Posts Tagged ‘DAAD’

A simple Illusion. Prewar Politics and the Military Elite in Germany, 1888 to 1914

Mittwoch, Januar 21st, 2015

 Dear Agha,

answering Your kind regards, here my „count down“, in order to
finish my book on „1914“.
Wilson Institute, in combination with the German DFG, didn’t
suspend my work. This should have been completed in 2014.
But something happened…
Therefor here my plan of 1995. You may see the arguments of
German official historians shine through, not to spend money
on my research at those times. promoted by Hildebrandt/Bonn,
Messerschmidt/Freiburg, Röhl/Brighton.
Now the internet forms one of the liberal sides of life that may
give some sense to further work on topics like the First WW all
the same.
Kind regards, and best greetings and wishes to You and Your
work to come
Germany became reunified in 1990. This revival of a major power in central Europe may in future effectuate tendencies in political and military evolution, resembling the dangerous path Germany did follow at least since 1890. The background of conductable local non nuclear wars, even around Europe again (Singer, Michigan, „Decline. Dispute and War, 1816-1980/ January 1984), throws new light on the political and especially military decisions before 1914 when the shadow of a great war became unveiled.
Up to 1961, and Fritz Fischers famous work „Germany`s Aims in the First World War“, this conflict became estimated to be one of the best analysed parts of German and European history. In 1984 an East German scholar (Helmut Otto, Militärgeschichtliches Institut der NVA) told me about his success in revealing military documents which did disappear in 1945. This archive material, derived from the „Forschungsanstalt des Heeres“ at Potsdam, nowadays gives us a more detailed impression of German military thinking in between 1867 and 1914.
At the same time, we get to know that the so called „Reichs-“ and later on „Heeresarchiv“ wasn’t eager to publish the „full truth’’ (Schulte, MGM 1/79, Europäische Krise, 1983 and ‘Streitkraefte im Spannungsfeld’. Officers of the ‘’old army“ and historians took over the political targets of the Weimar Republic and the following „Third Reich“. The topic of future warfare had to be researched and the next war was openly said to be the natural outcome of future events in spite of „Völkerbund“ and other peaceful dreams.
So „Reichsarchiv“ and „Wehrmacht“ were preparing for a second attempt in order to rereach German power standard of 1914. To correct the treaty of Versailles the „Reichsarchiv“ tried to describe military history under the perspectives of former German military doctrine, which became formulated in the means of the so called „Schlieffen-Groener-Tradition“ (Hahnke, Kuhl, v.Kluck). This school of German military thinking tended to influence the German discussion on the First World War. First, Groener and his associates, tried to prepare society for the next war. The major argument sounded: in 1914 the German Army suffered not more than from a shortcome of efficient military leadership.
The well known controversy on the outbreak of the First World War is still going on. Right now, new documents dealing with military questions around 1914, give a more complex view on the German role before war became declared. When, in 1973, I was analysing the influence of military potential, aims and factors on political decisions, those essential papers weren’t at our disposal. Nowadays a younger group of the national-conservatives among German historians is trying to use this material in order to renew the arguments of thre national-conservative historian Gerhard Ritter, the adversary of my father in science, Fritz Fischer.  As planned, work and influence of the so called ‘Fischer-School’ at Hamburg should become annihilated by this new attack (after the RiezIer-Diary-Affair/Schulte, 1985).
Sociological, politological aspects and modern research on conflict and peace lead to a far more detailed outlook on the German Empire of 1871 and its going to war in 1914. Gerhard Ritter’s work on Prussian-German militarism sought to defend Germany against article 231 of the Versailles Treaty. Fischer’s book on the war aims of the „Reich“ uttered a catalytic influence in the 1960ies, as well on German historiography as on politics. In 1966 Ritter, so I did declare in the Riezler Diary affair, had become „defeated“ (new B.F.Schulte, Weltmacht durch die Hintertür, Hamburg 2003).
Nowadays, military history is affected by theories dealing with the role of the former General Staff in German society. It has been tried somewhere to dessin this military elite, not being convinced to possess the „mirage of success“, all the same push the political leader, chancellor v. Bethmann Hollweg, to make war „as soon as possible“.
Today there is the chance to reveal, by new archive material, the dominant ideas of the military leaders at Berlin. The first time, for at least 52 years of research, we may put an eye on the papers the most central figures in German military circles did fix. Material, we wished to know in course of the so called „Fischer Controversy“. The „decision making process“ around emperor William II., and his military advisers, as well as during the time of the chancellors v. Bülow and v. Bethmann Hollweg, will get more distinct. Besides the Image of future warfare, the methods and aims of research, the „Reichsarchiv“ in between 1919 and 1946 did persecute, this Institution will be shown mobilising German society to conduct a second World War. On the other hand, attempts to declare German military leaders inefficient and lacking distinct plans, and further on being influenced by „dreams and nightmares“, such pictures will become reduced to reality. Discussion on the German operational plan of 1914 and strategy in general, falsely called „Schlieffenplan“, hasn’t yet been put into the right context (even not by the Army official publication in 2009). Sinceb 1956 Gerhard Ritter’s book „Schlieffenplan. Critics of a Myth“ influences again current German research. By this, historiography falls back in obsolete tradition. We have to discern between Fieldmarshall Alfred Count v. Schlieffen’s work up to 1905/06 and the plans his successor, developed up to 1914. This study will not undergo former apologetic attempts, like Gerhard Ritter’s thesis, German politics should have been dominated by Prussian-German militarism. Even to show German military forces as „Staat im Staate“ (Gordon Craig/1955), doesn’t match historic reality. But why, under those conditions, it could have come to war at all? And by what means this could last for those long four years?
The theory of a paralysed decision-group, especially concerning army and fleet right before the outbreak of the First World War, became already published by Hans Herzfeld in 1921. Up till now unpublished documentary material, derived from the secret archives of the General-Staff, does show to me quiete another picture. The so called „polycratic basis” of German politics in the „Era of Bethmann Hollweg“ will be put to a test. The question is: The German „Reich“ of 1914, was it completely unable to act? These aspects will become developed in a more realistic manner as to the state of the inflicted minds and work.
In between 1914 and 1918 the military sector was at least able to conduct a war that „tout ‘a fait“ got more and more total. „Army, industry and labour“, as well as strategy, supply of goods and manpower, even war-industries, the German political system was able to manage. The problem, how to prepare war on financial, economical and military means, has to be solved as well. The documents do not support conservative historians like Lothar Burchardt, Stig Foerster and Wolfgang Mommsen, pleading for an imperfect state of German preparedness. Saying: as Imperial Germany wasn’t prepared for a World War of four years, it can’t have been planning a war at all. This study will show: German political, industrial and military leaders did plead for a completely flexible solution of this central problem of war planning, when Germany went to war in 1914 (and 1939). Those intentions have basically been linked with the concept of short war.
This leads to the concept of war, Imperial Germany did follow. In spite of technical evolution of fire-power on the battlefield, the unbroken dominance of the attack, in strategic and tactical means, or an antique thinking of traditional main arms, like infantry, artillery or cavalry, in the main run, the German Army became outtimed in the years from 1888 to 1909 (Schulte, Armee/1977). All the same, stress has to be laid upon the first battles at the Belgian and French borders which did show, German tactical doctrines, as well as the French or English, didn’t adequately regard the strength of the defensive. This, up to 1911, in the French fighting force a well known insight, became omitted when the new strategic concept, „Plan XVII“, had been set into work. Up till now, these questions haven’t been discussed in a comparative method. Questions, in our times again of interest, because of the aspects of local non nuclear conflicts, even in Europe (Singer/1984), may become actual (in the meantime already in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, Afghanistan, Irak, Sudan).
Combined with this strategic and tactical change, taking place in the first years of the 20th Century, the leading aspects of German military thinking were following for example the basic concept of war against Russia or France/England, with stress laid upon the first battles confronting the western powers. Moltke (the younger) did work out Germany’s military planning. His decisive neighbourship to the chancellor Bethmann Hollweg will have to be explained. There has been no struggle between these figures for political power. On the contrary, they were linked together in the older tradition of the „Prussian Wochenblatt Party“, which in the 1850ies tried to effectuate an arrangement with England against Russia, when France and England fought the Crimean War against this eastern power. So Moltke in December 1911 wrote a central paper for Bethmann Hollweg dealing with the political-military situation, saying, „the leader of the military operations“ would be „opposed to a task which would only be soluable, if his preparations would take place in close neighbourship to the political standards of the state“. A close look at the parallelism of diplomatic development in the times of Bismarck, as well as under the rule of  William II., which will bring about stringent military planning, combined with close support from the political leaders at any time. Military leadership and politics will show that during the Weimar Republic Fieldmarshall Alfred Count of Schlieffen has become broadly overestimated. This, as the „Reichsarchiv“ firstly tried to deny any German offensive thinking before 1914. Secondly, Schlieffen became a function, in course of new arguments, declaring, the younger Moltke mislead the preparations for war, as well as the military operations of August/September 1914. What wants to say: to Imperial Germany in 1914 there existed a realistic chance to win the First World War, Germany’s fighting for supremacy in Europe – and, at the same time – world power Standard. This thinking, in the meantime we do know the outcome of World War Two, this has been laid open, to be wrong. In short: a simple Illusion.
Hamburg, den 20.9.1995 [4.5.2005, 21.1.2015].