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Germany's Aims in the First World War: Fritz Fischer's Analysis and Argument

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Harvey Mudd College
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The First World War was one of the most vicious global conflicts that lead to the death of more than nine million military men and women, and over seven million civilians (Kramer, 2014). The war also caused massive land destruction since most of the nations that participated in the war utilized powerful artilleries such as bombs and landmines in executing their attacks. The participation of Germans in the war has raised various debates on whether or not the nation should be blamed for being the initiator of the war. Scholars like the late Fritz Fischer are one of those individuals who are of the opinion that Germany was the chief instigator of the war.

The First World War began on 28th July of the year 1914 and officially ended on 11th November 1918 after Germany which was facing internal revolutionary issues agreed to a cease-fire. The countries that participated in this war were divided into two main groups the Allied Powers and Central Powers. The Allied Powers were composed of nations such as Britain, France, Russians, and the United States while the Central Powers was made up of countries like Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. The war was directly triggered by the 28th June 1914, the assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo in Bosnia by a Yugoslavian citizen called Gavrilo Princip (Mombauer, 2015). Ferdinand was the prospective heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. On the day of his assassination, the Duke and his wife Sophie Maria Josephine the Duchess of Hohenberg, were in Serbia attending the feast of St. Vitus which was a commemoration of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo. This incident instigated a diplomatic crisis after Austria-Hungary declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia since they refused to honor their ultimatum. In a few weeks the nations from the different groups were at war, and in no time the conflict escalated into a global war.

Fritz Fischer was a German historian who was born on 5th March of the year 1908 in Ludwigsstadt in Bavaria, Germany. He studied history, philosophy, theology, and pedagogy at the University of Berlin and the University of Erlangen. Fischer is remembered for his historical analysis of the causes of the First World War. His analysis and theories made him be recognized as the first German historian who supported a contrary interpretation of Germany's history concerning their participation in the first and second world wars (Stibbe, 2003). He also severed Germany as a member of the Nazi Party from 1939 to 1942. Fischer married Margarete Lauth-Volkmann and together they had two children before he died on 1st December in the year 1999. In his book Germany's Aims In the First World War,' Fritz Fischer claims that German's desire for power and world dominance was the primary factor that contributed to the occurrence of the First World War.

After examining the Imperial German government archives documents on matters relating to the First World War commonly referred to as the Great War Fischer made various conclusions. He claimed that before the war Germany had made multiple attempts in ensuring the different European countries conflicted. In 1905 the nation's emperor Kaiser Wilhelm visited Tangiers in Morocco where he declared his support of Morocco's sultan thus provoking France and Britain who were interested in ruling the country (Fischer 1967). Agitated by its exclusion from the agreements made concerning the division of North Africa under the Anglo-French April 1904 treaty, Germany intended to cause a diplomatic rift between Britain, France, and Spain. Their declaration led to the initiation of the First Moroccan Crisis which led to the formation of an agreement in 1906 convened in Algeciras in Spain. In the treaty, France was allowed to control Morocco, but the other nations were allowed to trade with the people of Morocco freely.

Germans instigated the 1908 Bosnia crisis which also contributed to the initiation of the Great War. In this case, Germany in 1878 while attempting to solve the dispute over the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Congress of Berlin biasedly ruled in favor of Austria-Hungary by stating that Austria-Hungary should be allowed to occupy and govern Bosnia and Herzegovina temporarily. In July 1908 the Young Turks initiated a revolution in present-day Istanbul. They then established a new constitutional government which they would utilize in governing themselves. Austrian foreign minister Lexa Von Aehrenthal on September 16th of the year 1908 meet with Russian's foreign minister Aleksandr Izvolsky at Buchlau, Morovia. Aehrenthal assured him that Austria would not object Russia plan to open the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits warships. In return Izvolsky said Russia would not object their annexation. Even though there were no direct attacks, this situation caused tension to rise between Austria and Serbia who opposed the annexation plan. Serbia with the backing of Russia commanded Austria to cede a portion of Herzegovina and Bosnia. Austria knowing Germany backed them threatened to invade Serbia if they persisted with their outrageous demands.

In 1911, the Germans initiated the Second Moroccan Crisis which was also referred to as the Agadir Crisis. The bond between Britain and France had become stronger six years after the First Moroccan Crisis instigated by Kaiser Wilhelm's visit to Morocco. In March 1911 the French claimed that a group of rebel tribes intended to start an uprising in Morocco that would make Fez which was one of the nation's capitals vulnerable. Morocco's sultan then requested help from the French government. According to Fischer (1967), Germans seeing this became worried about the growing influence of the French power over Africa. They believed that the tribal revolt was staged by the French who intended to occupy Morocco. Germany's foreign secretary, Alfred Von Kiderlen-Wachter without consulting other officials sent the nation's naval cruiser, Panther to Morocco's Agadir harbor at its Atlantic coast in an attempt of encouraging Moroccans to resist the influence of France.

Britain and Russia backed France Germany, on the other hand, failed to get support from its ally Austria-Hungary thus forcing it to back down. The negotiation concluded on 4th of November with Germany recognizing Morocco as a French protectorate. The events of the crisis led the British and French to share naval responsibilities the French controlled the Mediterranean, British the North Sea, and the English Channel. Seeing this, German's chief of general staff Helmuth Von Moltke through a memorandum dated 2nd December 1912 informed German's Chancellor Theobald Bethmann Von Hollweg that the European countries were preparing themselves for war. German's intended to utilize the Austro-Serbian conflict cultivated by the assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand to initiate a worldwide conflict. According to Fischer (1967), the German's during this that time tried to provoke France and Russia, the nation, however, tried to avoid conflict with the British. The country being the only ally of Austria advised not to make any compromise concerning the ultimatum they had presented to Serbia.

Fritz Fischer claims on German's contribution to the occurrence of the First World War got both negative and positive critique from scholars from different parts of the world. Herfried Munkler who is a renewed German professor and political scientist in his publication such as Blatter fur Deutsche und Internationale Politica,' discredits Fisher's claims. Munkler argued that Fisher miss-interpreted Germany's intent which was only to secure its dominance (Jahn, 2015). Munkler claimed that Germans were forced to acquire more colonies by countries such as France and Britain which initiated the quest for dominance over Europe by acquiring territories in regions as far as Africa. Thus according to him, Germany was forced to participate in the war by the growing desire of dominance over Europe by counties such as France and Britain.

In a Die Welt' article written by Dominik Geppert, Sonke Neitzel, Cora Stephan and Thomas Weber on January 4th, 2014 titled Why Germany is not exclusively guilty.' The writers termed the argument that Germany was a nation that intended to control the world was preposterous. They claimed that the strong leaders of Germany saw it wise for the country to take a defensive move that enabled the country to maintain its status and avoid being encircled by power-hungry nations such as France and Britain (Jahn, 2015). Volker Ulrich was one of the historians who supported Fischer's argument concerning German's instigation of the First World War. In one of the January Die Zeit,' articles Volker said that he concurs with Fischer's argument. Volker acknowledged that Germany utilized its influence over Austria in pressuring it to force Serbia to consider their stiff ultimatum. He also claimed that historians like Munkler had presented old and non-original arguments against Fischer's theory which were responded by Fischer (Jahn, 2015). The claims presented by Fritz Fischer received more objections than support especially from scholars from the Western part of Germany. The few supporters of the writer's arguments were mostly from the other European counties such as Britain and France.

In my opinion, Germany should not be solemnly blamed for the occurrence of the First World War. This is because all the nations that participated in the war directly instigated the war. Britain and France ambitious intent of growing their colonies contributed to the war since it caused tension between the European nations. The countries decision to grab land from regions such as Africa during the late 19th Century motivated other nations also to desire to increase their empire. The German's, for instance, noticed France and Britain intended to solidify the dominance and rule over the other European realms by strategically colonizing and acquiring resources from Africa. The alliance of France, Britain and Russia also contributed to the occurrence of the war. This is because their decision to unite their military forces and form friendly ties showed that the nations were preparing themselves for a possible conflict. This encouraged countries such as Germany, Austria, and Italy to also join forces in anticipation of a war.



Fischer, F. (1967). Germany's aims in the First World War. WW Norton.

Jahn, E. (2015). Sarajevo 1914. A Century of Debate About the Guilt for the First World War.In World Political Challenges(pp. 91-117). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.Kramer, A. (2014). Recent Historiography of the First World War-Part I. Journal of ModernEuropean History, 12(1), 5-27.

Mombauer, A. (2015). Guilt or Responsibility? The Hundred-Year Debate on the Origins ofWorld War I. Central European History, 48(4), 541-564.



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