By H. W. Koch
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Extra resources for The Origins of the First World War: Great Power Rivalry and German War Aims
But perhaps this would be a mistake, and it may be that each book illuminates one aspect of German behaviour in 1914, and that it is because German society and German ideology in the twentieth century were so ambivalent that they are hard to understand and lend themselves to different interpretations, not one of which is wholly adequate to explain the facts. For Professor Ritter, the German leaders, and especially Bethmann-Hollweg and Moltke, are the helpless and often anguished victims of circumstances, carried into war against their will by the inexorable unfolding of military plans which they did not devise and whose political consequences had never been properly foreseen.
Unification, rapid industrialisation, military power and bureaucratic efficiency were sufficient to raise even Bismarck's 'Lesser' Germany almost automatically into a position of 'latent hegemony' over the Continent. Since then, the future of Europe and the Reich depended on the wisdom of Germany's political leaders, whether or not they successfully resisted the temptation to convert this latent hegemony into an open one. Just as Frederick II of Prussia lay low after his conquest of Silesia, so did Bismarck after his successful coups.
Hmen like Bethmann-HoUweg were carried so far in the same direction as the extreme militarists like Ludendorff and were powerless to resist them because they shared some at least of their aims, then the presuppositions of the whole generation of 1914 are called in question, and there is more continuity between 1914 and 1933 or 1941 than many Germans would like to admit. The reopening of the war-guilt controversy and the suggestion common to both Professor Fischer and Mr Taylor that Hitler's aims were foreshadowed by the German leaders of 1914 is bound to be disturbing, since it suggests that many other questions in German history are still not settled.