WWI-Could it Have Been Stopped?

The horrible waste of human life that was WWI was a tragedy. I’m wondering if Imperia Germany might have persued peace overtures , perhaps by 1915? If so, would the allies have accepted them? Suppose these were the terms: every army withdraws, no repercussions. The battlefileds will be cleaned up, and an international tribunal set up to repair the damage. Each nation will contibute to a fund to compensate civilian victims of the war.
Would suvh a proposal have worked? Even the Kaiser must have realized that the war would not yireld any advantage for Germany-the staggering costs were bankrupting everyone. Or did he still think he could “win”? :confused:

My take is that the sunk cost fallacy made such a solution unacceptable to both sides after the terrible losses even in the first part of the war. The center/left majority of the Reichstag passed a resolution proposing a peace without territorial conquests on 19 July 1917 (which the govermnent could ignore as the Reichstag’s constitutional role was weak and foreign policy/war and peace were outside of its remit). Anyway even if the executive had adopted such a policy it would surely have been rejected by the Entente powers because a) Germany was known to be militarily hard pressed, also starving, b) the sunk cost fallacy, c) France wanting Alsace-Lorraine back.

An eleventh-hour effort to prevent the war could have worked if someone with credibility on all sides could have brokered an agreement. A lot of diplomatic effort had been spent the previous thirty years preventing such an outbreak. But on the other hand some factions at least were tired of the strategic balancing act and looked forward to teaching those foreign bastards the lesson they had coming. No one anticipated the defensive deadlock that developed; everyone thought the war would be a repeat of the Franco-Prussian war: over with one way or another in eighteen months at the most.

Remember that up until 1917 and the failure of the Ludendorff offensive, the Germans were still “winning” as far as battlefield success was concerned. They were smashing Russia on the eastern front (and the treaty of Brest-Litovsk offered enormous territorial gains- had the Germans been able to make use of these territories before the armastice, it might have extended the war for years) and on the western front the combined might of France, Britain and, belatedly, America was doing little to drive back the Germans from the territory they had occupied in 1914.

It was on the home front that pressue for surrender eventually came- the lack of resources eventually proved chronic, and, coupled with the failure of the Ludendorff offensive (mentioned above), this led to the fall of the Kaiser. There was a significant movement in Germany that held they had not lost the first world war, but had been “stabbed in the back” by socialists and liberals at home. Plus, as tschild points out, there was no method short of a full-scale revolution to remove the reins of power from the hand of the Kaiser and his circle of generals- and the Kaiser was, at the very least, mentally unstable. He would never have agreed to a negotiated peace, and neither would the western powers. To concede to Germany’s territorial gains would have meant giving up Alsace-Lorraine, the western parts of Russia (not that the Triple Entente cared what the Russians thought, but they didn’t want a super-powerful German state) and most of Belgium on the one hand, or admitting that a four-year war that cost millions of German lives had been for nought on the other. The only way that either side would agree to peace was on terms of total defeat for the other side.

Not sure I necessarily agree with the idea that the war could be averted (maybe postponed)- all sides involved in the conflict had been belligerent since at least 1900 (with the formulation of Von Bulow’s “Weltpolitik” attempts to gain German colonies and his accompanying expansion of the German Navy). You could even say that the roots of the conflict extended back to 1871 and the capture of Alsace-Lorraine (an area that, being neither exactly German nor French, has provided fodder for countless, countless wars), or maybe to the collapse of the Treikaiserbund in the 1890’s (seperating Germany from Russia, and leaving her open to encirclement by France and Russia). The big European powers tended to have a war every generation to settle these kind of petty territorial and political disputes throughout the 17th-19th century. What made WWI so lethal was the advances in technology made since the last one (1871, I guess, although you could maybe count political posturing over Turkey/Russia/Bulgaria in 1876 as coming close), meaning that what was supposed to be the usual quick expenditure of military force to resolve international disputes turned into a gruelling and prolonged battle of wills, with both sides so invested (both emotionally and materillay) that they could not admit defeat.

Not sure I necessarily agree with the idea that the war could be averted (maybe postponed)- all sides involved in the conflict had been belligerent since at least 1900 (with the formulation of Von Bulow’s “Weltpolitik” attempts to gain German colonies and his accompanying expansion of the German Navy). You could even say that the roots of the conflict extended back to 1871 and the capture of Alsace-Lorraine (an area that, being neither exactly German nor French, has provided fodder for countless, countless wars), or maybe to the collapse of the Treikaiserbund in the 1890’s (seperating Germany from Russia, and leaving her open to encirclement by France and Russia). If the war hadn’t happened over the murder of a Austrian princeling, it would have happened over some other political squabble (as it nearly had over the division of Morocco in 1910 or 12, I forget which).

The big European powers tended to have a war every generation to settle these kind of petty territorial and political disputes throughout the 17th-19th century. What made WWI so lethal was the advances in technology made since the last one (1871, I guess, although you could maybe count political posturing over Turkey/Russia/Bulgaria in 1876 as coming close), meaning that what was supposed to be the usual quick expenditure of military force to resolve international disputes turned into a gruelling and prolonged battle of wills, with both sides so invested (both emotionally and materillay) that they could not admit defeat.

Urk, doublepost. Mod, delete please?

Germany had no interest in a negotiated peace that would have denied it territorial gains - not in 1915, and not even after a couple more years of deadlock and terrible casualties. Such a settlement might have forced the Kaiser from power, for one thing - and there was a continual deluded hope that new offensives or tactics (such as unrestrained submarine warfare) might turn the tide. There was also marked disinterest among the Allies for any peace that did not include complete withdrawal of the Germans and her allies plus heavy fines for all the damage they had caused.
President Wilson repeatedly tried to negotiate a peace similar to the one ralph suggests, and he got nowhere.

I basically agree with Happy Clam, but I believe the Ludendorff offensive he refers to took place in spring of 1918, not 1917.

The problem was that once the casualties had risen to a certain level (and it happened quicker than anyone expected) it was impossible for any regime to accept an equitable peace. The only thing that could justify the deaths that had already occurred would be for the nation to come out “ahead” in the settlement. So the war continued and the casualties accumulated and the size of the victory settlement needed grew.

You’d think we would have learned a lesson about that kind of thinking . . .

As somebody once said “Those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them”

The Ludendorff offensive of 1918, was germ,anie’s last shot at 'winning" WWI. It was planned by Army C-of-S Erich ludendorff and gen. paul von Hindenburg. I’m wondering if the kaiser was actually in control of the country by this time. By 1918, Germany was suffering a massive food shortage 9the british blocade was keeping food and fertilizer from reaching the country). had the kaiser sued for peace, he might have held onto his throne.
I understand the Kaiser (later0 expressed no great emotion on being shipped into exile (in Holland); he didn’t let his conscience bother him at all.

As an aside, I have always thought (well not always) that WWI has gotten short shrift in terms of importnat events, eclipsed by WWII. Of course WWII had the comic book villian Nazis, the atomic bomb, lots of movies etc. But the modern world was forged during WWI, including modern nations of Europe, the advent of air warfare, chemical warfare, the machine gun, etc. The incredible class system that infiltrated most notably the British military started to break down.

IMHO no chance in hell once the shooting started. Not only wouldn’t Germany have made such an overture, even if they had it wouldn’t have been accepted…not by 1915. Territorial gains, national prestige on the line, a history of this kind of conflict going back centuries, if not more…no chance any of the European powers were going to back down unless they simply could not fight anymore and were on the brink of complete collapse.

In addition, I don’t think war could have been averted BEFORE hostilities…not indefinitely. The Euro’s WANTED this war…it was only a matter of time before they were killing each other off in job lots. Assuming there was some slick political solution that could have avoided war when it happened, eventually they would have had their war for some other reason (or no reason at all). Again, this is just IMHO here.

How would we learn this lesson exactly? Politicians and national leaders being who and what they are? For that matter, how often is a population willing to basically throw up its collective hands and say ‘well, we lost a lot of good me, but fuck it! Lets just pull out and make those losses a complete waste!’? How often has this happened in history? I can think of one or two scattered examples off the top of my head…and the ones I can think of (like Somalia for instance) didn’t exactly have rosy endings that would train us (the collective ‘us’ as a species) to ‘learn this lesson’. YMMV of course.

-XT

Perhaps we should ask, not if WWI could have been stopped but if it could have been avoided. IOW, if Gavrilo Princip had not assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, would some other casus belli have emerged?

Probably. From what I’ve read, Kaiser Wilhelm wanted a war. He had Bismarck’s ambitious national vision without Bismarck’s commen sense and restraint. Bismarck had made it policy that whenever the German Empire had enemies to the West it would have friends to the East, and vice-versa, to forestall the possibility of a two-front war. Wilhelm thought Germany was ready to lick all creation – Russia, France and Britain all at once – with only the moribund Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires as allies. The German Empire had won every war it had fought since the Franco-Prussian war. And the German General Staff were certain the Schleiffen Plan would bring them into Paris in short order. One more great victory, and Germany, a pravenu latecomer to the Great-Powers game, would be assured of its “place in the sun” – might even supplant Britain as the world’s leading imperial power. Wilhelm was a fool. But he was the kaiser and he would have his way. If it hadn’t been the diplomatic crisis over the investigation of Ferdinand’s murder, Wilhelm would have found some other pretext sooner or later.

No, the Austrians wanted it more-they hated the Serbs.

Wilhelm, you have to understand, was most certainly bipolar. He was a very erratic character, but deep down, he really didn’t want war. He just didn’t want to lose face.

Sadly, I think, the tragedy is that his father died so young-he only reigned for 90 days before sucombing to throat cancer. If Frederick III had survived and ruled, things would have been very different.

And Wilhelm alone was not to blame for the war. The Austrians, the English-everyone was responsible.

Some have argued that there was only 1 World war that had a half time break.
Most of the Major Players found themselves on the same sides and many of the lessons on the last year of the war (which was finally becoming more mobile than the often thought of stagnent trench warefare) were being used.

Germany rejiggered and modernized the Schliffen plan in its invasion of France. The French tried (futally) to create better trech fortifications based on some German defenses from the first war.

Yes there were changes in the governements involved, but the second World War, as far as the European Theatre was concerned, was a continuation of the belligerence that existed before.

Germany wanted to expand its influence and break open its hemmed in boarders. France found itself on the defensive once again this time losing to modern tactics. England’s main concern was the secrurity of the channel and teh freedom of its fleet to operate (thus keeping its colonies secured)
Russia Once again wanted to keep its influence on the Eastern countires (especially Poland).

The final victory which didn’t happen in 1918 finished that conflict and essentially ended the late 19th century rivalries.

Germany and Austria-Hungary both had reasons for wanting a war in 1914. Russia was preparing the embark on a major modernization of its military. Germany was worried that if they didn’t fight and defeat Russia within a year or two at most, Russia would be unbeatable in any future war (and showing they hadn’t learned from history, Germany made the exact same assumption about the United States in 1941). Austria-Hungary was worried about what was going to happen when Emperor Franz Joseph died (he was 84 in 1914). Because of growing ethnic unrest, they worried that the Empire might break up in pieces during a change in regime. They decided a wartime victory would unite the country long enough to get through the changeover.

In demographic terms, Europe was reloading.

Considering that the Germans never successfully breached the main Maginot line at any point (I’m not counting the hastily built defenses throw up bordering Belgim after they declaired neutrality in the mid 30s), I wonder at your characterization of it as “futile”. If they had fortified the Ardennes and the Belgian border when they build the rest of it, WWII might have had a very, very different outcome.

True…France may have folded before the war even started due to economic collapse. :stuck_out_tongue: (BTW, the Ardennes was NEVER going to be fortified heavily, reguardless…the French were convinced no one could move a mechanized force through it. So reguardless of what happened along their northern border they still would most likely have been sucker punched…to paraphrase, surprise is what happens to you when you make bad assumptions or when you see what you want to see instead of what is actually there…)

I think that even if France COULD have extended the fortifications along its entire border (something I highly doubt they could have afforded), they still would have failed…you can’t remain on the defensive forever, and fixed fortifications were extremely vulnerable by that day and age. France was simply prepared to fight the last war on a larger scale and completely unprepared for the changes that had occured SINCE the last war.

-XT