Where does AJP Taylor locate the blame for the outbreak of the First World War? Is his argument convincing?

Pages: 6 (1163 words) Published: April 27, 2014
HIST 1801 - MODERN EUROPE, 1900-1945 Tutorial Paper

Week 3 - Question 1: Where does AJP Taylor locate the blame for the outbreak of the First World War? Is his argument convincing?

The 28th of July 1914 marks the date when Austria Hungary declared war on Serbia, the months that ensued saw the chain reaction like declarations of war by many countries ultimately leading to the outbreak of the First World War. Many historians over the years have tried to determine the causes and reasons as to why the First World War broke out, one such historian was AJP Taylor. Taylor was a British historian who specialised in 20th century European diplomacy; he wrote several books discussing who and what caused the First World War. Taylors views indicate he believes that the war can be blamed on Austria-Hungary, Germany and several key individuals, namely Count Berchtold the foreign minister of Austria-Hungary, German chancellor Bethmann Hollweg and Alfred Von Schlieffen a German strategist. Taylor believes that if these individuals acted differently the war could have been avoided. However, Taylor does not discuss the September Programme, outlining Germanys aim to create a ‘Mitteleuropa’ in Europe, thus calling in to question the persuasiveness of Taylor’s argument.

Taylor specifically, locates the blame on the foreign minister of Austria-Hungary Count Leopold Von Berchtold. After the assassination of the Archduke by a Serbian militant on the 28th of June 1914,1 Austria-Hungary wanted to punish Serbia but not because of this crime. Taylor states that “they wanted to punish a different crime – the crime that Serbia committed by existing as a free national state.”2 Count Berchtold played a major role in deciding the punishment of Serbia, persuading the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef to send the Serbs a very severe ultimatum which was delivered on the 23rd of July 1914.3 Berchtold went on to disregard Serbia’s largely submissive reply, in which it only disagreed to two of the ten demands, thus convincing the emperor to declare war upon Serbia on the 28th of July.4 Berchtold’s actions definitely aided the outbreak of the First World War, adding depth to Taylor’s argument making it more convincing.

Taylor furthermore locates the blame on German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg. Taylor states that “He alone could have stopped the war; and instead he let it happen.”5 Austria-Hungary sought approval from their German ally to go to war with Serbia and this was agreed upon by Hollweg on the 5th of July 1914 under the impression that Russia would let Serbia be destroyed.6 Hollweg supported a policy leading to war given that he was unpopular among the German population in 1914. He believed that only a successful war could divert opposition from his economic policies, excepting a short lived conflict in Europe Hollweg encouraged Austro-Hungarian hostility toward Serbia.7 Considering Hollweg’s aims and actions in 1914, it can be assumed that he also assisted in the outbreak of the war, again making Taylor’s argument more persuasive.

Taylor also traces the blame to German strategist Alfred Von Schlieffen. Schlieffen devised a plan known as the Schlieffen plan, that defined Germany’s war tactics years before the war, making it clear that any war in Europe must be a general conflict. It also made sure that once Germany started mobilizing war was unavoidable, the plan was seen by German leaders as the only way to win a general European war. Schlieffen died in 1913, which causes Taylor to claim that “a dead man had the deepest responsibility of all for the European war.”8 The plan’s origins date back to 1905 focusing on the aspect of fighting a war on two fronts. The plan involved violating neutral Belgium and Luxembourg allowing for initial swift mobilisation of German soldiers to the West in an overwhelming offensive against France who would be defeated in six weeks, followed by a massive redeployment of forces by Germany’s dense railway...


Bibliography: Duffy, M. (2009) Who 's Who - Count Leopold von Berchtold. Available from: < http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/berchtold.htm> [31/3/2012]
Fischer, F. “Bethmann Hollweg’s September Programme, 1914”, in Fritz Fischer, From Bismarck to Hitler. The Problem Of Continuity in German History, London, 1970 (p 72 – 73)
Fischer, F. “German War Aims”, in Fritz Fischer, World Power or Decline: The Controversy over Germany’s War Aims in the First World War, transl. Lancelot Farral Robert Kimber and Rita Kimber, New York, 1974 (p 21 – 26)
Hodge, C. Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914, Volumes 1 & 2. Greenwood Press, 2008. (p 307)
Keegan, J.”War Plans”, In J, Keegan, The First World War. Vintage Canada, 2000. (p 30 – 31)
Taylor, A.J.P. “The Outbreak of the First World War”, in A.J.P. Talylor, Europe: Grandeur and Decline, Middlesex, 1967, (p 183 – 189)
Simkin, J. (2007) Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg [Internet]. Spartacus Educational, United Kingdom. Available from: < http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWbethmann.htm> [2/4/2012]
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