World War I Historiography
1. Each of the belligerent nations published collections of documents carefully selected to:
a. Blame the other side
b. Show that it was fighting in self-defense
i. Serbia was defending itself against Austrian bullying
ii. Austria-Hungary was defending itself against Serbian terrorists
iii. Russia was defending Serbia and all the Slavs against German imperialism
iv. Germany was defending Austria from attack, and the Central Powers from encirclement
v. France was defending itself against an unprovoked attack by Germany
vi. Britain was defending Belgium
2. In the treaty signed during the Peace of Paris, the victors blamed Germany and its allies
3. Revisionist historians soon challenged the view of the victors. The German government had:
a. Issued the “blank check”;
b. Allowed diplomacy to be subordinated to the requirements of the Schlieffen Plan
c. Serbia dabbled dangerously in terrorism for nationalist ambitions;
d. Austria-Hungary was too quick to crush its enemies;
e. Russia’s mobilization expanded the crisis beyond the Balkans and put immense pressure on the
f. France failed to restrain Russia;
g. The British did not make their intentions clear, something which could have deterred the Germans.
Many Historians concluded that no single country was to blame for the war
4. Other historians sought for long-term causes. Surely, they reasoned, such profound events must have had
a. Marxists, following Lenin in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, blamed capitalism
b. The American Sidney B. Fay cited the alliance systems, militarism, imperialism, nationalism, and the
power of the press.
c. In 1961, the German historian Fritz Fischer argued that:
i. Germany’s government and elites had consciously pursued a drive towards world supremacy
during the years before WWI
ii. The German government had deliberately provoked the crisis of 1914 in an attempt to
preserving the German social order.
d. Opponents argued that much of the evidence for this: imperialism, Social Darwinism, and militarism,
was common throughout Europe.
e. Left wing historians argued for the “primacy of domestic policy”: that all the European powers had
chosen war as a means of controlling or weakening the working classes.
f. A German historian, Wolfgang J. Mommsen, argued that Germany’s rapid industrialization and the
backwardness of Austria-Hungary and Russia created instabilities in central and eastern Europe that
were compensated for by aggressiveness.
g. L.C.F. turner argued that the outbreak of war was the result of incompetence and tragic miscalculations.
The Austrians and Germans thought that Russia would not support Serbia. The Russians thought that
mobilization would not lead to war…They were wrong!
John J. Tomkinson – Wars & Warfare