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Germany readies its people for war

Over the last few days (this is 1914 we’re talking about just in case anyone was in any doubt) a large number of articles have appeared in the German press on the threat posed by Russia. And still they come:

There is, if anything, an increase to-day in the Press discussion of present and future and possible and probable Russo-German relations. The Berlin Bourse, which was troubled last week by the beginning of the campaign in the Cologne Gazette, was disturbed again to-day – chiefly by the spreading of the infection to the Radical and “pacific” Berliner Tageblatt. This journal published this morning an anonymous article by somebody who is described as distinguished and experienced in all branches of international politics, which, without indeed advocating war, advocates the adoption of a very firm policy towards Russia.

This is co-ordinated and there’s only one body that would be doing the co-ordination: the German government. They are preparing the population for war. The argument being used is precisely the argument being used in the corridors of power: the Russians are building up their forces and in a few years they will be too strong and it will be too late. In other words: it’s now or never.

The Times 10 March 1914 p5

The Times 10 March 1914 p5

It is not just the Russians the Germans are worried about. The Russians on their own would be fairly harmless (as indeed they proved to be) but they are in alliance with France. This leads to Germany’s worst nightmare: the prospect of a war on two fronts. This in turn leads to the development of the Schlieffen Plan with its aim to eliminate one of those fronts before the other one got going.

There is an alternative. Germany could return Alsace-Lorraine to France. At a stroke they would eliminate the one and only bone of contention in the Franco-German relationship and as a consequence break up the Franco-Russian alliance. But no.

There are good reasons why the German government isn’t so keen on such a move. By accepting self-determination in Alsace-Lorraine they would be accepting the principle of democracy. This is hardly the sort of thing that a monarchy can do. There would also be the element of losing face that weak regimes are very reluctant to do.

As I mentioned earlier the claim is that Germany must go to war soon or else it will be too late. The odd thing is that they were even wrong about this. The Russians were utterly incompetent in the First World War and there is no reason to think they would have fought much better even after their arms build up.

What is interesting is that even the Socialists appear to be unnerved by the Russian threat. This might explain why after the war broke out and despite the fact they had been left out of the loop, they were so willing to vote the government the funds to carry on the war.

There’s more:

To-day the Pan-German Press is advocating German claims of all sorts, especially in Asia Minor, “which is still to be had, but only if Germany does not shrink from the extreme test and is ready to risk war against Russia and France as well as England.”

This is fascinating. They have clearly made up their minds that if war means war with England then so be it. It is suicidal but that’s the point the German High Command has reached in 1914.

It was Fritz Fischer, writing in the 1950s who claimed that the outbreak of war in 1914 was no accident. He traced it back to what has become known as the War Council of December 1912. From there, Germany abandoned the naval arms race with Britain so that it could build up its army. Shortly afterwards it launched this campaign. Everything is ready. Now all they need is a pretext.

There is also the claim that the Russians are running riot in the Balkans:

The writer insists that “pretences” shall be dropped and that both Berlin and Vienna shall recognize that they have step by step been retreating before Russian pretensions with lamentable results.

This is absolute nonsense. The people who are winning are the Austrians. They have annexed Bosnia, created the state of Albania to deny the Serbs a port, faced the Russians down in the mobilisations of 1912 and made an ally of the Bulgarians – a country hitherto in the Russian sphere. Meanwhile, a German, Liman von Sanders, has more or less been put in charge of the Turkish army, completely putting the kibosh on (the admittedly somewhat far-fetched) Russian ambitions to control the Bosphorus.

Incidentally, it is one of the claims of Christopher Clark’s book The Sleepwalkers (p330) that the German government did not embark on a campaign to ready its people for war. This, he felt, showed that the so-called War Council was not quite as decisive as others have claimed. What this article (and others) show is that this claim is nonsense.

8 comments to Germany readies its people for war

  • Paul Marks

    Russia had no intention of invading Germany before the war in 1914.

    But Germany (or rather the German elite) did intend to destroy Russia.

    This is because, contrary to Max Hastings, Germany did NOT have the highest economic growth of the major European nations in 1914 – RUSSIA did.

    Russia was no threat to Germany in 1914 (indeed the Russian attack launched after the German attack on France, was basically mass suicide – the Russians flung themselves at the Germans in a desperate effort to distract the attention of the Germans from winning in the West, the Russian distraction effort was successful but only at terrible cost) – but it was thought that Russia would become a threat to Germany in the long term.

    Therefore an excuse to destroy Russia (the old Russia) had to be found.

    France was also a long term threat (not a threat in 1914) as economic growth in the “new industries” (again contrary to Max Hastings) was better in France than it was in Germany.

    To control the coast of Europe (and the resources of Europe) in order to proceed with the next stage of Imperial Germany’s “Geopolitics” plan for the destruction of Britain (and the domination of the World) both France and Russia had to be destroyed.

    1914 seemed to provide the opportunity to do this.

    And the German plan almost worked.

    Had several German divisions not been dispatched East (they were on railway trains in the middle of German missing the key battles of both West and East) the Germans might have won the Battle of the Marne.

    Had the Germans won this battle – Paris would have fallen and France collapsed (1940 in 1914) then the Germans would have turned their united forces on Russia – and destroyed Russia (the ruthless Soviet regime of 1941 was very different to the weak Russian government of 1914).

    Domination of Europe achieved, Imperial Germany would have used these vast resources to destroy Britain – and to attempt to dominate the world (the long term aim of World domination was openly admitted in German academic-political circles – hence their intense interest in North and South America).

  • Andi Lucas

    Teutonophobes should note that ‘the principal of self-determination’ applied to Alsace-Lorraine would probably not have returned it to Franec, at least if the predominantly German Alsace and prdeominantly French Lorraine had been able to vote separately.

  • “What is interesting is that even the Socialists appear to be unnerved by the Russian threat. This might explain why after the war broke out and despite the fact they had been left out of the loop, they were so willing to vote the government the funds to carry on the war.”

    But isn’t that in large measure because there was no government in Europe that Socialist parties worldwide hated and wanted to see overthrown as much as that of the Tsar’s?

    Smashed revolutions, pogroms, disastrous wars, Siberia exile- it all made the German regime seem enlightened(comparatively).

  • @Andi Lucas Not sure where you’re getting this from. There was a fairly big separatist part in A-L up to 1907. There was the Zabern Incident and there’s no current separatist movement that I am aware of.

  • Paul, while I agree with most of what you say I must take issue with the idea that the Schlieffen Plan almost worked. By the Marne the German armies on the right flank were falling apart. They had even managed to lose touch with one another. Even on shorter routes. Had they stuck to the original plan things would have been even worse.

  • Leif

    France wanted revenge for its humiliation in 1870-71, the restoration of la gloire, not just the return of some real estate. Germany did not mobilize its armies until very late in the crisis, and did not truly mobilize its people until the war was well under way. A silly headline in an English newspaper does not invalidate the extensive research carried out in numerous foreign archives by serious scholars. Clark’s book is superb, and is supported by much recent scholarship.

    Face it, Russia and Austria-Hungary started the war, and England’s unnecessary involvement made it a global catastrophe. But I well know, England will never stop trying to blame Germany.

  • Mr Ed

    And still the death toll mounts in Ypres, two more dead.