It is undoubtable that German aggressions has some part to play in the outbreak of war in 1914 – Bethmann-Hollweg’s ‘Blank Cheque’ remains an ominous symbol of blind aggression over considered economics, whilst the Kaiser’s 1913 claim that ‘the war between Germandom and Slavdom [was] inevitable’ seems to highlight fairly explicitly the militaristic attitude at the heart of central government.
And yet it is only too easy to place undue emphasis on Germany in some respects, and under exaggerate its significance in others. Though some have suggested that Germany precipitated war by offering Austria-Hungary support in its conflict with Serbia, this can be explained as much in terms of the complex chain of alliances which entwined early 20th Century Europe as in terms of aggression: in 1909, Bethmann-Hollweg was forced into supporting Austria in its dispute with Bosnia-Herzegovina, despite never having been asked before Austrian annexation took place, wholly due to a treaty pledging such support. Hence, it would be unwise to ignore the possibility that German support for Austria-Hungary was similarly reluctant following the Sarajevo murder. At the very least, it is possible that Bethmann-Hollweg could never have known at the time of its offering the seismic consequences his ‘Blank Cheque’ was to have – he himself described his actions as ‘a leap into the dark’.
And yet foreign aims in Germany were evidently focused on annexation – policies of Weltpolitik and Flottenpolitik seem to indicate that expansion was on the cards for at least some point in the future. Still however, many historians push this particular envelope too far by subscribing to the infamous claim of German historian Franz Fischer, that the Schlieffen Plan, drawn up at some point between 1891 and 1904, is ‘of decisive importance’ in establishing the causes of WWI. Despite their best efforts, proponents of this theory have failed to provide convincing evidence that Bethmann-Hollweg intended to...
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