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  #1  
Old 11-06-2011, 12:35 AM
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Kaiser Wilhelm II and World War I

I just finished reading King, Kaiser, Tsar and enjoyed it very much. The author's purpose in writing it was to delve into the personalities of the three men who lead their countries into World War I. She points out that George V was the only royal cousin without any real power, being a constitutional monarch, and obviously the only one to keep his throne. But she also raises various "what ifs" about the other two who lost their thrones, and in the case of Nicholas II, his life.

At the end of the book, the author raises four events which she posits led Germany into the war. And from this, she assigns blame to Wilhelm as the one monarch who could have prevented the war in the first place. How do the readers of this thread feel about this? Was Wilhelm II responsible for the Great War?
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Old 11-06-2011, 01:52 AM
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Personally I don't think that he was responsable for the way the war was. Yes he wanted to have a battle where he could show himself off as a true Hohenzollern but I think he was thinking f the sort of war that Bismark had, short, sharp and over in a flash without really doing damage to Prussia and Germanies long term interests. He didn't really know what he was letting himself in for. By the time he realised what was really going on he had lost control to other parties. He tried to surf a dangerous wave to prove his prowess, realised he didn't have the talent, struggled to hold on and ended up dumped.
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Old 11-06-2011, 01:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Vasillisos Markos View Post
...the author raises four events which she posits led Germany into the war. And from this, she assigns blame to Wilhelm...
And the four events are...?
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Old 11-06-2011, 06:39 PM
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And the four events are...?
I thought you would never ask! Actually, the author cites another biographer, John Rohl, who thought that none of the countries would have gone to war if Germany had not been belligerent. Russia was still recovering from the Russo-Japanese war and the continual threat of revolution and England had nothing to gain from fighting Austria. But the four events which might have made things different were:

#1 the premature death of Willy's father, the liberal Kaiser Friedrich, in 1888;

#2 when Bismarck failed to counter the malign influence of Willy's entourage (very Anglophobic and sycophantic) in 1890;

#3 again, if Friedrich von Holstein had managed to persuade Chancellor Hohenlohe to stand firm against the "personal rule" which Willy's homosexual friend, Eulenberg, and advisor (also accused of homosexual behavior), von Bulow, were busy instigating in 1896; and

#4 when the Reichstag could have effected constitutional power during the Eulenberg-Harden trials, but von Bulow was compromised and everything remained as before, namely the Kaiser wielded power, in 1908.
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Old 11-06-2011, 07:07 PM
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Originally Posted by fearghas View Post
Personally I don't think that he was responsable for the way the war was. Yes he wanted to have a battle where he could show himself off as a true Hohenzollern but I think he was thinking f the sort of war that Bismark had, short, sharp and over in a flash without really doing damage to Prussia and Germanies long term interests. He didn't really know what he was letting himself in for. By the time he realised what was really going on he had lost control to other parties. He tried to surf a dangerous wave to prove his prowess, realised he didn't have the talent, struggled to hold on and ended up dumped.

That description of what people expected the war to be like could describe any of the leaders of any of the nations. No one going in expected the four years of hell that was to follow.
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Old 11-06-2011, 11:34 PM
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My dear Fearghas,

I agree with Iluvbertie. None of the principals involved believed that the war would last more than a few months, perhaps a year at most. My question was who do you think was responsible for embroiling the major nations in this catastrophic war?

Rohl's four events all seem to indicate that if any of the four had been different, Germany might have edged closer to becoming a constitutional monarchy. If so, then maybe the government ministers might have been reluctant to go to war, or at least could have weighed in against a war with the Kaiser.

So, was the Kaiser the one who propelled the war? Or was he justified in backing Austria?
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Old 11-07-2011, 01:34 AM
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When I teach this the one thing that comes through loud and clear is that some blame can be attached to all the major players (and some minor ones as well).

War was still seen as a somewhat glorious activity, and especially given the boys' own type stories of the time.

Personally I blame extreme nationalism, which is why today, I refuse to get into 'my country is better than yours' type activities.
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Old 11-07-2011, 02:56 AM
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One should not forget that Austria-Hungary started the war after the heir of the emperor was murdered. In the first decade of the 1900s Austria tried to subdue upheavals at the Balcan due to the growing influence of national ideas there. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were murdered Austria issued an ultimatum to Serbia, asking them especially to allow Austrian police to take part in the investigation into the murder of the Archduke. When Serbia denied that as an attack on their souverainity, Austria declared war.

A war which had been in the planning for quite some time and which was supported by Germany, namely Wilhelm II. I doubt they realised at that time how fast spreading the war would be - AFAIK the Germans believed that Britain would stay out of the conflict and that they had a chance to win a war on two frontiers: against Russia and France.

So there we have an old emperor, believing in his god-given and inherited rights to the crowns of certain countries and used for decades to suppress upheavals and internal conflicts through sheer militarian power.

And a young emperor who believed in the militarian power of his realm and underestimated the results of the industrial revolution which made waging war on other countries much more dangerous and bloody than it used to be.

Quite a bad combination.
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Old 11-07-2011, 05:38 AM
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I agree that if Friedrich III had been ruler for a decent period of time, the Emperer would have been more of a constitutional monarch. I still think though that Wilhelm wasn't actually in control of things by this time.
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Old 11-07-2011, 10:15 AM
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I recall having read in several sources, years and years ago, that Wilhelm tried to stop the war at the last minute. Any truth in this?
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Old 11-07-2011, 09:38 PM
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My dear Harold,

From what I've read, Wilhelm tried to show that he attempted to avoid war through personal contacts with his cousins, Nicholas II and George V. But he was not very convincing in what he wrote and once Russia mobilized along the Austrian border, Wilhelm declared war on Russia.
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Old 11-07-2011, 09:40 PM
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Originally Posted by fearghas View Post
I agree that if Friedrich III had been ruler for a decent period of time, the Emperer would have been more of a constitutional monarch. I still think though that Wilhelm wasn't actually in control of things by this time.

My dear fearghas,

To some extent I believe you are correct. The German people were also ready to go to war and believed that England, France and Russia all conspired to keep them out of their place in the sun. But Wilhelm could have prevented this by working diplomatically to avoid war; he did not.
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Old 11-07-2011, 10:04 PM
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Wasn't Wilhelm at a review at Kiel when Serbia accepted most, but not all, of Austria's demands, and Wilhelm sent a telegram to Vienna saying there was no reason for war?
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Old 11-08-2011, 03:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Harold View Post
Wasn't Wilhelm at a review at Kiel when Serbia accepted most, but not all, of Austria's demands, and Wilhelm sent a telegram to Vienna saying there was no reason for war?
Vasillisos or Iluvubertie would know for sure but I thought the telegram urged Austria not to accept Serbias acceptance
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Old 11-08-2011, 03:34 AM
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The telegram promised German support for whatever Austria decided. It was after the telegram that Austria sent the ultimatum, which Serbia virtually accepted and then Austria picked on the few things Serbia rejected to declare war - but would they have taken that action had they not had the supportive telegram from the Kaiser.
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Old 11-08-2011, 05:06 AM
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My dear fearghas,

To some extent I believe you are correct. The German people were also ready to go to war and believed that England, France and Russia all conspired to keep them out of their place in the sun. But Wilhelm could have prevented this by working diplomatically to avoid war; he did not.
I doubt the "German people" were even asked and I know that some German monarchs like the kings of Bavaria and Wuerttemberg were against the war, but their opinion didn't matter. That was one of the main problems: the Kaiser tried to suppress internal conflicts (unions became powerful, several states of the German Bund rallied against Prussia as the leading power in the Kaiserreich) on posing loudly and aggressively on the international stage.

The main points that led to the Serbian crisis becoming the start of WWI was the wrong impression that Russia did not want to go to war for Serbia, while Russia in fact did not want Serbia to loose his position as an independant state between Austria-Hungary. France went with Russia and Britain reacted in support of Belgium, whose neutality was compromised when Germany's troops marched through Belgium to get behind the French lines.

So when Wilhelm II. send the telegramm with his offer of support for Austria, he did so believing his support would not be needed. But as Germany, especially Prussia had always felt threatened by Russia, he went along with war.
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Old 11-08-2011, 11:02 PM
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My dear Kataryn,

I did not mean to suggest or imply that the German people were hungry for war. I believe they were influenced by the propaganda spread by their leaders and especially the Kaiser. Of course, this charge may be leveled at all the countries involved, not just Germany. But do you think the Kaiser himself had the power to avoid the war?
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Old 11-09-2011, 01:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Vasillisos Markos View Post
My dear Kataryn,

I did not mean to suggest or imply that the German people were hungry for war. I believe they were influenced by the propaganda spread by their leaders and especially the Kaiser. Of course, this charge may be leveled at all the countries involved, not just Germany. But do you think the Kaiser himself had the power to avoid the war?
I don't know. Germany used to be such a historically problematic union of countries with different interests. Bavaria eg had other interests than Prussia, they did not feel threatened by Russia and the ruling family were closely related to Austria. Baden and Wuerttemberg OTOH felt threatened by France. It was that climate when people still believed war is not only possible, but winnable (and to some Prussians even "fun") that led to this backing for Austria-Hungary - which was then ruled by a very old man.
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Old 11-09-2011, 06:37 AM
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Iand I know that some German monarchs like the kings of Bavaria and Wuerttemberg were against the war, but their opinion didn't matter.
.
I find this interesting as it is not something that I have read or heard about before. ONe thing I had read was that E. Friedrich III had a very low opinion of the other german monarchs, especially it seems the Bavarians. Is this something that Wilhelm would have picked up from his father or a typical opinion of the Hohenzollerns. While nothing to do with this topic particulary, I was impressed with the Bavarian presence at the ;atest Hohenzollern wedding.
It's a shame that Wilhelm didn't learn more from the other german royals as many of them were more liberal leaning and certainly less authorotorian, and better rulers than he ever was.
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Old 11-09-2011, 07:35 AM
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Maybe it's the Habsburg and Wittelsbach aficionado in me, but I've come to the view that the way German Unification was attained following the Austo-Prussian War wasn't all right. Especially when it led to the dispossession of such states as Hanover, for one. Of course, we realise what we have lost in the last century with the fall of German and Austrian monarchies- what a dreadful legacy the 1918-89 years gave this world!

For all his faults, Kaiser Wilhelm II pales in comparison to any number of US and Latin American presidents, and even modern day politicians and businessmen, in arrogance and all else. And while the Kaiser had more actual power than the King of Great Britain, our governments today have more power over us than the Kaiser had over his subjects. Why else do you see "executive power theories" floated about the US presidency?
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