GERMANY >> HISTORY OF GERMANY >> WORLD WAR 1
WORLD WAR 1
1914 - 1918
QUESTION OF GUILT: More than one hundred years ago, World War 1 which was caused by vexing alliances, was in many respects an unnecessary war. Germany did not want to walk out on its ally to prove virtue. However, the Entente Powers' victory was used to lay the blame on the doorstep of the German Empire, setting the course for a dark age to come. In 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson argued that the great war (as it was called back then) was everyone's fault. France, however, still had the third War of German Unification (1870) in mind, including the arrest of Napoleon III and the proclamation of the German Emperor Franz Willhelm II in the Hall of Mirrors (Versailles). The outcome of World War 1 was the harsh and humiliating Treaty of Versailles.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, successor to the Throne of Austro-Hungary, and his wife were shot by a Serbian Nationalist. Franz Ferdinand wanted to
grant Slavic people their independence once he was in power. Serbia, however, wanted to reunite the Slavic people within a bigger Serbia country. This clash of interests led to Ferdinand's
assassination. Austro-Hungary wanted to take action against Serbia to call the instigators into account and asked German Emperor Wilhelm II if Germany was willing to fulfill its treaty
obligations with Austro-Hungary. Wilhelm II confirmed the alliance and expected a short war. Austro-Hungary demanded a full investigation in the last request, but Serbia refused to let
investigators on their soil and started its military mobilization. Russia had an alliance with Serbia and expressed their treaty obligations, and also started a mobilization. Austro-Hungary now
declared war on Serbia.
Dual Alliance (since 1879)
Germany issued an ultimatum, demanding that Russia should withdraw its forces by July 31. After the deadline had elapsed, war was declared on Russia. Germany preemptively declared war on France and asked Belgium to open their borders to march through in return for compensation. The Belgians refused the offer, and the German Empire deployed its troops in Luxembourg. The sea power Great Britain simultaneously mobilized its fleet and warned Germany not to enter Belgium.
World War 1 started on August 4, 1914, when German troops marched into Belgium to defend their alliance. It ended on November 18, 1918, with the Treaty of
Versailles. The first global conflict was the first war in which also civilians highly suffered. For Germany, it was a war on two fronts, the Western and Eastern front. The Russians were able to
deploy their troops, faster than expected, to the Eastern front. Germany's armies were primarily engaged on the Western Front. Thus, the Russians invaded East Prussia.
At the battle Masuren (February 7 - February 25, 1915), the Germans were able to drive the Russians back after they had already defeated the Soviet armies at the
famous Battle of Tannenburg (August 26 - August 30, 1914), in which Paul von Hindenburg arose as a national hero. Unfortunately, the success was short-lived, and the war's ugly face
turned on millions of soldiers and civilians.
Verdun's (February 21 - December 19, 1916) and Somme's (July 1 - November 18, 1916) fallen
soldiers are still a testimony to the first World War's senselessness. Both battles had high casualties on the German and the French side. No one had expected a long war when the conflict broke out in 1914. An (illegal) British naval blockade cut free trade and caused supply problems. More than 800000 Germans died of starvation. On the other hand,
Germany's fulsome submarine warfare triggered the United States' entry into World War 1 on April, 6 1917. Anti-war demonstrations were held all across Germany by 1918 due to the
The Russian October Revolution of 1918 seemed to turn the war to Germany's advantage. The new administration negotiated a ceasefire with the German Empire. All
resources were taken to the Western front in a last attempt to achieve progress. This undertaking failed, and former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson presented his Fourteen Points in Congress, which
contained the American terms of peace. On October 3, 1918, Germany formed a new government with Max von Baden as chancellor. They sought peace negotiations with the U.S., based on Wilson's
The inhumane horrors of World War 1 resulted in devastating numbers:
■ Almost 2 Million German soldiers died
■ More than 750.000 German civilians lost their lives
■ 160 tons of poison gas was used for the very first time in military history on April 22, 1915, in Ypern (Belgium)
■ Thousands of civilians lost their lives during the submarine war
Even more than 100 years later, the question of guilt is not entirely solved. There is widespread consent that it was not Germany's fault alone due to the knotty
alliances. However, it is an accepted fact that the outcome of World War 1 with its unfair and humiliating peace treaty, cleared the way for World War 2. The German Reich and its symbols transformed with the foundation of the Weimar Republic into a parliamentary democracy.