and the slaughter of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. Oh, wait, we already DO blame them for that. That’s because the Allies won WWII as well. Boy, the victors sure are quick to blame somebody else. It makes you wonder if we blamed Germany because they were at fault, or just because we can. After all, we won, right. We beat them, so we can make them say whatever we want, right? Wrong. We crippled Germany in World War I, but we did not destroy them. By allowing them to remain a minor European power after humiliating them like that, we were just begging for retaliation somewhere down the line. So in a sense, the Allies of World War I should be blamed for WWII. They caused the nationalism that brought Adolf Hitler into power by angering the Germans. But if the Germans really are to blame for World War I, then they pretty much forced the Allies to make them take the blame, and unknowingly causing their own anger which spurred WWII, putting them at fault for both wars. So finding out who caused WWI will tell us who caused WWII, I guess. Then who is really to blame for the outbreak of World War I in the Balkans? Germany? No. Well, maybe. I believe that Germany is only responsible for war breaking out at the time it did. As high as the tensions were in Europe at the time, the assassination of Ferdinand was only one spark. If that one spark had not lit the fire, war might not have started in 1914. The assassination would have been an isolated incident, causing differences between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. With no support against Russia, Austria would not have even sent the ultimatum. But with nobody to support, Germany would be surrounded by enemies, and its position as the most powerful country in Europe would have soon been given to another nation. When you look at it that way, Germany began WWI on July 28, 1914 in order to save itself. The attempt failed, but damage had been done. Europe had been changed forever. Could it have been avoided without Germany’s interference? No. As I said, the assassination of the Archduke was just one spark. If it didn’t light the powder kegs that were both the Balkans and the world, another one would have. In closing, I believe that World War I was inevitable, but the war that took place from 1914 to 1919 was entirely Germany’s fault.
Kraus, Michael, “World War I” Collier’s Encyclopedia, Macmillan Educational Co. & P.F. Collier, Inc, New York, 1983 ed., Vol.23, p 593-605
Shanahan, William O., “Germany” Collier’s Encyclopedia, Macmillan Educational Co. & P.F. Collier, Inc, New York, 1983 ed., Vol.11 p17-37
Farah, Mounir, & Berens-Karls, Andrea, World History, The Human Experience, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill School Publishing Co., Glencoe Division, Ohio, 1992, p692-714
“Germany in World War One”, http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/6916/ww1.htm
“A History of the First World War: The Aftermath”, http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Atrium/1426/page4.html
“Central Powers”, http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Palms/2460/powers.html
“The Faults of the World War I Peace Agreement”, Jeremy Fazli, http://members.iquest.net/~jfazli/Versailles.htm