War Without a Cause Term Paper

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War Without a Cause

As with any great conflict, the aftermath often causes a flood of interpretations regarding the causes, actions, and outcomes. World War I is no different from any other event in this respect. A vast majority of the theories concerning the origins of the first World War center on the role of Germany, and secondly on Great Britain. Scholars debate whether Germany was the aggressor, or whether their actions were an attempt to prevent being attacked by France and Russia (Rohl, p. 651). However, a.J.P. Taylor sees the war in a different manner. He sees it merely as something that happened, rather than engaging in over analysis. The following will explore Taylor's contention in light of modern and historical evidence.

Germany as the Cause or the Victim?

Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles summarizes the viewpoint of a majority of the world, that Germany was the cause of the War. This article places the blame for the war entirely on Germany and its allies. Under the conditions of the treaty Germany was forced to repay the governments of other countries for the damages that were caused by them (Treaty of Versailles, Article 231). One of the key proponents of this ideology is Fritz Fischer. He contends throughout his work that Germany no only started the war, but that they wanted it and prepared for it (Fischer, F5). Willimason (p. 957-959) agrees that the Schlefan Plan was a key piece of evidence to support intent by Germany in starting the war.

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Germany claims that it signed the Treaty of Versailles under duress and denies that it is solely responsible for the start of the war. German schoolbooks during the 1920s continued to reject the terms of the treaty on the basis that Germany was absolutely innocent. The textbooks claimed that it was Russia, France and England that were responsible for the war (Simpson, p. 26).

Term Paper on War Without a Cause as With Any Assignment

It is easy to blame Germany for the start of the war, and it satisfies the needs of the politics of the time. It is human nature to attempt to seek the causes of our ills, so that we can devise a plan to alleviate them in the future. However, Taylor disagrees that Germany was the cause of the war, or that Great Britain was the sole culprit. If one examines the days just before the war broke out, it becomes evident that there were many people busily trying to prevent it. Let us examine some of the evidence that supports Taylor's supposition that the war was just something that happened without cause.

Days before the War

On August 1, 1914 the stage was set for a major war involving many players. Austria war now actively firing on Serbia. Russia had mobilized troops. Berlin had issued an ultimatum to St. Petersburg that would expire at noon of that day. France was prepared to support Russia should the need arise (Young, p. 644). Sir Edward Grey had been trying desperately to play the role of negotiator in hopes of bringing this impending action to a peaceful conclusion. However, his efforts had not been fruitful and the drums of war continued to gather.

As war began to appear inevitable and the lines were being drawn, Sir Edward Grey tried even more desperately to thwart the progression of the events towards war. However, on August 1, 1914 he encountered a misunderstanding that was placed at exactly the wrong place and exactly the wrong time. It was on this day that Sir Edward Grey and German ambassador, Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky began an exchange. It all began around 5:00 PM on this day. It was at this time that Prince Lichnowsky signed an order to mobilize troops, having received no answer from Russia regarding his ultimatum (Young, p. 644). Soon after the mobilization order was signed, he received a telegraph from Sir Edward Grey informing him that if Germany would not attack France, then Great Britain would pledge to remain neutral and assure that France did not attack Germany (Young, p.644). He immediately cabled back answer of acceptance to King George V (Young, p. 644). However, King George V cabled back an answer to Lichnowsky indicating that there must have been a misunderstanding between Sir Edward Grey and Lichnowsky (Young, p. 644).

This famous exchange is one of the most important of the beginning hours of the war. It raises many questions about intentions and motives for both sides. Germany most feared an attack from France, a Russian ally. Russia used France as a psychological threat against Germany. It put Germany in the position of potentially fighting a two-sided war. This would be difficult to say the least, if not impossible. It was to Germany's advantage to accept the offer made by Sir Edward Grey, as this would prevent an impossible predicament for Germany.

However, it is King George V's response that is most baffling. Did Sir Edward Grey make a deal that was not authorized by the King? What were the King's intentions behind this statement? Sir Edward had essentially assured that Great Britain would stay out of the war and could continue to attempt negotiations, why would King George suddenly appear to take sides? These questions are baffling to say the least. This exchange and the misunderstandings that arose from it lend support to Taylor's supposition that the war began as a big accident, resulting from numerous misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Big Accident?

If one looks at chains of events, such as that of August 1, 1914, it is easy to agree with Taylor in his claim that the First World War was the result of a series of misunderstandings and mistimed misfortunes. However, Taylor fails to consider the economic, social, and political conditions that were present at the time. The presence of these conditions created the climate that allowed these misfortunes to occur. Taylor's thesis places little importance on the conditions that allowed these misunderstandings in the first place. However, so do theories that place the blame entirely on Germany. Theories range from the portrayal of Germany as a victim that had to act in order to preserve their interests and portrayal of Germany as a warmongering state with sights on world domination. Both camps of theory present convincing arguments, but one can find many flaws and holes in them as well.

Annika Mombauer stressed the political necessities of the war for all sides involved. She notes that soon after the war began both sides issued their "colored books" in order to demonstrate their innocence in the war (Mombauer, p. 23-24). Once the war began, the governments had to convince their people of the need for war. It was unlikely that the people would support their government in a war in which they were the aggressor. However, perhaps the most important point in relation to Taylor's argument is that they issued these books after the war began, it was a response, rather than a strategy.

Taylor's argument centers on the events of the war, without delving into the scenarios that set them up and allowed them to happen. Mombauer agrees with this conjecture when she states, "[h]istory is not an objective, factual account of events as they occurred, and historical accounts have to be read with a clear understanding of their provenance" (Mombauer, p. 223). In this quote Mombauer voices one of the key arguments against Taylor's "unfortunate chain of events" hypothesis. History is more than a chain of events. Each of these events has a specific cause. Many times the exact causes of a chain of events are not apparent, but lie in underlying ideologies and political motives of the time. Economics can also cloud the view of the reasons behind events. Taylor relies on the events themselves, which could be interpreted as a lack of understanding of the underlying causes of the war.

Mombauer's argument brings up an important concept in this case. History differs from historiography. History typically refers to the chain of events themselves. However, historiography refers to the understanding that one derives by examining the issues surrounding the events. The interpretation of events often depends upon which element one chooses to place their emphasis. James Joll places emphasis on the alliance system that assured any disagreement in the Balkans would result in a world war, as each side pulled in support from allies to prop it up (Joll, 8,9). It appears that this is exactly what happened. Wolfgang Mommsen emphasizes the functional-structural approach that emphasized the constitutional and governmental institutions that were inadequate to support the industrialization movement and mass culture (Mommsen, p. 11-15).

Taylor's argument appears superficial in comparison to his contemporaries. There are an overwhelming number of theorists that place the emphasis on the circumstances that existed at the time. However, this does not discount Taylor's theory entirely. The stage might have been set, but when one examines the actions of individuals in the several months prior to the onset of the war, one can find many… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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