Germany and the Causes of the First World War

By Mark Hewitson | Go to book overview
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6

Strategies of War: The Army
and the Navy

The German military argued most consistently for war. In particular, officers in the Great General Staff, it is held, were most bellicose, since they realized that Germany's land forces, on which the Reich's national security depended, were being progressively and irreversibly outnumbered by those of the Entente powers. The arms race on the eve of the First World War, which the German Empire was allegedly losing, was both an effect and a proof of this military disequilibrium in the European states system. Consequently, Germany's military spending and strategy, which had shifted from the army, the focus in the Bismarckian and Caprivi eras, to the navy during a period of Weltpolitik from 1897 onwards, now purportedly reverted to the army after 19111 Volker Berghahn has made this case most forcefully, extending his early studies of the Tirpitz plan to an analysis of AngloGerman naval antagonism and a subsequent 'retreat to the European continent' as the principal features of the 'approach of war in 1914'.2 Not only followers of Fischer like Paul Kennedy, but also more recent critics such as Rolf Hobson have accepted the main elements of such a narrative.3 Their assumptions are shared by historians of the armaments race such as Stevenson and Herrmann, and by historians of the army such as Förster and Mombauer. All emphasize that the General Staff and the War Ministry were gradually convinced of the necessity of war during the course of the 1900s for 'defensive' reasons - or, at least, they believed that their existing desire for an armed conflict had been reinforced because the Reich's power base on the Continent had come to be threatened by the expanding armies of the Entente.4 Desperate to wage war whilst Germany was still strong enough to stand a chance of winning, the generals supposedly colluded with Bethmann Hollweg to restore the continental basis of foreign policy and to push the Reich into a European conflagration.

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