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Guilt or Responsibility? The Hundred-Year Debate on the Origins of World War I

  • Annika Mombauer (a1)
Abstract

Historians of the Great War found themselves in high demand in 2014. The looming anniversary naturally prompted publishers to commission titles that were designed to make a splash, cause debate, and spark public interest. The market was consequently flooded with publications that attempted to explain why war had broken out in 1914. Few could have predicted, however, the full extent of public and media interest in World War I. Nor could one have expected that the question of the origins of the war, in particular, would once again be paramount and the subject of widespread, heated debate.

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1 For example, Oliver Janz, 14 – Der große Krieg (Frankfurt/Main: Campus, 2013); Herfried Münkler, Der grosse Krieg. Die Welt 1914–1918 (Berlin: Rowohlt, 2013); Jörn Leonhard, Die Büchse der Pandora. Geschichte des Ersten Weltkriegs (Munich: Beck, 2014).

2 See, e.g., the voluminous and impressive study of Austria-Hungary's war experience by Manfried Rauchensteiner, Der Tod des Doppeladlers. Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie, 2nd rev. ed. (Vienna: Böhlau 2013); Gerhard Hirschfeld and Gerd Krumeich, Deutschland im Ersten Weltkrieg (Frankfurt/Main: S.Fischer, 2013); Wolfram Dornick, Julia Walleczek-Fritz, and Stefan Wedrac, eds., Frontwechsel. Österreich-UngarnsGroßer Krieg” im Vergleich (Vienna: Böhlau, 2014).

3 Studies that examine the experience of German soldiers include Benjamin Ziemann, Gewalt im Ersten Weltkrieg. Töten, Überleben, Verweigern (Essen: Klartext, 2013); Jason Crouthamel, An Intimate History of the Front—Masculinity, Sexuality and German Soldiers in the First World War (London: Palgrave, 2014). A useful edited collection that focuses on gender and the war is Christa Hämmerle, Oswald Überegger, and Birgitta Bader Zaar, eds., Gender and the First World War (London: Palgrave, 2014).

4 See, e.g., Jean-Paul Bled, Franz Ferdinand. Der eigensinnige Thronfolger (Vienna: Böhlau, 2013 (a translation of the French 2012 original); Alma Hanig, Franz Ferdinand. Die Biographie (Vienna: Almathea, 2013).

5 Jay Winter, ed., The Cambridge History of the First World War, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); “1914–1918 Online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War” (http://www.1914-1918-online.net/).

6 See, e.g., Thomas Otte, July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Gerd Krumeich, Juli 1914. Eine Bilanz (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2014); Sean McMeekin, July 1914. Countdown to War (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2013); Gordon Martel, The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Annika Mombauer, Die Julikrise. Europas Weg in den Ersten Weltkrieg (Munich: Beck, 2014); Jack S. Levy and John A. Vasquez, eds., The Causes of the First World War: Analytic Perspectives and Historical Debates (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

7 See, e.g., Annika Mombauer, The origins of the First World War: diplomatic and military documents (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013); Krumeich, Juli 1914.

8 See, e.g., Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock, Margot Asquith's Great War Diary, 1914–1916: The View from Downing Street (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Tillmann Bendikowski, Sommer 1914. Zwischen Begeisterung und Angst—wie Deutsche den Kriegsbeginn erlebten (Munich: Bertelsmann, 2014).

9 Quotes from Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (London: Penguin, 2012), xxix; Vasquez John A., “The First World War and International Relations Theory: A Review of Books on the 100th Anniversary,” International Studies Review 16, no.4 (2014): 623.

10 This consensus was captured in the often-cited war memoirs of David Lloyd George: “Europe slithered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war.” See David Lloyd George, War Memoirs, vol. 1 (London: Odhams, 1933), 32.

11 For a more detailed overview of the debate, see, e.g., John W. Langdon, July 1914: The Long Debate, 1918–1990 (New York: Berg, 1991); Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (London: Longman, 2002), 21–98; Williamson Samuel R. Jr. and May Ernest R., “An Identity of Opinions: Historians and July 1914,” Journal of Modern History 79, no.2 (2007), 335–87.

12 For a recent discussion of the Fischer controversy, see the special issue, The Fischer Controversy 50 Years On,” Journal of Contemporary History 48, no. 2 (2013).

13 Fritz Fellner and Doris A. Corradini, eds., Schicksalsjahre Österreichs. Die Erinnerungen und Tagebücher Josef Redlichs, 1869–1936, 3 vols. (Vienna: Böhlau, 2011); Manfried Rauchensteiner, Der Tod des Doppeladlers. Österreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg (Graz: Styria, 1993), republished in an expanded and updated edition as Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburger-Monarchie (Vienna: Böhlau, 2013); Günther Kronenbitter, “Krieg im Frieden”. Die Führung der k.u.k. Armee und die Großmachtpolitik Österreich-Ungarns 1906–1914 (Munich: Walter de Gruyter, 2003); Samuel R. Williamson, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War (London: MacMillan, 1991).

14 On this point see Epkenhans Michael, “Der Erste Weltkrieg—Jahrestagsgedenken, neue Forschungen und Debatten einhundert Jahre nach seinem Beginn,” Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte 63, no. 2 (2015): 136 (emphasis in original). Epkenhans refers to the following tomes as “the big ‘master-narratives’ (Meistererzählungen) of the 1990s”: Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, vol. 3, Von der “Deutschen Doppelrevolution” bis zum Beginn des Ersten Weltkrieges (Munich: Beck, 1995); Heinrich August Winkler, Der Lange Weg nach Westen. Deutsche Geschichte vom Ende des alten Reiches bis zum Untergang der Weimarer Republik (Munich: Beck 2000); Klaus Hildebrand, Das vergangene Reich. Deutsche Außenpolitik von Bismarck bis Hitler 1871–1945 (Stuttgart: Oldenbourg, 1995); Thomas Nipperdey, Deutsche Geschichte 1866–1918, vol. 2, Machtstaat vor der Demokratie (Munich: Beck, 1992).

15 All citations from Ekpenhans, “Der Erste Weltkrieg,” 136.

16 Ibid.

17 See, e.g., Karl Dietrich Erdmann, ed., Kurt Riezler. Tagebücher, Aufsätze, Dokumente (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1972), republished with an introduction by Holger Afflerbach (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008); Bernd Sösemann, ed., Theodor Wolff. Tagebücher 1914–1918 (Boppard: H. Boldt, 1984); Michael Epkenhans, Albert Hopman. Das ereignisreiche Leben eines “Wilhelminers”. Tagebücher, Briefe, Aufzeichnungen 1901 bis 1920 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2004); Holger Afflerbach, ed., Kaiser Wilhelm II. als oberster Kriegsherr im Ersten Weltkrieg. Quellen aus der Umgebung des Kaisers 1914–1918 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2005).

18 Friedrich Kießling, Gegen den “großen Krieg”? Entspannung in den internationalen Beziehungen (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2002); Holger Afflerbach and David Stevenson, eds., An Improbable War? The Outbreak of World War I and European Political Culture (Oxford: Berghahn, 2007).

19 See, e.g., Matthew Seligmann, The Royal Navy and the German Threat, 1901–1914: Admiralty Plans to Protect British Trade in a War against Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); Stephen Schroeder, Die englisch-russische Marinekonvention. Das Deutsche Reich und die Flottenverhandlungen der Triple Entente am Vorabend des Ersten Weltkriegs (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006).

20 Konrad Canis, Der Weg in den Abgrund. Deutsche Außenpolitik 1902-1914 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2011), 685.

21 Sean McMeekin, The Russian Origins of the First World War (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2011). He adopts a more comparative approach in his later publication on the July Crisis. See McMeekin, July 1914.

22 “The vigor of McMeekin's argument is marred by a lack of control.” See Mulligan's William review article, “The Trial Continues: New Directions in the Study of the Origins of the First World War,” English Historical Review 129, no. 538 (June 2014): 658. For Thomas Otte, who detects “recklessness” in all of the capitals except London, there is no evidence for Russian “aggressive designs”: the “quart of Russian foreign policy on the eve of the war cannot be squeezed into the half-pint pot of Constantinople and the Straits,” he asserts. See Otte, July Crisis, 519. The late Keith Neilson not only bemoans McMeekin's “belligerent and contentious tone,” but also concludes that “this interpretation is at best misleading and at worst wrong on many levels.” See his review in Canadian-American Slavic Studies 49, nos. 2–3 (2015): 396.

23 Stefan Schmidt, Frankreichs Außenpolitik in der Julikrise 1914. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Ausbruchs des Ersten Weltkrieges (Munich: de Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2009).

24 The findings of a recent conference on Grey's role before 1914 will be published in a forthcoming special issue of the International Studies Review in 2015.

25 Michael and Eleanor Brock, eds., Margot Asquith's Great War Diary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 13–14.

26 See, e.g., Zara Steiner and Keith Neilson, Britain and the Origins of the First World War, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 2003). Historians who highlight the imperial dimension of British foreign policy concerns include Keith M. Wilson, The Policy of the Entente: Essays on the Determinants of British Foreign Policy, 1904–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Neilson Keith, “‘My beloved Russians’: Sir Arthur Nicolson and Russia, 1906–1916,” International History Review 11, no. 4 (1987): 521–54; idem, Britain and the last Tsar: British Policy and Russia, 1894–1917 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

27 Andreas Rose, Zwischen Empire und Kontinent. Britische Außenpolitik vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2011), 586.

28 Ibid., 590.

29 There were some notable exceptions: Nigel Jones, for example, considers Clark “such a Teutonophile that I am surprised that he doesn't deliver lectures to the Cambridge History Faculty wearing a Pickelhaube.” See his piece, “Let's not be beastly to the Germans,” The Spectator, Sept. 27, 2012.

30 Fritz Fischer, for example, does not even mention Franz Ferdinand in his controversial account Griff nach der Weltmacht (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1961), while Barbara Tuchman's classic account, The Guns of August (New York: Macmillan, 1962), omits mention of the Balkans almost entirely.

31 Clark, Sleepwalkers, xxviii.

32 This contradiction is also pointed out by Weinrich Arndt, “Grosser Krieg, grosse Ursachen? Aktuelle Forschungen zu den Ursachen des Ersten Weltkrieges,” Francia 40 (2013): 243.

33 Clark, Sleepwalkers, 4.

34 Vasquez, “The First World War and International Relations Theory,” 627.

35 For a detailed discussion of Serbian reactions to Clark's book, see, e.g., Florian Hassel, “Wie Clarks Geschichtsbuch Serbiens Elite umtreibt,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, Jan. 23, 2014.

36 Clark, Sleepwalkers, xxviii.

37 On Princip, also see the account by Gregor Mayer, Verschwörung in Sarajevo. Triumph und Tod des Attentäters Gavrilo Princip (St. Pölten: Residenz Verlag, 2014).

38 Clark, Sleepwalkers, xxvii. In 2014, a statue of Princip was erected in eastern Sarajevo by Bosnia's Serb-led Republika Srpska. Sarajevo's mayor, Ljubisa Cosic, commented that there are “many different discussions about his role and his act. Our opinion is that he was not a terrorist. He had revolutionary ideas of liberty, not just for Serbs—he belonged to the Slavic movement.” Yet, for many Bosnian Muslims, Princip was an ethnic Serb terrorist whose murderous act spelled disaster for all Bosnians. As Fedzad Forto, a journalist for a news agency run by the Bosniak-Croat ethnic minority, explains, “Bosnia ceased to exist in Yugoslavia” following World War I, and “Bosnian Muslims were not recognised until 1968.” See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28033613.

39 The extent of these deep feelings, both for and against the traditional view of Germany's primary responsibility for the war, was forcefully expressed in countless online discussion forums; one can also get a sense of this by reading the many readers’ comments left, for example, on Amazon.de, where not just Clark's but every book on the topic has been the subject of enthusiastic and spirited discussion, often by very well-informed general readers.

40 Clark, Sleepwalkers, 559.

41 Ibid., 561.

42 See, e.g., John Röhl, “Jetzt gilt es loszuschlagen!,” Die Zeit, May 22, 2014.

43 Epkenhans, “Der Erste Weltkrieg,” 146.

44 Cora Stephan, “Die Urkatastrophe,” Die Welt, Nov. 14, 2013.

45 Holger Afflerbach, “Schlafwandelnd in die Schlacht,” Der Spiegel, Sept. 24, 2012.

46 A public survey by the German magazine Stern in January 2014 found that only 19 percent of Germans believe that their country had the “main responsibility” for the outbreak of war; 58 percent blamed every participating nation; only 9 percent solely blamed the others. This undoubtedly marked a major shift from the post-Fischer consensus. Cited in Jeevan Vasagar, “Bestseller list reveals German desire to reassess Great War,” Financial Times, Jan. 17, 2014.

47 Samuel R. Williamson Jr., “July 1914 Revisited and Revised: The Erosion of the German Paradigm,” in Levy and Vasquez, Causes of the First World War, 30–62. There were a few exceptions among the most recent publications, in particular Gerd Krumeich's Juli 1914; Christa Pöppelmann, Juli 1914. Wie man einen Weltkrieg beginnt und die Saat für einen zweiten legt (Berlin: Scheel, 2013); Mombauer, Julikrise und Kriegsausbruch. These publications offered a slightly different take on the now dominant Clark thesis: Pöppelmann and Mombauer were consequently referred to as “Fischer's granddaughters” in a review that appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; see Rainer Blasius, “Furcht und Selbstüberschätzung,” FAZ, March 11, 2014.

48 Publications on World War I were in unusually high demand: Florian Illies's cultural history, 1913, sold approximately 400,000 (sic) copies in 2013 and Münkler 30,000 by January 1914; at that point Clark had already sold 160,000 copies in Germany alone (Schlafwandler was published in Sept. 2013).  Figures for January 2014 from Jeevan Vasagar, “Bestseller list.” By April 2014, Clark had sold 200,000 German copies, Münkler 50,000, and Illies a staggering 460,000. As Alexander Cammann commented, “historial topics find numerous buyers and probably not quite as many readers.” See his piece “Dick und teuer,” Die Zeit, April 24, 2014.

49 Münkler, Der grosse Krieg, 10.

50 Ibid., 15.

51 Ibid., 101.

52 Cited in Epkenhans, “Der Erste Weltkrieg,” 148. Such public statements provoked strong reactions against Münkler, particularly among students at the Humboldt University in Berlin, where he teaches. A public campaign titled “Münkler-Watch” started in the summer of 2015 to protest against Münkler, who, according to the protesters, used his elevated position as a prominent professor with connections to the Bundeswehr and the Federal Government to promote a more self-assured German foreign policy. For details of the students’ position and protests, see, e.g., http://goo.gl/1BLz88.

53 Leonhard, Die Büchse, 118.

54 Ibid., 119.

55 Cora Stephan, “Die ewigen Schuldgefühle der Deutschen,” cited in Epkenhans, “Der Erste Weltkrieg,” 149.

56 See Volker Ullrich, “Nun Schlittern sie Wieder,” Die Zeit, Jan. 24, 2014. This denigration of Fischer was an unintended consequence of Clark's work. The Australian academic, who teaches at Cambridge University, had not set out to prove Fischer wrong. As he points out, examining the July Crisis with the assumption that there was “a smoking gun… in the hands of every major character… does not mean that we should minimize the belligerence and imperialist paranoia of the Austrian and German policymakers that rightly absorbed the attention of Fritz Fischer and his historiographical allies.’ See Clark, Sleepwalkers, 561. But as Volker Ullrich's comments suggest, this is precisely how some have read and interpreted Clark's revisionism.”

57 Gerd Krumeich, “Das Kaiserreich unterschätzte 1914 Englands Macht,” Die Welt, Sept. 11, 2013.

58 Ibid. Krumeich further critiques the new interpretation in his study of the July Crisis. See Krumeich, Juli 1914.

59 Epkenhans, “Der erste Weltkrieg,” 144. Dominik Geppert has also commented on the “venomousness” of the debate. See “Heutige Parallelen zu 1914,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, Aug. 26, 1914.

60 He was referring to an international conference commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Fischer controversy; proponents of different interpretations discussed this controversial topic there without recourse to unpleasantness. See Epkenhans, “Der erste Weltkrieg,” 137, 139.

61 Ibid., 144.

62 Ibid., 146.

63 Clark, Sleepwalkers, 560.

64 Notable exceptions include Hastings, Catastrophe; Dieter Hoffmann, Der Sprung ins Dunkle. Oder wie der 1.Weltkrieg entfesselt wurde (Leipzig: Militzke, 2010); McMeekin, Russian Origins.

65 McMeekin, Russian Origins, 5.

66 McMeekin, July 1914, 390–91.

67 Krumeich, Die 101 wichtigsten Fragen, 29.

68 Hastings, Catastrophe, 562.

69 Cited in MacMillan, The War, 525.

70 McMeekin, July 1914, 404–5.

71 Letter from Lerchenfeld to Hertling, Aug. 3, 1914, cited in Annika Mombauer, Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 211.

72 Hastings, Catastrophe, 561; McMeekin, July 1914, 404.

73 Krumeich, Juli 1914, 183.

74 Ibid.

75 Ibid., 184.

76 Otte, July Crisis, 508. Otte's measured and knowledgeable study of the July Crisis was among the last to be published in the centenary year. It benefits in particular from the author's extensive knowledge of British foreign policy and offers much valuable insight into Grey's role in the events that led to war.

77 Ibid., 516, 507. This position is not dissimilar to the views expressed in Luigi Albertini's 1942–43 account of the origins of the war, which sought a truly international explanation of its origins (but whose author was not averse to prosecutorial pronouncements when he thought he could detect fault). See Luigi Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914, trans. and ed. Isabella M. Massey, 3 vols.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952–57).

78 Epkenhans, “Der erste Weltkrieg,” 165.

79 MacMillan, The War, xxxi.

80 Hirschfeld and Krumeich, Deutschland im Ersten Weltkrieg, 47. This useful volume, which is aimed at a general readership, also includes interesting primary sources.

81 Winter, Cambridge History; “1914–1918 Online” includes contributors from fifty countries (http://www.1914-1918-online.net/).

82 Berghahn Volker, “Origins,” in Winter, Cambridge History, vol. 1, 37.

83 Krumeich, Juli 1914, 11.

84 Vasquez, “The First World War and International Relations Theory,” 624.

85 Krumeich, Juli 1914, 8.

86 Martel, The Month, 430.

87 On the reading of primary evidence and the search for “the truth” in documents, see Mombauer Annika, “The Fischer Controversy, Documents, and the ‘Truth’ About the Origins of the First World War,” Journal of Contemporary History 48, no. 2 (2013): 290314.

88 This “improbability thesis,” first advanced by Holger Afflerbach, stresses the fact that the period 1871–1914 can be seen as a period of conflict avoidance, rather than one of recurring crises that somehow inevitably led to war. The ability to avoid war had led to growing confidence that future crises could also be resolved peacefully. In this interpretation, the war was “a consequence of carelessness caused by overconfidence”—“the result of a series of professional mistakes by a comparatively small group of diplomats, politicians and military leaders.” See Afflerbach and Stevenson, An Improbable War?, 6. For similar arguments, see Friedrich Kießling's work on the importance of détente in the prewar years (see note 18) and William Mulligan, The Origins of the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

89 Clark, Sleepwalkers, xxxi. The Sarajevo incident is crucial for McMeekin: without it, “France would have remained consumed by the Caillaux affair in July 1914.” In March 1914 the French newspaper Le Figaro published a series of explicit love letters from French Finance Minister Joseph Caillaux to his former mistress, now wife. Seeking revenge, Henriette Caillaux shot and killed the Figaro editor, Gaston Calmette. Caillaux resigned from his post, and the trial of Madame Caillaux took place in July 1914, amid much public interest. With regard to Britain, McMeekin contends that “the Home Rule crisis over Ireland was building towards a climax in summer 1914” and that “without Sarajevo and the war it sparked, Irish affairs would have preoccupied British statesmen for years.” Moreover, without Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand would have been around to block the bellicose Chief of Staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, as he had on countless previous occasions. See McMeekin, July 1914, 385–86.

90 Otte, July Crisis, 508.

91 MacMillan, The War, xxv, 605.

92 A case in point is David Lloyd George’s “conciliatory accident” theory, which stressed alliance entanglements. See David Lloyd George, War Memoirs, 2 vols. (London: Odhams Press, 1934).

93 Krumeich, Juli 14, 14.

94 McMeekin, July 14, 384–85.

95 Martel, The Month, 421, 431.

96 Krumeich, Juli 14, 186.

97 See the letter Haldane wrote to his mother on July 29, 1914, cited in Mombauer, Documents, 398.

98 On this argument, see also ibid.

99 McMeekin, Russian Origins, 397.

100 Rauchensteiner, Der Erste Weltkrieg, 145.

101 Hastings, Catastrophe, 73.

102 McMeekin, Russian Origins, 397.

103 Rauchensteiner, Der Erste Weltkrieg, 178.

104 For Müller‘s diary, see Mombauer, Documents (no. 367), 509.

105 McMeekin, Russian Origins, 397.

106 Krumeich, Juli 1914, 139, quoting David Stevenson, Armaments and the Coming of the War: Europe, 1900–1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1996), 379.

107 Krumeich, Juli 1914, 142. On that day, the Russian Ambassador in London, Count Benckendorff, believed that war was inevitable. As William Mulligan points out, “it is surely significant that, in political and diplomatic terms, Benkendorff viewed partial mobilisation as making war inevitable.” See Mulligan, “The Trial Continues,” 655. On Benckendorff and Russian prewar diplomacy, see Marina Sokora, Britain, Russia, and the Road to the First World War: The Fateful Embassy of Count Aleksandr Benckendorff (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011).

108 See Neilson's review of McMeekin (cited in note 22).

109 Krumeich, Juli 1914, 145.

110 Ibid.

111 For details of these events, see Mombauer, Moltke, 186–216.

112 On the counterfactual speculation that Britain could—and should—have kept out of the war, see Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (London: Penguin, 1999); John Charmley, Splendid Isolation? (London: Faber & Faber, 1999).

113 Otte, July Crisis, 456, 462.

114 Dominick Geppert et al., “Warum Deutschland nicht allein schuld ist,” Die Welt, Jan. 4, 2014. The argument that Britain was the new culprit—without whose intervention the war on the continent could have remained a local war—added a different twist to this old debate. The idea that the war had been futile and unnecessary for Britain was a difficult concept at a time when the commemoration of the forthcoming centenary was being planned by the British government: for obvious reasons, it was exceedingly uncomfortable to contemplate the idea that its predecessors had been in some way culpable. The war has always been regarded as a tragedy in British public memory, but the significant losses were seen as a necessary evil, and the sacrifices well worth making, to resist an aggressor on the continent, namely Germany.

115 Cora Stephan, “Die Urkatastrophe,” Die Welt, Nov. 14, 2013.

116 Simon Walters, “‘I wanted to thump anyone who said my son's death might have a silver lining,” The Daily Mail, Jan. 18, 2014.

117 By this stage, it no longer mattered whether the German threat was real or invented. The reality of early August 1914 was that a war would commence with or without Britain—and that the consequences would be grave whether it stayed out of the conflict or joined in.

118 Annika Mombauer, “Sir Edward Grey and Germany,” International History Review (forthcoming 2016).

119 Cited in Brock and Brock, Margot Asquith's Great War Diary, lxxxii.

120 Figures from the Forsa poll cited in Jeevan Vasagar, “Bestseller list.”

121 Krumeich, Juli 1914, 10. This author similarly claimed that the topic no longer “hit a raw nerve” in Germany. It became clear a few months later just how wrong that statement had been.

122 Stig Förster, “Balsam auf die Seele selbstbewusster gewordener Bildungsbürger,” L.I.S.A. Wissenschaftsportal, Dec. 12, 2013 (http://goo.gl/cqiKe2).

123 Max Hastings argued against claims of futility in a BBC TV program, “The necessary war,” which aired on February 25, 2014. It was up against another BBC program by Niall Ferguson, scheduled for screening a week later, titled “The wrong war,” in which he advanced his argument that war was unnecessary for Britain and that the sacrifices its citizens made were pointless.

124 Martel, The Month, 414.

125 Clark was already a household name in Germany because of the German publication of his hugely successful history of Prussia: Preussen. Aufstieg und Niedergang, 1600–1947 (Munich: Pantheon, 2007).

126 See also note 120.

127 Gerhard P. Groß, “Annäherung an die Urkatastrophe. Das Bild des Kriegsausbruchs 1914 von Fritz Fischer bis heute,” in Dornick, Frontwechsel, 35.

128 Epkenhans points out that historians who continue to consider Germany's responsibility to be greater than that of the other great powers do not argue that the others did not also have a share of responsibility, i.e., they do not argue for sole German responsibility. These historians include Krumeich, Hirschfeld, Mombauer, Janz, and Epkenhans himself. See Epkenhans, “Der Erste Weltkrieg,” 159.

129 Clark, Sleepwalkers, xxix.

130 For details, see, e.g., Mombauer, Documents, 469–70.

131 Clark, Sleepwalkers, 555.

The author would like to thank Paul Lawrence for reading early drafts of this article, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and positive comments. Many thanks are due as well to the editor, Andrew Port, for his careful editing of the text, and for commissioning the review article in the first place.

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