World War 1: German Guilt.

Essay by MelengkeCollege, UndergraduateA, April 2004

download word file, 17 pages 3.5

Downloaded 103 times


Few historical areas can have aroused as much debate as that of the origins and causes of WW1. The thousands of documents and eyewitness testimonies collated have allowed historians to construct exceedingly detailed illustrations of what happened in the days, months and years leading to the outbreak of war. Despite having researched, in many cases, identical material, there is no end of disagreement among historians as to who, or what, caused the war. Just some of the more plausible theories include apportioning the blame to Germany; Austria; Russia; Serbia; France; Britain; everybody (collective responsibility); nobody (accidental war) and Capitalism. It is difficult to believe but (perhaps unsurprisingly considering the historical talent involved) each case is stated with such conviction and sense that, in isolation, all appear essentially unquestionable. While some of the theories can be dismissed as fundamentally flawed, a more convincing reason is needed to explain the multitude of conflicting exegeses.

The above suggests that, "on the one hand (WW1) was massively over-determined and on the other that no effort to analyse the causal factors involved can ever fully succeed.1" Most previous attempts have failed to procure a satisfactory answer because they have attempted to reduce the various contributing factors to some fundamental cause. This is riddled with problems, but there arises an even greater difficulty; every cause announced has itself got a cause, ad infinitum. Therefore, any effective account, while recognising the multitude of interwoven causes, must pick a cut-off point, where causes stop being causes and start being conditions. 'Long-range factors were part and parcel of the mood and the realities of early twentieth-century Europe. This was the world in which the nations and their leaders had to operate, and the truly significant question is how well they did so.2' I contend that the problem here...