World war 11 Essay

This essay has a total of 4343 words and 19 pages.

world war 11

World War I, the first globally destructive conflict that the Western Civilization
produced, has been the subject of various analysis, interpretations and reevaluations of
the various causes that led to it. Initially, the guilt was placed upon Germany and its
allies. Eventually, historical analysis conducted in decades after the event, lead to a
shift from the guilt perspective, to a broader one of various interacting factors.
Although almost nine decades have elapsed, one question still persists: "Which explanation
is best suited as the cause of WWI?"

To provide an answer, the views of six historians shall be considered. To begin, James
Joll's answer to the question will be examined. It will be seen that he considered several
factors that, according to him, interlinked and lead to the conflict. Five additional
explanatory models will be analyzed: those of historians Arno Mayer, Wolfgang Mommsen,
Donald Lammers, Micheal Gordon and Konrad Jarausch. They concentrated on more specific
issues as part of interpreting the causes of the conflict.

In his 1980s book The Origins of the First World War, historian James Joll offers an
explanation linking the entire social, political and economic spectrum of 20th C. Europe.
First, he starts his search for a cause in the July Crisis of 1914.

The July 1914 crisis started with the diplomatic ultimatum that Austro-Hungary gave
Serbia. The rest of the European powers, galvanized in the various alliance systems, where
overwhelmed. Thus, Germany was offering unquestioned support to the Hapsburgs, even if it
was to be military, whilst knowing that the Russians were objecting to any use of force
against Serbia and threatening their intervention. France seemed confused, but was ready
to support Russian intervention against Austria-Hungary. Britain, pressured both by France
and Russia, was undecided until it officially announced its military support to them. In
the end, according to Joll, in July "events were moving too fast for the diplomats because
the decisions were now more and more being taken by the soldiers." What had started as a
diplomatic crisis had resulted in military action.

The second causal factor offered by Joll is the Alliance System between the Great Powers.
Germany was thus allied with Austria-Hungary. France and Russia had their own pact. Adding
to these treaties, aiming for a Balance of Power, where the secret ententes between
England and France, and England and Russia. The result was a military and political
planning that depended, or was strengthened by this polarization of the two camps: The
Alliance and The Entente. The various treaties thus "provided the framework within which
the diplomacy of the pre-war years was conducted."

Thirdly, Joll analyzed pre-war militarism and strategic planning. Germany, militaristic,
had increased its naval program enough as to lead to "a radical change in British
strategic thinking." The British were involved in the usual strategic planning aiming at
securing their access to the Empire and, in the end, the arms race "contributed to the
feeling that war was inevitable." French militarism was aiming at increasing the draft
term, whereas the Russian military recovery from the 1905 loss to the Japanese was
"alarming the Germans". All major powers had anticipated war, and the pre-war planning,
such as the Schlieffen Plan, exacerbated everything. The Powers were ready for the
conflict, had planned for it, and when the crisis came, diplomatic thinking was bypassed
by military critical readiness.

Fourthly, Joll examined the importance of domestic policies, which, according to several
historians, could have influenced foreign policy decisions. Every Great Power was "passing
through a political and social crisis in 1914." The Austro-Hungarian Empire was losing
its geopolitical integrity; Britain had to deal with the Ulster Irish question that was
about to overspill; France had as issues taxation and the Three-Year service issue.
Nevertheless, Joll points out that domestic policies played a part, but not a big one as
to lead to war. Ultimately, politicians did not "deliberately embarked on war as a way out
of their insoluble domestic, social and political problems."

Economic rivalries were another factor that Joll examined. He indicated that "not all
imperialistic policies were inspired by direct economic interests." Although economic
interest had often lead to strategic frictions between the Great Powers, in the end
"economic interests were not too much […] in the minds of the politicians" in July 1914.
To minimize the role of economic calculations vis-à-vis a war, Joll indicated that the
opponents had not "taken into account the economic consequences and needs of a war."
Governments thus did not embark on war in order to satisfy private or budgetary financial

Regarding Imperialism, Joll pointed out that, although it did increase in pace between
1880 and 1900, it was not the immediate cause for war. Britain had an Empire to defend;
Russia was pushing in the Middle East and was already present in Persia; Italy wanted to
live up to its glorious past and Germany wanted to create its own sea power, or
Weltpolitik. Yet, despite obvious opposing aims, the Great Powers were able to expand
while preserving peace. Joll thus mentions all the various treaties that the Great Powers
signed in the 19th C. and early 20th C. The only agreement that was not achieved, the
Anglo-German one, was still not enough to spark the war. An agreement would have been
achieved if "the Germans had been prepared to abate their claims to naval hegemony and
world power." Joll thus concludes that "imperialist policies had contributed to the frame
of mind in which decisions were taken" , but the war itself was not caused by "immediate
imperialist activities". The immediate cause, according to Joll, was to be found in the
attitudes of 1914.

The seventh factor evaluated by Joll, the Mood of 1914, was the cumulative result of 19th
C. nationalism and patriotism. Therefore, in all belligerent states the war was
unanimously accepted. Despite beliefs that socialists might determine workers not to
support the war effort, patriotism, "inculcated at many levels of national life all over
Europe," prevailed. The youth had slowly been indoctrinated for war. Society itself was
familiar with the possibility of war. In the end, according to Joll, "governments were
able to fight the war because their subjects accepted the necessity for it." Some people
believed that a war would solve internal problems. Others saw it as a solution for
external ones. Joll thus concludes that, ultimately, it was "attitudes which made the war

The author concluded his work admitting that, in a different time, a historian will see
causes from a different perspective. The following historians wrote in different decades
and approached the causes of WWI from different directions.

In his article "Domestic Causes of the First World War", Arno Mayer detached his analysis
from the usual multi-factor explanatory model, and focused instead on the role of domestic
policies in igniting the war. Mayer thus points to a pre-revolutionary state of affairs in
all of Europe, which lead to an intense "interconnection of domestic politics and foreign
politics." In his analysis, Mayer points out that Germany's social issue pushed
politicians to want war in order to provide a solution to internal problems. In Britain,
France and Italy, "liberalism […] was heavily besieged" whereas Russia had labor problems
to deal with. The solution, again, was war. Mayer concludes his article indicating that
failing to analyze the interconnection between domestic and foreign policy is "likely to
leave a distorted picture […] of the long-run and immediate causes of the Great War…"

Wolfgang Mommsen's article "The Debate on German War Aims" revolves around the
controversial subject of Germany's immediate pre-war aims. Mommsen criticizes the work of
another historian, Fritz Fischer, who pointed out that Germany had a "will to unlimited
world power." Mommsen refutes Fischer's claim that Germany was pursuing nothing but
imperialist aims and points out that the German Chancellor, Bethmann, was moderate and not
an annexationist. The author agrees that the military were more influential than the
politicians and points to a certain "spirit of fatalism" that made the Germans wait for
the war. Mommsen concludes his article implying that German aims can be found from a
detailed political, social and constitutional study of pre-war Germany.

In his article "Arno Mayer and the British Decision for War: 1914", historian Donald
Lammers searched for answers in Britain. He criticizes one of Arno Mayer's articles in
which he attributed Britain's commitment to war as a move to avoid or solve internal
problems. Lammers thus points out that the Ulster problem was big, but not "apocalyptic."
Socio-political tensions within Britain had split Liberal and Conservative views, yet they
both agreed on Britain's commitment to support France if she was attacked by Germany. The
determination to go to war did not emerge from domestic pressures, or one party would have
opposed war as a way to weaken the other one politically. Lammers concludes that an answer
to Britain's commitment is more likely to be found in Mayer's own conclusions on "Balance
of Power and the security of the Empire," and not in the internal socio-political

Michael Gordon joined the causal debate with his article "Domestic Conflict and the
Origins of the First World War," in which he compared pre-war Britain to Germany. First he
described foreign policy and concluded that Britain was "hesitant", whereas Germany was
"rash and aggressive." Secondly, by comparing domestic politics, Gordon concluded that
both Britain and Germany were on the eve of constitutional crisis, yet Germany contained
more social extremism within than Britain. With regards to the domestic-foreign policy
link, Gordon states that Germany's elites "had an overwhelming incentive to use foreign
policy as a method for domestic control," whereas the British ones did not. To explain
these differences, Gordon's detailed comparison first points to economic factors: rate and
form of industrialization and international implications. Britain had developed early both
industrially and socially; Germany had been rushed through this process in just decades
and was thus in turmoil. Another factor was different between the two states: governmental
institutions. The British solved political problems within the parliament; the Germans
diverted them in foreign policy. Nationalism was also different between the states, just
as their politics were. The final conclusion Gordon arrived at was that, all things
considered, domestic politics had clear impacts on the foreign policy of the states.
Britain grew defensive and weary, whereas Germany grew fearful of "international specters"
in addition to following a domestic propaganda program aimed at diluting internal

Konrad Jarausch pursued a conciliatory explanation of Germany's Chancellor, Theobald von
Bethmann, and his immediate pre-war decisions. In the article "The Illusion of Limited
War", Jarausch described Bethmann as an optimistic politician who was "hoping for a
breakthrough." The Chancellor supported Austria but, considering Britain's silence,
believed in a localized European war, similar to the Balkan one of 1913. Eventually,
according to the author, the Chancellor lost effective control of the events as the
military influence, the "Bismarckian legacy," bypassed civilian decision taking. He
realized too late, that what Germany had risked was, in fact, a full continental war.
Jarausch thus concludes that Bethmann did not enter the war as a "rabid pan-German
expansionist, but as a traditional nationalist."

The explanatory models presented by these five historians have the undeniable quality of
elaborating and detailing complementary explanations about the origins of the WWI. Even if
many historians have not spent time analyzing Bethmann's decision making process as
Jarausch did, his research reasonably exculpates the Chancellor from beliefs that he
pursued annexationist policies. Gordon's comparative article of Germany with Britain
produces one of the most efficient analysis in understanding why Germany and Britain took,
in a moment of crisis, radically different decisions. Donald Lammers also used a
socio/political comparison of Britain and Germany in order to conclude that all the
evidence is insufficient to attribute input guilt to the socio/political differences
between the states. Mommsen's article had as aim to eliminate as a causal explanation
German imperialistic aims and the argumentation is convincing in that respect. Regarding
Mayer, he clearly attributed a large causal role to domestic policies within the Great
Powers and presents compelling evidence to that effect. Ultimately, these explanatory
models do not present a clear view as to the cause of the war, as much as they elaborate
on individual factors believed to have contributed to its start. The complex European
problems of 1914 make it quite difficult to discern a clear view as to what ignited WWI.
Historians have thus been forced to work by elimination of improbable causes and by
researching bit by bit the various socio/political/economic/cultural aspects of early 20th
C. Europe in order to complete the larger, explanatory puzzle. WWI, its arrival and
devastating effects, truly was a mind boggling Gordian Knot, for the events shattered all
positive beliefs and hopes of the Western Civilization. Joll's work is thus an efficient
multi spectral analysis. The additional explanatory models, although they are sometimes
contradictory, complement each other in providing the future historian, and any reader,
with an answer as to what caused WWI. Which explanatory model, however, seems to provide
the best answers as to the cause?

Joll's analysis of militarism, strategic planning and militarism, provide the best
explanation as to what ignited WWI, whereas Lammers' model is a good counter balance for
Mayer's domestic policy explanation and explains what did not spark the conflict. The
influence of domestic problems upon foreign policy, such a the Russian social turmoil, the
Ulster problem in Britain, the pending constitutional crisis in Germany, the French tax
and draft problem, not forgetting the Austrian nationality problems, existed but was not
sufficient in starting the war. Beginning with the 18th C., European states have faced,
at one moment or another, simultaneous domestic problems that have not significantly
influence foreign policies. The War of the Austrian Succession, the 7 Years' War, the
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