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In retrospect, the most important contributions to these debates came from Vladimir Lenin , Bolsheviks, and other socialist opponents of the war. In September , socialist opponents of the war from around Europe gathered at the Swiss town of Zimmerwald. He drew on pre-war criticisms of imperialism and the corrupting relationship between capitalism and the state by the British author, J. Hobson , amongst others. Viewing the war as a clash of capitalist imperialist states had obvious political attractions for socialist revolutionaries.

It challenged the arguments of socialist supporters of the war that it was waged in defence of the nation. By linking the origins of the war to the suffering of millions, it legitimised Bolshevik demands for dramatic social and political reform. After the Bolsheviks came to power in , they never sought to defend the record of Tsarist foreign policy and published volumes of incriminating primary sources.

Article of the Treaty of Versailles stated:. The article was inserted by the American delegation, with John Foster Dulles , the future secretary of state, playing a central role in its drafting. The American concept sought to place claims for reparations on a legal basis, rather than the right of victory.

Article therefore underpinned key features of the treaty and the wider political design of the post-war order, including reparations and international law. This made the article an obvious target for German attacks. He changed the meaning of the article from one of legal and political responsibility to one of moral and national honour. He completed the process of fusing moral and political categories, evident in the earliest debates about the origins of the war. This fusion and the high political stakes made historical research into the origins of the war fraught in the s.

Historical research in the former belligerent societies served political agendas. Historians were often willing participants in this highly politicised debate about the origins of the war. They gained prestige and funding from their association with major national causes. As importantly, historians often shared the broad views of their respective foreign ministries.

Origins debate

And even those who were sceptical of emerging national narratives about the origins of the war still relied heavily upon sources published under the aegis of the foreign ministries. Publishing massive collections of documents became a central feature of interwar research and debate. A three-man team edited the collection. The series started in the s following the Franco-Prussian War and the volumes became denser as they entered the 20 th century.

A concern to downplay German acts of aggression influenced the selection and editing of documents. Other states followed suit. Political concerns were at the fore. Pierre de Margerie , the French ambassador to Berlin, warned Prime Minister Aristide Briand in — in the era of Franco-German rapprochement — that France would lose the contest for world opinion unless it followed suit.

As in Die Grosse Politik the selection of documents reflected political imperatives. The lead editor was M. He joined the Bolshevik party after the revolution and played an influential role in developing education policy. The documents were translated into German — but not into English or French — under the guidance of Otto Hoetzsch , a leading German expert on Russian politics. Financed by a German loan, four Austrian historians edited eight volumes of Austro-Hungarian diplomatic documents.

The volume of documents in these collections overwhelmed other sources produced in the interwar period. Archives and personal collections of papers were generally inaccessible — or else made public through the publication of memoirs. These publications therefore had considerable weight in shaping the debate over the origins of the war. First, the choice of German and French historians and officials to start the series in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war pushed the search for the origins back from the immediate context of the July crisis and the years immediately preceding the war.

This gave rise to a narrative that emphasised the flaws of the international order, rendering war a likely outcome of decades of great power rivalries. Second, the study of the origins of the war became the study of diplomatic history. Without access to significant materials from other ministries or personal papers, historians generally worked on the assumption that the key decisions were made in the foreign ministries. This downplayed the role of military and economic groups in making foreign policy. Sources for public opinion were available — in Malcolm Carroll published his important study of French public opinion and foreign policy — but these were under-utilised.

Third, the publication of so many volumes ensured that historians often had access to several accounts of the one event or discussion. By the late s, historians were busily digesting the mass of documents. American historians — most prominently Bernadotte Schmitt , Sidney Fay , William Langer , and Harry Elmer Barnes — were at the fore of the debate. For the first time since the outbreak of the war, historians began to achieve some critical distance from the subject, even if they were working with documentary materials shaped by the political struggles over article This confirmed his findings in an earlier volume on the July crisis.

The most comprehensive analysis of the origins of the war, written by the former editor of Corriere della Sera , Luigi Albertini , was published during the Second World War. It represented the culmination of the diplomatic history approach of the interwar years. Even if historians distanced themselves from politics, the wider political context inevitably shaped questions and perspectives.

Noel-Baker, a conscientious objector during the First World War, was one of many to make the association between the Nazi regime and Prussian militarism. The aggressive, expansionist foreign and military policies of the Third Reich compelled contemporaries to think anew about the relationship between German domestic politics and the origins of major European wars from the s to the s. The relationship between academic and political debate is illustrated by two contributions to the debate. The first example is A. The chapter was rejected for its allegedly pessimistic reading of German history, so Taylor responded by writing a full survey.

The First World War and its origins became a central part of this narrative.

In typically irreverent and suggestive style, Taylor argued that the origins of the war were primarily rooted in the crisis-prone politics of the German Empire after Foreign policy setbacks — the formation of the Triple Entente between and and an over-reliance on the Austro-Hungarian ally — and the increasing fragility of Bismarckian constitutional settlement of increased the willingness of German leaders to pursue highly risky policies.

Success in war served domestic agendas, buttressing authoritarian elites against democratic reforms. After German historians faced the task of giving an historical context for the Third Reich, while also renewing German historiographical traditions. The German historian and veteran of the First World War Gerhard Ritter published Machtstaat und Utopie in , a partially disguised attempt to separate the Nazi regime from its self-proclaimed roots in German history.

For Ritter, Hitler represented a perversion of politics, the subordination of politics to war. The roots of the Hitler regime, Ritter suggested, lay in the triumph of military over political considerations, which brought about the destruction of the political order and moral conventions. The Schlieffen Plan, which privileged technical military considerations over what was politically possible, represented the triumph of the military over politics.

Ritter criticised Bethmann Hollweg and others for their unquestioning acceptance of the primacy of military necessity over political judgement.

Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 - Christopher Clark

As the volumes were published after the war, he also saw them as a contribution to the debate about strategy in an age of nuclear war. While Wilhelm II and Bethmann Hollweg were not fully excused from their follies: they were cast as moderates, overwhelmed by modern militarism before and during the war.

Bismarck and the Prussian conservative state were rescued from the opprobrium heaped upon them by the Allies and critical foreign historians, such as Taylor. Within the West German historical profession in the s, the origins of the war lay in the anarchical international system and modern militarism. It was in this context that the Fischer controversy broke. Certainly the most passionate debate since the early s, the Fischer controversy was perhaps also the most nationally bounded debate on the origins of the war.

From the time of the infamous War Council meeting in December , he argued, German leaders planned a war of aggression. The drive to war resulted from increasing anxiety amongst German elites about the deterioration of the domestic and international stability of the Empire. Crucially, Fischer argued, German leaders had brought this situation upon themselves. At home, they stalled on constitutional changes, while German isolation in international politics was the result of menacing moves over Morocco and the Balkans after the turn of the century.

It was a case of self-encirclement. He showed how military and political leaders prepared for war from late , increasing the size of the army and fostering aggressive nationalist public opinion. This interpretation significantly reduced the interpretive weight placed on the international system. His interpretation derived from a methodological move, from the primacy of foreign policy to the primacy of domestic politics. On this reading, foreign policy was primarily the product of domestic political pressures. This was the fundamental driving force of the history of the German nation-state between and The implications of this argument were already evident in his books on German war aims and pre-war foreign policy.

This account challenged the efforts of Ritter and others to separate the Nazi regime from the continuities of German history. They argued that many of the documents could be interpreted in alternative ways. Print Save Cite Email Share. Show Summary Details. Subscriber Login Email Address. Library Card. View: no detail some detail full detail. Editor's Introduction Brian Bond. I Establishing the Historical Foundations. II The Battle of the Memoirs. III Indirect Approaches. End Matter Index.

All rights reserved. Download Article. When Europeans commemorate the Great War of this summer they should be reflecting not only on the diplomatic blunders and the enormous waste of lives but also the beginning of a new approach to international relations epitomised by the EU.

Diplomatic alliances and promises made during the First World War, especially in the Middle East, also came back to haunt Europeans a century later. The balance of power approach to international relations was broken but not shattered. It took the Second World War to bring about sufficient political forces to embark on a revolutionary new approach to inter-state relations.

After both wars Europe was exhausted and devastated. The difference was that the second major internecine war in Europe in a generation led to a profound change in political thinking, at least in Western Europe, about how states should conduct their relations. This system has brought many benefits to Europeans but in recent years the system has been under challenge by the rise of Euroscepticism, populism and nationalism.

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As Europe reflects on the titanic struggle of it is important to recall the advances made since through European integration and redouble efforts to combat nationalist and extremist forces. Responsibility for the Great War remains hotly debated today with very different dimensions of the war accentuated by the various combatants. What is incontestable, however, is the number of advances in science, technology and medicine, as well as the revolutionary changes in social behaviour that occurred as a result of the conflict. The aristocracy was overthrown or its role greatly diminished.

The socialist and labour movements seized the opportunity to make considerable advances; but so too did communism and fascism. Germany was at the centre of both failed experiments and was unable to achieve a peaceful unification as a democratic state until All Europeans thus have a stake in the continued success of the EU as it provides a safe anchor for the most powerful state in Europe. This paper considers how the war led to fundamental changes in European politics, economics and society, paving the way after for a historic new way of dealing with inter-state relations in Europe.

It suggests that the horrors of the Great War remain alive in Europe today and colour the reluctance of most Europeans to resort to war to achieve political ends. It argues that the process of European integration has been extremely beneficial to Germany and that the German Question may finally be put to rest. Thousands of books have been written about the conflict with many seeking to apportion responsibility for the outbreak of war. The renowned German historian, Fritz Fischer, caused a sensation in the s when he published a book Griff nach der Weltmacht claiming that Germany was primarily responsible for starting the war as it had secret ambitions to annex most of Europe.

Macmillan agrees that Germany should bear much of the responsibility as it had the power to put pressure on its Austria-Hungary ally and stop the drift to war. Clark argues that Germany, like the other major powers, sleep-walked into the war. Another famous historian, Neil Ferguson, has argued in The Pity of War that Britain should not have become involved as the stakes were too low and the ultimate costs too high.

What is perhaps more interesting is how the major powers involved have presented different narratives about their involvement in the Great War. In Germany the shame of the Nazi period including the Holocaust has meant that there has been little appetite to reflect about the conflict. For Russia, it is has always been the heroism and sacrifice of the Great Patriotic War of that remain uppermost in the national psyche rather than the disasters of the First World War, including defeat and revolution.

The war also means different things to the constituent parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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Austria looks back with regret tinged with nostalgia for its glory days. Hungary still finds it difficult to accept the injustice of the Treaty of Trianon. Czechoslovakia gained its independence only to be swallowed up by Germany twenty years later. France views the war as a tragic but massive endeavour to save the motherland from Les Boches. The First World War certainly plays better in the French national memory than the defeat in followed by occupation and collaboration. Each year millions of Britons wear red poppies to commemorate Armistice Day and hold memorial services around war memorials on which the names of the dead in the First World War vastly outnumber those of the Second.

The controversies about the causes, strategies and consequences of the Great War remain matters of contemporary concern. He complained that for too long the conflict had been portrayed as a series of catastrophic mistakes by an aristocratic elite. The impact of the two world wars has been such that in other parts of the world politicians have been competing to draw analogies. More recently Putin has spoken of the need to protect ethnic Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics including Ukraine.

But Hitler had a geopolitical vision — the domination of Europe — and the reunification of German-speaking peoples was merely the means by which he could acquire the critical mass needed to attain that geopolitical end-state. Putin appears to want to restore Russia to a central global position in international politics, something the former Soviet Union enjoyed for much of the post-World War II era.

It does not mean, however, that Putin seeks to restore the former Soviet empire. Although politicians often use historical analogies to describe an unfolding situation it does not mean that analogical reasoning is not fraught with potential dangers. It is important to note that each situation is unique although some unscrupulous political leaders often exploit these opportunities for their own ends. The human cost of the First World War was horrendous.

More than 16 million people, both military and civilian, died in the war. An entire generation of young men was wiped away. In , the year after the war was over in France, there were 15 women for every man between the ages of 18 and The First World War changed the nature of warfare. Technology became an essential element in the art of war with airplanes, submarines, tanks all playing important new roles. Mass production techniques developed during the war for the building of armaments revolutionised other industries in the post-war years.

The first chemical weapons were also used when the Germans used poisonous gas at Ypres in A century later the international community was seeking to prohibit President Assad of Syria from using chemical weapons against his own people. The Great War also led to mass armies based on conscription, a novel concept for Britain, although not on the continent. It is ironic that the principle of universal military service was introduced in Britain without the adoption of universal adult male suffrage. The war also saw the first propaganda films, some designed to help enlist US support for the Allies.

The Charlie Chaplin film Shoulder Arms offers a vivid illustration of the horrors of life at the front. Propaganda films would later be perfected under the Nazis. Modern surgery was born in the First World War, where civil and military hospitals acted as theatres of experimental medical intervention. Millions of veterans survived the war but were left maimed, mutilated and disfigured. Blood banks were developed after the discovery in that blood could be prevented from clotting.

The First World War also led doctors to start to study the emotional as opposed to the physical stress of war.

A Comparative History of the First World War, (HI33W)

Shell shock and traumatic shock were identified as common symptoms. But despite these insights and countless more sufferers in the Second World War, it was not until the aftermath of the Vietnam War that this condition was formally recognised as post-traumatic stress disorder. It was also found in troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and was often cited as a cause for many gun killings in the US. The war also had major implications for the class structures in Europe. The upper classes suffered proportionately greater losses in the fighting than any other class, a fact that ensured that a resumption of the pre-war status quo was impossible.

The decline of the upper classes was further hastened by the introduction of broad universal suffrage in Europe.


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The extension of the franchise, coupled with an explosion in trade unionism, afforded the working classes greater political and social representation. The various armies had also to promote new officers from humble backgrounds who were not willing to continue the culture of deference to the upper classes.

It also forced women into jobs that had previously been a male preserve. Many of the women whom the war effort had forced out of domestic service and into factories found themselves unwilling to relinquish their new independence. The War also sparked a peace movement that had disarmament as its main aim.

It flourished briefly in the inter-war years, was reborn during the Vietnam War and found many adherents in Europe e. Although less formally organised than during the s, the anti-war movement in Europe showed its strength in the mass demonstrations against the US led invasion of Iraq in The war also had major consequences for the European socialist and labour movement.