Fritz Fischer, Gerhard Ritter and Konrad H. Jarausch have each written on the topic of World War One regarding the nature of Germany’s involvement. Fischer holds Germany undeniably responsible for the Great War while Ritter, seems to be responding emotionally to Fischer’s essay. He denounces Fischer’s assertions arguing that Germany acted diplomatically and that Fischer is guilty of ‘thesis history’. Jarausch’s paper took a more balanced view; he considers arguments from both ends of the spectrum. Fischer, Ritter and Jarausch differ in their interpretations of the many correspondences that took place between members of political and military influences during the war with particular consideration payed to the German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg.
I will attempt to argue that Fischer’s thesis is essentially correct. Ritter fails to prove, in my view, Fischer’s paper an example of ‘thesis history’. Instead, he succeeds only in expressing his emotional response. Finally, although Jarausch shows that Bethmann Hollweg’s motives may have been more diplomatic in nature than Fischer describes (through his use of Reizler’s diary, ) he does not shift the main responsibility for World War One away from Germany.
Fischer and Ritter disagree on Germany’s motives of involvement regarding the Austro-Serbian conflict. Fischer argues that Germany took advantage of the Austro-Serbian conflict in order to stage a preventive war and to pull herself out of European isolation. Ritter argues that Germany’s true motive was to maintain Austria as an ally and a great power. Ritter accuses Fischer of ‘thesis history’ arguing that Fischer intentionally set out to prove Germany’s guilt, and in doing, was undiscerning in the selection of his evidence. Ritter gives the example of Fischer’s use of Viktor Naumann, a journalist, as a source for his paper. Ritter argues that, Naumann being a journalist, is not a credible source.
In examining great social and cultural changes in the modern West, many specific events come to mind: the Renaissance and the Reformation, the "discovery" of the Americas, industrialization, and World War Two. One such event, often overlooked, is the "Great War", 1914-1918. Like every people affected by the expanse of this war, Germans were deeply affected and forever changed. As a social, ...
He argues further that simply because Naumann’s predictions were confirmed by Germany’s conduct in the July crisis, this does not prove that Germany, in fact, intended to ‘unloose’ a preventive war. In trying to argue Fischer’s lack of discrimination in selecting evidence it seems that Ritter may himself be biassed in evaluating his own choice of evidence. Ritter attempts to discredit Fischer’s entire thesis by evaluating only part of his paper. Fischer’s paper spans some forty two pages and seems more thorough compared to Ritter’s ten page critique.
Not all of Fischer’s sources were journalists; he addresses, what seems, a complete account of documented evidence, predominantly correspondences (letters, reports, telegrams and the like) between political and military men whom were closely involved in the decision making of the war. Ritter’s rebuttal would have been stronger if he included counter arguments discrediting more of Fischer’s ‘harder’ evidence. Ritter’s own emotional bias is evident in the language that he uses in his essay. For example, Ritter states: “Does not Fischer know the true reason,”Nevertheless Fischer appears not to believe the genuineness of these reasons” and “Naturally the true reason for the… .” These phrases express his opposition and personal offense. His identification with and defence of Germany is evident in his use of “us” and “our” when referring to Germany.
If Fischer was so “obviously” wrong in his arguments, as Ritter implies, then Ritter should easily be able to offer counter arguments to show the “truth.” Instead he responds to Fischer’s thesis in a way suggesting his feelings have been hurt. Fischer’s thesis does support the position of Germany’s culpability for the outbreak of a continental war but, in doing so, there is no evidence he takes pleasure in placing blame; he is simply stating the facts as he sees them. Ritter’s emotional response to Fischer’s thesis works to weaken his argument not strengthen it. A subject on which all three authors differ is that of Bethmann Hollweg’s intentions regarding the war. One common question is that of Hollweg’s resistance to British attempts at mediation. Fischer argues that Hollweg, after dismissing several British attempts to mediate, finally accepts.
The defeat of Germany in World War Two was due to many factors. All of these factors were influenced by the leadership and judgment of Adolf Hitler. Factors such as the stand fast policy, Hitlers unnecessary and risky decision making in military situations, for example when attacking the USSR, and the declaration of war on the US. Plus other factors, like Hitlers alliance with Italy, despite its ...
He does so, however, not to avoid continental war, but rather, to gain favourable footing for Germany. This suggests a ruthless Hollweg. Ritter tries to discredit Fischer’s interpretation by asserting the idea that disregarding British attempts at mediation was simply a mistake and he further maintains that Germany did not pressure Austria in any of her decisions. This argument suggests a more reasonable Hollweg: After all everyone makes mistakes! Jarausch takes a middle position, using Reizler’s diary. Through Reizler’s account the reader is given both positive and negative aspects of Hollweg: “Unbearable in many details, he is admirable in great things.” Jarausch summarizes Reizler’s account of Hollweg’s character by writing: “Despite his rhetorical gifts, Bethmann lacked charisma, and preferred cabinet diplomacy to mass appeals… Though blessed with ‘a great mind,’ he was ‘unable to cope with the routine of politics.’ ” Jarausch uses the following quote as another example of Hollweg’s diplomatic nature: Concerning Austria’s relations with Serbia the German government believes that Vienna has to judge what has to be done to clarify this relationship; in this undertaking it can count safely on Germany’s support of the monarchy as ally and friend-whatever its decision.
Hollweg having used the terms “ally” and “friend” to describe Austria could be interpreted as evidence of genuine concern. Specifically addressing the issue of British mediation attempts, Jarausch argues that Germany’s intent was a diplomatic one. He asserts the idea that Hollweg revealed Germany’s war aims in order to achieve diplomacy, and not because he had hope of implementing a plan to relocate power. Essentially, Jarausch is asserting the idea that Hollweg had good intentions but sometimes made poor political decisions. All three historians considered the issue of the ‘blank cheque’.
As in Worald War I, Germanys primary downfall was its lack of adequate allies and a war on multiple fronts. Territorially, Hitler came very close in World War II to achieving his quest for lebensraum yet his failure to concentrate his resources proved disastrous. His lack of time spent organizing the conquered territories resulted in wide spread rebellions which in turn separated German forces. ...
Fischer argues that the ‘blank cheque’ was used to pressure Austria toward war in order to provoke quick military action. According to Fischer, Wilhelm’s decision to offer ‘total support’ to Austria-Hungary was based on the assumption that Russia was not prepared for war. Quick military action would exploit Germany’s advantage if this assumption proved correct and her military strength did, in truth, surpass her enemies’. Ritter argues that Austria requested Germany’s ‘total support’; without it she was unwilling to proceed against Serbia. Ritter perceives the ‘blank cheque’ as purely an act of support on Germany’s part for Austria’s peace of mind, and not as Fischer argues, to take advantage of Russia’s unpreparedness for war. However, Ritter theorizes that Germany was in favour of quick military action.
He argues that she was so, out of the fear that too much elapsed time would allow other powers to dissuade Austria from her present course of action against Serbia. Jarausch argues that Austrian preservation was vital to German interest. He asserts the possibility that swift military action could have prevented Russian intervention not encouraged. He suggests that Bethmann Hollweg wanted the conflict to be localized to prevent an international conflict.
Jarausch admits that Germany activity influenced Austria, yet he also of the belief shows that she was acting with good intentions, as an “ally and friend.” Fritz Fischer’s argument supports the view that Germany was culpable of propelling what might have been an isolated conflict into a continental war. He shows through many and varied sources that, among other arguments, Germany had motives beyond simply helping her ally, Austria. Gerhard Ritter’s response to Fischer’s thesis, although it raises some questions regarding Fischer’s arguments, is marred by an emotional bias. He has mistaken Fischer’s paper for an unfair attack on Germany and chooses to respond in kind, by attacking Fischer himself. Konrad H.
How Far Was Germany Responsible For The Outbreak Of WWI The outbreak of World War One was reliant on a number of factors. These include the alliance system, the sense of nationalism sweeping Europe at the time. The imperial and colonial rivalry resulted in the naval and arms race. When Germany's role in these causes is examined it is possible to come to the conclusion that Germany, whilst not ...
Jarausch shows, through Reizler’s diary, Bethmann Hollweg’s character as one that could be diplomatic in nature but also capable of error. He presents a more balanced view then Ritter and his evidence, like Fischer’s, suggests German culpability. What Hollweg’s actual intentions may have been, what actually resulted was accelerated and wider conflict than Austria would have initiated without Germany’s active influence. Works Cited Fischer, F.
, “Germany and the Outbreak of War: The Miscalculation on British Neutrality”, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, (1967), pp. 50-92. Jarausch, K. H. , “The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg’s Calculated Rist, July 1914”, Central European History, II, (1969), pp. 48-76.
Ritter, G. , “A New War-Guilt Thesis?” Trans. Lee, D. E.
, The Outbreak of the First World War: Causes and Responsibilities, (1976), pp. 97-107.