November 30, 2009
Why Nations go to War Review
Why do notions go to war? What is the reasoning behind their actions? John G. Stoessinger analyzes these questions in his book, Why Nations go to War. Stoessinger believes that to understand the war, you must understand the leaders of the war. When you understand the leaders you understand their actions and when you understand their actions, you have the answer to the question, "Why do nations go to war?" In this review paper I am going to review each chapter individually, 1-10. I will then give a brief summary of the book and what I think as a whole based on my reading.
This chapter is an analyzation of the beginning of WWI and how Austria's and Serbia's actions led Europe into this state of war. Stoessinger believed that every leader had a distorted view of themselves. They thought greater of themselves and lesser of their enemies than they really were. This was one of the major contributing factors to the war. He says:
All the participants suffered from greater or lesser distortions in their images of
themselves. They tended to see themselves as honorable, virtuous, and pure, and the
adversary as diabolical. (page 24)
Because they all believed that they were all acting as if they should, in the right manner, they had no problem with their actions. They had no problem assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Austria had no problem punishing Serbia for this assassination.
The Kaiser believed that he could do as he wished. He gave Austria the "go ahead" to punishing Serbia. After Austria drafted out their requirements, which they knew couldn't be met, they would go to war. The Kaiser issued a "blank check" stating that he would back up Austria with any of their actions. He did not know what Austria would do to punish Serbia. Stoessinger stated, "On July 5 [the Kaiser] took the fateful step of assuring Austria that she could count on Gernamy's faithful support even if the punitive action she was planning to take against Serbia would bring her into conflict with Russia," (page 6).
This statement and issuing of the "blank check" showed the Kaiser's "confusion of personal ethics and political judgement," (page 7). The Kaiser was stupid to have done this. He didn't take into consideration what Austria could have done, which Austria ended up doing, going to war with Serbia. Germany backing up Austria in their war effort was definitely against their best interests. Serbia was in alliance with Russia and Austria was in alliance with Germany. If Germany was to go to war with Serbia while helping Austria, Russia would be very mad. This is exactly what happened. Russia was very upset that Germany broke their trust by helping Austria. If the leaders of the different nations thought about their actions, the conflict could have been easily diverted from world war to a conference held between the two original countries, Austria and Serbia.
I believe that Stoessinger is correct with his assumptions. The leaders had no regard for the other nations. They thought very little of them and thought that everything would roll over nicely. Austria believed that they could crush Serbia with Germany's help and that Russia wouldn't intervene because Russia was compassionate for the loss of the Archduke and thought punishment was necessary. Austria was wrong. The Kaiser was wrong. Incompetence from the leaders of the countries involved was what caused the war.
The second chapter looks at Hitler's invasion of Russia. I completely agree with Stoessinger's idea that:
The key to an understanding of Adolf Hitler's invasion of Russia is more likely found in
the realm of psychology than in political science or strategic thought. (page 31) Hitler didn't care about the conquering of Russia. He feared that they would interfere in the construction of his Third Reich.