Article 231 of The Treaty of Versailles

Article 231 of The Treaty of Versailles
Firstly, we must proceed to explain the nature of Article 231 in order to be able to analyse its judgement about Germany?s responsibility for the war. After the war had ended, Europe?s, especially France?s economy was devastated. There was also a general desire for such a war never to repeat itself, as the first proof of modern warfare proved to be ruinous. To deal with this two issues the allied powers made Germany sign the ?war guilt clause? which made it accept all the guilt for the war and because of this, pay reparations to the affected states. In this way France?s economy would theoretically recover faster while Germany was kept economically weak so it could never attempt to cause a war again.
Even though at the time most non-German historians went along with this, while German historians were not happy with this interpretation for obvious reasons, after a few years opinion began to move away from only blaming Germany and accepted that other countries should also take part of the blame. However, in 1961 a German historian called Fritz Fischer proposed the idea that after all Germany should take most of the responsibility.
These two points of view have been a cause for debate for historians and a final agreement has not yet been reached. While most historians accept that the key decisions for war in July 1914 were taken in Berlin, other factors such as German foreign policy (?Weltpolitik?) and the alliance system remain still as the grounds of discussion.
To analyse in depth Germany?s guilt for the war we must first look at the most distant events and work our way up to the July crisis. To understand Germany?s actions that lead to war we shall look first at its foreign policy, specifically from the point were Bismarck?s policy ended in 1890.

After Bismarck?s dismissal the Kaiser and his advisers were convinced that the most likely wars in Europe were Germany against France of Austria-Hungary against Russia and in neither case could Russia and Germany be on the same side because of the existing alliances. This meant the rupture of the Russo-German friendship and the starting point were the two fronts that battled in the Great War started to shape up. Another example of a failed attempt of alliance was that of with Britain. Kaiser Wilhelm inherited her mother?s admiration for English liberalism and the accepted view of English pre-eminence while keeping his father?s strict Prussian military code of behaviour. His influences had an effect in his unusual approach to Britain. For example, in 1906 he sent a telegram to the Boer president congratulating him on defeating the Jameson Raid yet in a Daily Telegraph interview he was to explain how he had helped the British to defeat the Boers. With the increase of the German navy Germany intended to frighten Britain into an alliance, yet this had the opposite effect on Britain and, together with its agreements with Japan France and Russia, she was placed firmly in the camp of Germany?s enemies. Because of Italy?s ambivalence as to what side to take, Germany?s only true ally was Austria-Hungary. This made Germany get increasingly into the disputes over the Balkans.
With the end of the Bismarck system of alliances, the formation of what would later be the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente could be seen as the result of all the tensions, fears and conflicts that happened afterwards. So we can say that it is Germany?s fault that the Bismarck system collapsed and, even though the alliance system was more of a consequence than a cause for conflict, it is important to note that if the Bismarck system hadn?t collapsed the chain of friendship that made the third Balkan war into the World War I would have been very different and most certainly the events would have been so too.

Another important aspect in Germany?s foreign policy was its colonial policy. The ambition of Kaiser Wilhelm was to be influential beyond his country?s own boundaries and to do this Germany had to win colonies. At the same time military power was needed to get the colonies. The most important affair dealing with the colonial policy was that of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. In 1882 the Turkish government gave its approval for the first stage of the project, form Constantinople to Ankara, which Germany built by 1892. An intense competition between the European powers for the right to build the next section followed. Again Germany was granted the concession and by 1896 the section from Eskis Ehir to Konya was built. Once more there was competition for the right to build the following part. With the help of France and despite Russian opposition Germany won the concession once again for the section between Konya and Baghdad. However the building proved to be less easy as the British and French government refused to cooperate. The control of this railway became an international issue between Germany and Britain and added to the list of conflicts and misunderstandments (such as the naval build up) between these two countries.

We can see that the colonial policy is an early manifestation of German expansionism and desire for influence that we shall later see in the July Crisis in a much greater manner as proposed by Fischer. This desire for influence added only small amounts of tension in the late 19th century, and considerable quantities of it in the early 20th century, especially after the Moroccan crises, but its true importance is to be noted in the latter stages of conflict leading to war in 1914.

It is the July Crisis which is of most importance when dealing with German responsibility for the war. As we have stated before there are two views about the degree of blame Germany has for the start of the war.

The first one states that Germany was not responsible in terms of deliberate government policies for the changing balance of power in Europe which put the international system under pressure. Nor it was responsible for the grow of nationalism in Europe, especially the Balkan region were the newly formed states did not need Germany to encourage their ambitions although German prosperity since 1871 showed them the advantages of being a unified nation-state. Referring closer to 1914 the view put forward by Lloyd George that the Powers stumbled into war and that the blame was also evenly distributed among France, Great Britain, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Serbia (for example that Great Britain didn?t made itself clear on the announcement 31st of July telling Germany it would support France) also fall in the argument that Germany was not entirely responsible for the war. However this view does recognize that Germany was guilty to a great extent by issuing the famous ?blank cheque? urging Austria-Hungary to attack Serbia and offering their help without any conditions attached following the long-standing Prussian military principle of striking first in the international relationship situation left no alternative (Much like the policy in which Bismarck had very successfully relied: preventive war).
On the other side the view proposed by the historian, Professor Fritz Fischer in 1961 states that the war in 1914 was not a ?tragedy of miscalculations? but was brought about deliberately by German leaders for two main reasons: Germany wanted to fight an expansionist war aimed at establishing Germany as a world power both economically and politically and also wanted to ease the tension on internal politic affairs. In the elections of 1912 the German Socialist Party won over a third of the Reichstag seats making it the largest single party. In January 1914 the Reichstag passed a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, but he stayed in his position because the Kaiser decided so. This was an important clash between the Reichstag which aimed to have more political power and the Kaiser and Chancellor who where determined to resist change.
Even though these statements caused a great controversy at first, the large amount of documentary evidence presented by Fischer and his supporters leave us with little doubt that Germany?s military and political leaders must be held responsible for the outbreak of the conflict in 1914.

German intentions of staging a preventive war can be traced back to a meeting between the German army and the naval leaders arranged by the Kaiser on the 12th of December 1912. The Kaiser spoke of an imminent war and was supported by the chief of the German army, however the war did not take place because the commander of the navy insisted that his military sector was not yet ready to take on the British fleet.

Germany saw the opportunity it longed for in the Sarajevo crisis and gave its total support to Austria-Hungary, knowing that Serbia wouldn?t accept the unfair ultimatum in order to force a major military showdown they regarded as inevitable. Evidence of this can be taken from an extract of a briefing given by the German Secretary of State, Gottlieb von Jagow, to the ambassador of Austria-Hungary: ?if Serbia gives an unsatisfactory answer, our declaration of war, and war operations will follow immediately??

So as far as the short-term cause for the war is concerned, due to the amount of evidence we find to support Fischer?s theory, Germany had all the blame since it was planning a conflict of this type beforehand.

Summing up all of the above we can now say that Germany was responsible for the war to the extent that it triggered the short-term cause by planning a preventive war to fight. However, if we consider the long-range causes for World War I we must take in account the collapse of the alliance system, the rise of nationalism and the conflicts that occurred due to Germany?s Foreign policy where we find that, even though Germany had some guilt in the three of these aspects, the main long term cause for the war was the constant building of up tensions between countries which Germany realized would lead to an ?inevitable war? and thus provoked the decision to fight a preventive war.

Article 231 of The Treaty of Versailles 9 of 10 on the basis of 1433 Review.