A contemplation of arguments assigning Germany responsibility for the First World War
Why was Germany responsible for the First World War?
The First World War, though initially sparked by Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the hostilities between Austro-Hungary and Serbia incurred by that event, has, in the popular imagination, come to be primarily remembered for the devastating conflict on the Western Front between the Anglo-French alliance and their German antagonist. From this prevailing memory of a war centred on Germany, combined with that of the subsequent Second World War in which the expansionist ideology of Nazism provides a clear cause and case of blame, there have been tendencies to assign Germany with responsibility for the 1914-1918 conflict as well, and to some extent these can be justified.
Even in the distant background of the war, it is possible to recognise certain acts of Germany in the international sphere – acts which contributed to the eventual breakdown of peace between the European states and empires – as reprehensible. Such include its provocations of France during both Moroccan Crises in 1905 and 1911. These demonstrate much of the same aggressive character as its actions in the context of the 1914 July Crisis following Ferdinand’s murder. Firstly one may question the ethicality of its support for Austro-Hungary after that nation’s responses to the catastrophe, among which are the pogroms against ethnic Serbians, and the humiliating ultimatum – deliberately constructed to be unacceptable – delivered to Serbia itself: it was in an alliance fully committed to the provocation of war, even if that was not Germany’s own intention. Germany’s following actions were of course instrumental in expanding this Balkan war to encompass the Western European nations, as, in spite of the voices of politicians like Sir Edward Grey calling for Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain not to concern themselves with Serbia and focus on peace, it enacted the Schlieffen Plan and its invasion of France. Though this was perhaps a logical development of Russian support for Serbia, with Germany taking the initiative lest France make good on its Russian alliance, there is visible a certain impatience and disregard for diplomatic action in containing the war on the part of the Germans. Finally, the precise course of action of the invasion of France, which entailed Germany marching its troops directly through Belgium, brought Britain’s commitment to protecting Belgium into play, and set all the powerful, populous and technologically-advanced empires of Europe against each other, unmistakably laying the foundations for the great destruction and loss of life that transpired.
However, this is merely one interpretation of facts and circumstances: others, which assign responsibility to other nations, or to the circumstances of the time in general, are just as plausible.