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Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles places the blame of the war solely on Germany and her allies. This is the quote:

The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.

Many historians who use the war guilt methodology have different views as to what countries in question were to blame for provoking the world war. My professor explained that he has read books arguing that the weight the blame is on Russia for siding with Serbia in the Balkan Wars. The First World War could then be viewed as the Third Balkan War. Another popular view is that Great Britain was at fault. Had she allied with Germany and put aside her fears of Germany's growing navy, there would have been no war. Great Britain was itching for a war against Germany because there was a great fear that Germany would destroy the balance of power and replace it with a German hegemony.

Are there any historians who blame World War I on any country other than Germany?

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Welcome to History SE! I've added a link to the article you mentioned and I formatted your quote. If I have have changed your original intent, feel free to edit back. –  American Luke Dec 7 '12 at 1:57
I disagree. This would have been a good question. So who are to blame? –  Jim Thio Feb 6 '13 at 14:59
How anyone could claim that GB was at fault is a mystery to me. Please read Barbara Tuchman's excellent book the Guns of August. –  ExpatEgghead May 30 '13 at 8:54
"Many historians who use the war guilt methodology. . ." kind of answer the question "are there any historians who...." This isn't a real question, this is an invitation to discussion. –  Mark C. Wallace Jun 18 '13 at 13:27
@LennartRegebro: Are you perhaps thinking more of WWII than WWI? Germany leading up to WWI was ruled by a monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II, so referring it to as a military dictatorship is at best misleading. Germany at that time already had a dual-house Reichstag, and although the Kaiser wielded more power than George V, he wielded less than Tsar Nicholas. –  Pieter Geerkens Dec 6 '13 at 3:23

3 Answers 3

It is really, really hard to assign guilt or blame like this in most wars. I think in some ways we are spoiled by World War II, it being about a classic evil mastermind trying to take over the world and all, who kept taking over land and countries until it was clear that the best diplomatic efforts of everyone else had failed. That's just not how most wars work. Most of the time, most all of the belligerents have some sort of casus belli ("just cause") for the war, and most of the time, most all of the belligerents had some option they could have turned to besides war.

That being said, the Great War is one of those conflicts which in retrospect was all but inevitable, and to me it's hard to blame one country for starting something that was going to happen sooner or later anyway. My reasoning:

  • It had been a long, long time since the continent was last embroiled in a major war. I don't think it's quite proper to compare world conflict to seismology, but in a sense there is a parallel here. The last big knockdown dragout conflict in Europe as of 1914 occurred a century previously at the Battle of Waterloo. There had been relatively minor or at least localized affairs since then (the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Italian War of Independence) but nothing that hit the entire continent at once. By this point, nobody alive remembered how bloody the Napoleonic Wars were, and for many nations (France in particular) the notion of war had once again been wrapped in glory rather than loss and suffering.

  • Alliances. The above was by design, of course; nobody wanted another Napoleonic War. The way this got resolved in practice was that everyone formed alliances with virtually everyone else, both by the old-fashioned "hey, marry my daughter" way (see: England and Russia) and by codified mutual defense treaties. If you wanted to invade Austria, Austria could call its allies and pretty soon the entire continent would be fighting you. It was something like mutually assured destruction in the Cold War. The downside of this was that once you did get the alliances moving, they were hard to stop.

  • Increased militarization by all parties involved. As was noted above, France was really stung by the loss of Alsace and Lorraine as well as the ego drop that came with the Franco-Prussian War, and for many in that country it was not a matter of if but when they would try to win their fortunes back. Germany's escalation of armament can almost be seen as a reaction to this. Russia and England may have been more on the periphery of this but they were hardly silent.

  • It was clear that some of the European nations were paper tigers. In addition to having way more trouble in the Balkans than a nation her size should have had, Russia in the early 1900s became the first European power to lose a straight-up war against a non-Western power in quite some time when it lost the Russo-Japanese conflict. The Austro/Hungarian Empire was also teetering in its own right; it is no coincidence that the horse that kicked over the lamp that started the war was located in areas nominally controlled by that once-great empire. And the Ottomans were also a shadow of their former selves. There were clear imbalances of power, and someone was bound to try and take advantage of that.

  • It was a time of great turmoil in general. I highly recommend the book The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchmann, which goes into some depth about the political issues surrounding the 25 years prior to the Great War. In many ways, the entire continent was one great tinderbox waiting to catch fire one way or the other. Anarchists had murdered several heads of state during this time, several countries had fallen into open revolution or were threatening to do so... a case could be made that if it weren't for the jingoistic effects of a great war, Europe in the 1910s could have witnessed several brutal civil wars instead. In a sense, the Great War encompassed some of these (primarily the Russian Civil War) and circumvented several others (the dissolution of Austria/Hungary and the Ottomans most of all). I'm not saying the Great War was a better result, but given the state of the times, it was an understandable one.

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+1 Outstanding answer. Going off on a tangent, and please do not feel obliged to answer: Are the assassination of Austrian archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo and 9/11 parallel events in that they both set off major wars by igniting a powder keg that was ready to go off? (I would not ask this as a question here because it does not fit the Stackexchange format.) –  Eugene Seidel Jun 18 '13 at 16:42
I would dispute that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were "major", so I kind of question the premise, no offense. –  NotVonKaiser Jun 18 '13 at 17:32

I understand that writing "any historians" you mean "any non-German historians". I think this questions is quite general; for everyone it is clear that Germany cannot be the one responsible, even declaring war both on Russia and France. In many sources it is clearly stated that Article 231 was unjust for Germany and thus an indirect reason of WW2.

I found some examples of "Allied" historians being "not sure" about German sole responsibility.

There is a nice study in the book Great War of the French (I read it in Polish translation) about the guilt of the war, I think at least one chapter, but can't remember at the moment. The rest of the book is entirely about France, her politics, military, economics etc.

In this study, the author presents his discussion with some German historian (I can't recall his name) and conclusions they made. As France's point of view (like the Revanche) was strongly affected by the German attack in 1914, and earlier in provoked war of 1870, lost of Alsace etc., this study seems to be very neutral and Duroselle accepted some arguments of this German historian. I'm sure they both agreed that Germany can not take the sole responsibility for the war (but this doesn't mean that there were no German activity leading to the war).

However, I don't remember, whom they blamed for the war; I'm however almost sure that this responsibility (in their opinion) was spread, as other historians do.

In the Dreadnought by Robert K. Massie the British-German naval competition is the main subject. The British two-power standard, even if not directly declared by author as unfair to Germany, is clearly shown as some reason of the Great War.

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Let's say I buy Massie's argument. Britian needed a big navy to protect their island and their overseas posessions. Why did Germany need one exactly? The Germans started the "competition" by building up their navy, and they had no real existing interests to defend with that navy. One could argue this is just stating a cause and letting the reader connect the dots for blame. –  T.E.D. Jun 18 '13 at 16:37
I understand both UK and German ways of thinking. A fully independent state does not need to respect anybody else needs, so that could have been a reason. BTW, after the war there was no 2-Power Standard, as US Navy was almost equal to the RN. –  Voitcus Jun 18 '13 at 18:35

Germany must take the major blame for the outbreak of WW1, for the following reasons:

Firstly, unconditional support for Austria during the July Crisis of 1914.Austria wanted revenge against Serbia for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand,but was aware that Russia was likely to support Serbia as brother Slavs and Eastern Orthodox Christians.Russia was too strong for Austria to fight alone - they needed the help of their ally, Germany.The Kaiser agreed to fully support Austria in all their demands against Serbia, even if it meant war with Russia, and even though the Kaiser himself thought Austria's demands on Serbia went too far.

Secondly, the German war plan. Russia was allied with France, so this would mean a 2 front war for Germany.The Schlieffen Plan was the German war plan to deal with this.Because of the vast distances involved and the relatively underdeveloped Russian transport system, it would take at least 2 months for the Russian army to fully mobilize and be ready to attack Germany. The Schlieffen Plan called for the German army to launch an immediate attack on France through neutral Belgium (something no one would expect).The German army would then outflank the French, surround and capture Paris, and force a French surrender.The Schlieffen Plan called for the capture of Paris within 6 weeks, leaving 2 weeks at least for the Germans to then transfer their army east to fight the Russians.However, the Schlieffen Plan would automatically bring France into the war; the Franco-Russian alliance was defensive, so there was no absolute guarantee of French help for Russia if Russia attacked Austria or Germany first. Further, an invasion of Belgium risked bringing Britain (guarantor of Belgian neutrality under the 1839 Treaty of London) into the war, against Germany. As this would involve the British navy, and because Britain, Germany, France and Belgium all had overseas colonies, this would spread the war to these places.So, only Germany had a war plan that would turn a localized,Balkan conflict into a Europe wide and global one.

Finally, the German army mobilization timetable. The main staging area for the German army was Aachen, on the border between Germany,France,and Belgium.However, Aachen was not large enough to accommodate the whole German army; the first troops to arrive would have to move out straight away to make room for the next wave of arrivals, and so on. Otherwise, the whole army could become snarled up in a giant traffic jam, unacceptable with war imminent.The only direction German troops in Aachen could move was forwards, into France and Belgium, thus starting war against both. Therefore mobilization of the German army meant war within 48 hours, something both the Kaiser and the German Army High Command were well aware of. Austria declared war on Serbia 28 July; Russia announced mobilization of its army (NOT a declaration of war) 31 July. The Kaiser then declared war on Russia and mobilized the German army, 1 August,knowing the first German troops would cross the Belgian and French borders 3 August.

So, Germany was most guilty for starting WW1 for the reasons given above.

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Sources? Citations? –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 5 '13 at 19:29
You are correct in your assertions, but you're missing a lot of mitigating factors that are crucial to the understanding of the whole event. France had been giving Russia money and military support specifically to deal with Germany at some point in the future, and the French were just looking for an excuse to go to war. The Tsar promised mobilization only in the regions next to Austria-Hungary, but in reality mobilized the entire Russian army. It's a complex issue and there are other factors, but against that backdrop I can't agree with the assertion that Germany is the "most guilty" party. –  Odysseus Dec 5 '13 at 23:17

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