Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles

Topics: World War I, German Empire, World War II Pages: 5 (1750 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Firstly, we must proceed to explain the nature of Article 231 in order to be able to analyse its judgement about Germany's responsibility for the war. After the war had ended, Europe's, especially France's economy was devastated. There was also a general desire for such a war never to repeat itself, as the first proof of modern warfare proved to be ruinous. To deal with this two issues the allied powers made Germany sign the "war guilt clause" which made it accept all the guilt for the war and because of this, pay reparations to the affected states. In this way France's economy would theoretically recover faster while Germany was kept economically weak so it could never attempt to cause a war again.

Even though at the time most non-German historians went along with this, while German historians were not happy with this interpretation for obvious reasons, after a few years opinion began to move away from only blaming Germany and accepted that other countries should also take part of the blame. However, in 1961 a German historian called Fritz Fischer proposed the idea that after all Germany should take most of the responsibility.

These two points of view have been a cause for debate for historians and a final agreement has not yet been reached. While most historians accept that the key decisions for war in July 1914 were taken in Berlin, other factors such as German foreign policy ("Weltpolitik") and the alliance system remain still as the grounds of discussion.

To analyse in depth Germany's guilt for the war we must first look at the most distant events and work our way up to the July crisis. To understand Germany's actions that lead to war we shall look first at its foreign policy, specifically from the point were Bismarck's policy ended in 1890.

After Bismarck's dismissal the Kaiser and his advisers were convinced that the most likely wars in Europe were Germany against France of Austria-Hungary against Russia and in neither case could Russia and Germany be on the same side because of the existing alliances. This meant the rupture of the Russo-German friendship and the starting point were the two fronts that battled in the Great War started to shape up. Another example of a failed attempt of alliance was that of with Britain. Kaiser Wilhelm inherited her mother's admiration for English liberalism and the accepted view of English pre-eminence while keeping his father's strict Prussian military code of behaviour. His influences had an effect in his unusual approach to Britain. For example, in 1906 he sent a telegram to the Boer president congratulating him on defeating the Jameson Raid yet in a Daily Telegraph interview he was to explain how he had helped the British to defeat the Boers. With the increase of the German navy Germany intended to frighten Britain into an alliance, yet this had the opposite effect on Britain and, together with its agreements with Japan France and Russia, she was placed firmly in the camp of Germany's enemies. Because of Italy's ambivalence as to what side to take, Germany's only true ally was Austria-Hungary. This made Germany get increasingly into the disputes over the Balkans.

With the end of the Bismarck system of alliances, the formation of what would later be the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente could be seen as the result of all the tensions, fears and conflicts that happened afterwards. So we can say that it is Germany's fault that the Bismarck system collapsed and, even though the alliance system was more of a consequence than a cause for conflict, it is important to note that if the Bismarck system hadn't collapsed the chain of friendship that made the third Balkan war into the World War I would have been very different and most certainly the events would have been so too.

Another important aspect in Germany's foreign policy was its colonial policy. The ambition of Kaiser Wilhelm was to be influential beyond his...
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