German Claims of Innocence for Starting WW1

I just read Annika Mombauer’s book “The Origins of the First World War” and it was not what I wanted. It was more historiography than I wanted. After the war started, all major powers involved published official documents in so-called ‘coloured books’ designed to prove their own innocence…" Mombauer, p.23. However, no precis of the German White Book is given. In the Weimar Republic, there were government organizations specialized in trying to prove Germany’s innocence, but no description of those arguments are presented.
in J.L. Stokesbury’s ‘A Short History of WW1’ p. 110 discusses how German immigrants to the U.S. ‘supported the German view of events’.

What were Germany’s arguments? From what I can gather, it was just something like … ‘We were encircled’… . “France and Russia had an alliance against us…”

I can’t see how this would persuade anybody. The Germans attacked France and Russia. Russia might have only have become involved in the Austro-Hungarian/Serbian war. They were mobilizing, but how could the Germans be sure the Russians would attack them.? And what does that eastern situation have to do with violating the neutrality of Belgium?

I can understand some German arguments such as one saying that blockading is morally similar to unrestricted submarine warfare, but as for the actual initiation of the war, it seems that there should not be as much controversy as is described in Mombauer.

Can anyone suggest further reading?

Managed to find a handful of white (and black) books here:"white%20book"%20AND%20mediatype%3Atexts

Specifically for Germany:

The German Army in Belgium

Armed Merchantmen

How Russia and her Ruler betrayed Germany’s confidence and thereby caused the European War

Hope that helps!

Germans were very certain that Russians would attack Austria, and they were bound by treaty to go to war to support their ally. The only way to avert this stuff would have been either to break off the alliance unilaterally or to try to work with France to quieten down their respective allies. With France, in particular, having to deal with an ally whose level of government rationality was about on the level of what we saw in America in the prelude to war in Iraq.

The Germans were preparing for war long before it broke out.

The maritime arms race was a product of that, and even if there is a claim they didn’t start it, the reality is that they were very much awaiting the opportunity and had no interest in preventing it.

Do not underestimate the cost of that arms race either, the cost was absolutely huge, it was not being done for amusement, that arms race began around 1898, prior to the completion of HMS Dreadnought and intensified dramatically after that.

Even at the time, the Germans had been expanding the army but the cost of the arms race was so great - a target of at least 19 modern battleships - that it diverted funds intended for this purpose, this gives an idea of the extent of the German military build up prior to WW1.

The cost of these battleships was incredible, to give an idea, the British response was to build evenmore ships, and probably had more efficient facilities to do so, and yet these cost £1.7 millions apiece, and equivalent of over £40 million today. Given the high operating costs with crew starting at around 700 to nearly 1000 and all the associated running costs.

The Germans built 17 dreadnought class ships and 20 pre dreadnoughts and obviously the rest of the fleet to support them, multiply up those costs and you start to get a picture of the scale of the German military build up, and thats just the navy, the arms was subject to a similar build up.

This was all done for some ultimate purpose, it had to end up in war, the main British failure might be considered perhaps diplomatic, but that was in the face of German intent.

I need to add, the number I used under-estimated inflation, as I did it in dollars, and not sterling.

US inflation has actually been less than ours oever this period, so the cost of those warships is around £16 billions.

Add in the increased army spending and you get some idea of the total costs, it has be be well in excess of £100 billions when you take into account not just the costs of equipment, but also in manpower, and this in a period of less than 20 years. This is cost over and above the average military spend for Germany during this time.

Barbara Tuchman in her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Guns of August goes at some length into the secret treaties, the Germans’ fear of encirclement and the domino effect that the various mobilizations had. If you didn’t mobilize, the thinking went, you would probably be overrun: The Guns of August - Wikipedia

Alliances, it’s all in the alliances. Austria-Hungary overreached with their slapdown of Serbia, guaranteeing that Russia would enter the war to defend Serbia/attack AH. Germany was bound to defend AH against attack, which meant war with Russia. BUT war with Russia meant war with France-- and France was the bigger threat, thus had to be taken care of first. In 1914 no one understood that the classical offensive was doomed to failure-- instead, everyone assumed that whomever mobilized and attacked first gained an insurmountable advantage.

Hence, the iron logic of preemptive attack-- even though, technically, Germany’s war was defensive in nature, it had to attack if it wanted any hope of victory.

Whatever German thinking, they had increased their military spending by over 2 thirds in the last 3 or 4 years before the war, and that it seems to me speaks volumes about the nature of the German attempts to stay out of war.

Yes. The factors I mention here gave European military planners the ability to conscript and mass gigantic, million-man armies and deliver them right to the frontier with a speed never before imagined. The prospect of a mind-bogglingly big army of motivated citizen-soldiers equipped with the latest weapons striking so swiftly seemed to promise invincibility, and it came to completely dominate their thinking. Strategic planning became as much about reading the census figures and scheduling railroads as about fighting. Rural railway stations in sleepy frontier towns in Germany and France were built with platforms a mile long solely to facilitate mass deployment of these huge armies.

Much like nuclear war theory would lead later generations to concepts like “launch on warning” (which held that you must launch your missiles early in the conflict or risk losing them on the ground), the fearsome prospect of being caught half-mobilized warped the thinking of the generals and politicians until it seems to us now like they acted as if mobilization itself was the whole point of the war. NOBODY wanted to be last, late, or slow, so when it finally started, everyone rushed madly into disaster.

The sad story is told (I don’t know if it’s true) that the Kaiser got cold feet as millions of young men were loading into the trains and starting forward, and ordered the German general staff to stop the mobilization. Aghast at the prospect of being caught half-mobilized, the general staff refused, insisting that it was now too late, and the trains went forward. The long lines of clean young men went forward, singing, into what Germany would forever after call the Kindermord – the massacre of the innocents.

There wasn’t really much thinking anywhere in Europe about staying out of war. France wanted the territory back that they lost in the Franco-Prussian war. So there really wasn’t any question from anyone about if France and Germany would go to war again, it was just a question of when, and they were allied with Russia who was upgrading its armies as well.

The real problem is that the question is something of a silly one, that stems from different viewpoints before and after the war. Had the war been over by Christmas, as everyone first thought it would be, nobody really would have cared who actually crossed the first border or made the first formal declaration. It was only after the horrors of what actually transpired that people started caring about “who started it” because they wanted someone to blame for it all.

One book that I read had pointed out that Britain was using extortionous financial tactics all over the world (I am forgetting every word I wanted…I am sleepy). The book, I believe it was fairly middle of the road, said that people were saying, around wartime, that if Germany hadn’t attacked Britain, the US would have.

Germany arming big-time only indicates that they wanted to be prepared for war, not to start it.

Best wishes,

All the nations of Europe increased military spending in the years leading up to the war, though. According to David Stevenson’s “Armaments and the the Coming of War”, as cited in Hamilton and Herwig’s “The Origins of World War I”, Britain increased its spending by 19% from 1908-1913, Italy by 129% (Italy was involved in the Libyan War), France by 30%, Austria by 55%, Russia by 31%, and Germany by 45%.

Obligatory reference :

I believe this incident is referred to in Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, referenced in Elendil’s Heir’s post above. When the Kaiser asked von Moltke to stop the mobilisation, von Moltke apparently had a nervous breakdown at the prospect. His Wikipedia page has this interesting statement : “…as a consequence of a clash with the Kaiser very shortly before the start of the war, Moltke’s health broke down …”

When Bismarck succeeded in establishing a new Deutsches Reich, he was very well aware that it was a) too powerful to be a welcome neighbour, b) not powerful enough to effectively control Europe and c) vulnerable only to an attack from more than one side.

So, he decided to a) establish bilateral contracts and treaties with all the major powers in Europe to make an alliance against the big guy in the middle less desirable than partnership (that idea he “stole” from Britain) b) bring forth a hegemony that would make Germany essential to Europe’s well being (he knew that this could only be done by economic means but, unfortunately, he didn’t know how to do it) and c) keep France and Russia apart.

His successors were less aware of the benefits of his policy of balance and less able to transform it into politics; they didn’t realize that the somewhat hegemony that Germany had established depended on it and, worse, they even managed to bind the country to the decisions of allies that were politically unstable and militarily weak.

The brilliant and realistic Generalstab under Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke had known that a two-front war was more than dangerous and they had supported Bismarck’s point of view. But the new generation of military leaders had less political insight and they had become used to the idea that the German military was the best and could achieve what economics and politics failed to do (might sound familiar to Americans).

When it became clear to the military that Germany “had to” fight a two-front war, if it came to one (and they didn’t even consider the possibility that it wouldn’t come to this – and some were, in fact, glad that the opportunity for war was arising), they decided to win it.

So, the armament race was accelerated.

The new emperor was too stupid to understand the implications of the new direction of a militarily guided policy and the leading politicians either supported it (some well aware that they had failed) or were (still) to weak to do more than keep it at bay.

What Germany, well, all of Europe lacked in the years prior to the war, was any will to prevent it. All major powers had come to the conclusion that it had to be done; the questions were: when and why?

Some situations had been defused before the year 1914 and there had been a pretty good chance to moderate that one as well, but, ultimately, I think, they would have gone to war regardless.

But, who knows? The SPD and other democratic parties were gaining more and more influence over Germany’s politics and they had no interest in war (the gradual shift to a more parliament controlled state was well on its way and was threatened by a war that would inevitably invigorate the more and more sidelined aristocratic side). Austria-Hungary and Russia became less stable every year, Britain had more to lose in a war than to win and though France wanted the war at least as much as the German military, there were influential political forces that were far too realistic to start one.

Anyways, after the war, the “Kriegsschuldfrage” (who was to blame for the war) was discussed heatedly in Germany. The majority of the political players and the people were well aware that they had done far too much to bring war on its way; but the Treaty of Versailles was considered grossly unfair by all parties and people alike and it helped to shame the reasonable persons into silence in the public discourse while it gave the deniers an easy target for their ire.

The deeply felt injustice of the Kriegsschuldfrage was one paving stone for Hitler.

You may wish to read “Dreadnought” by Massie.

We’ve done responsibility for WW1 before, back in 2008. Here is my take on it but the whole thread is worth reading.

The reality isn’t as kind to the Kaiser.

What he wanted to do at the last minute (driving poor, poor Moltke to near breakdown) was to avoid war with France and Britain by turning the mobilization around and attacking the Russians with the idea that this would keep the other Allies from going to war. Moltke told him the mobilization couldn’t be changed without chaos. This was incorrect, as the Germans had contingency plans for doing this, but in any event the Kaiser’s hopes for a limited war were mistaken as the other Allies wouldn’t have stood by while Russia was crushed.

As Tuchman tells it, the Germans largely brought their troubles on themselves leading up to WWI. The Kaiser kept shooting his mouth off about intervening in various international disputes (and actually doing it to some extent), the Germans staged an alarming military buildup, another nations responded with alliances and similar buildups and the Germans screamed “Encirclement!”. If the Kaiser had shown a little statesmanship and argued restraint with the Austrians in regards to Serbia, tensions would have eased. Instead Wilhelm went off on vacation, the Austrians prepared their ultimatums and the whole mess was precipitated.

There was nothing unique about that. Europe as a whole had been building up for that moment for a long time. The ultimate proof of that is that Great Britain’s fleet wasn’t devastated. France wasn’t completely overrun. Russia (later the Soviet Union) did not sign a treaty because they lost.

Stalemates don’t happen when one side of the fight has a numerical and technological advantage.

Frankly, the Kaiser was nuts. What did Germany stand to gain from defeating France?
The ironic thing was, Germany wanted colonies in Africa and Asia-at just about the time period that GB and France were finding out (that colonies were money pits).
Building up the German High Seas fleet made no sense-it was’nt big enough to defeat the Royal Navy, and was easily bottled up (in the Baltic sea).
German experts knew this-Bethmann-Hollweg said it best “having a large navy will bring us into conflict with England-our natural ally…the only question should be…how SMALL should our fleet be”.
Suppose Germany won? Then they faced decades of occupying a hostile population (France)-this probably would have inspired the French to attempt sabotage on a massive scale.