Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to accept all responsibility for the war.
What's their "moral" justification? Is it just, you lose so just agree with this or did Germany do something to start war?
closed as primarily opinion-based by Drux, Mark C. Wallace, jwenting, Tea Drinker, Kobunite Feb 24 '14 at 22:51
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The moral justification isn't hard to find. Russia was the only Allied power to enter the war "on its own". If you look at the stated reasons of other countries: Germany declared war on France because it expected France to ally with Russia. Great Britain joined the war because Germany violated Belgian neutrality. And USA joined the war because of German submarine warfare. So one way to view this war is: Germany turned a local conflict between Austria-Hungary and Russia into a world war. Consequently, Germany is the responsible party here.
Of course there is also a different approach to the whole situation: in addition to the "official" reasons each country had its own interests. Especially France despite being invaded by Germany cannot claim that the war was forced upon them: the French were looking for a chance to take back Alsace-Lorraine ever since their defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. So France would have happily declared war on Germany hadn't Germany done so first, it's beyond doubt that France wouldn't have stayed neutral.
The situation is somewhat less obvious with Great Britain, one can argue whether a different strategy on the German side would have prevented it from entering the war. Still, it is doubtful that Great Britain would have watched Germany destroy the balance of power in Europe without intervening, given that Great Britain was always trying to make sure that no single power ever dominated Europe. The conflicts between Great Britain and Germany over colonial territories didn't help of course and Great Britain clearly had its interests here.
The only war participant where it is hard to say anything are the United States. They had economical reasons to participate but it is unclear whether the USA would have found a different pretense to join the war had Germany not declared unlimited submarine warfare and thus hurt US trade directly.
To sum up: yes, to a large part it was justice of the winner. Germany capitulated so the Allied powers could dictate their conditions. With the world shocked over the atrocity of the war and looking for somebody to blame the Allied powers of course chose to blame everything on Germany. Then again, Germany made it pretty easy to justify this position by giving everybody a good pretense to join the war.
In the big picture, Germany wanted a large empire and a large navy, which was incompatible with Britain's survival as a Great Power. This really didn't have anything to do with how the war directly started, but shaped a lot of the diplomacy around it. This doesn't assign responsibility either, as it would be just as reasonable to accuse Britain of holding Germany down as it would be to accuse Germany of trying to defeat Britain. No country has a divine right to any particular position in the world.
Further, the system of rigid alliances that characterized the start of WWI was a direct outgrowth of German diplomacy under Bismarck and later, if this can be considered a cause.
The German mobilization plan was partly to blame. Mobilization was the calling of reservists to the colors and the assembly of army formations in their positions to start the war. Once started, it would take days and almost certainly lead to war. The German plans were different in that their mobilization plans led into war, and they had only one. In event of war with Russia, the German plan was to overrun Belgium and attack Paris, and their mobilization plan would make that obvious. Since it was very dangerous to give one's enemy extra days to mobilize, allowing them to attack unprepared troops, there was a very strong reason to start mobilization on being informed of a neighbor's mobilization. To what extent this was responsible is also debateable. If it would normally have been possible for everybody to mobilize, stay within their borders, and slowly back down with diplomacy, the German plan would have prevented it. It did prevent Germany from trying to keep France out of the war diplomatically, although that would not have worked in any case. (The mobilization plan that ruled the context of diplomacy had been put together for military purposes, in typical German fashion the needs of a military campaign being more important than high-level diplomacy and strategy.)
The actual events that precipitated war were the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by Serbian terrorists. The terrorists had some connections in the Serbian government, and we'll probably never know how high and how close. Germany sent Austria-Hungary an unconditional promise of support. Austria-Hungary sent a list of demands to Serbia. The Serbians managed to agree to almost all of them, but that wasn't enough for the Empire, and there came the first declaration of war. At this time, the President of France was visiting Russia, and presumably urging the Russians to start a war so France could regain territories lost to Germany in the 1870-1871 war (the President was very eager to get into a war with Germany under what looked like favorable terms).
Russia didn't want to see Serbia, something of a client state of theirs, overrun by Austria-Hungary, and ordered a mobilization since Austria-Hungary was mobilizing. Germany didn't want to see their major ally overrun by Russia, and had legitimate reason for concern since Russia was mobilizing next to them, and ordered mobilization. At that point, war was inevitable.
There are several points at which war could have been averted. If the Serbian government had been able and willing to control Serbian terrorists, the incident would never have happened. If Germany hadn't given the "blank check" to Austria-Hungary, they might not have gone to war, but this was an Austro-Hungarian decision in the end. It is almost certain that the President of France urged Russia into the war, and it's conceivable that without that the Russians wouldn't have mobilized, but again that was a Russian decision. Germany was probably forced into mobilization at that point.
So, there were a lot of actors and a lot of decisions that went into the start of WWI. Germany is clearly not soley responsible, but Germany was partially responsible.
A short answer with a slightly out-of-the box viewpoint:
Germany wanted power and a big empire. This put Germany at odds with Britain, and their allies Austria-Hungary was already at odds with Russia, which together put these two allies at odds with most of Europe.
This could have been solved and handled in various ways, but as Germany was during this time in practice ruled by the military, the leadership used the tool they knew how to use: War.
So yes, Germanys leadership is to blame for WWI in as much as if it had been democratic it is unlikely to have actually started a war in the ultimate aim of making Germany more powerful. The people tend to have different worries. :-)
Not quite. I like this informal take on The Economist's blog: "War parallels", which succintly tries to tackle the question of why the WWI emerged.
So in my understanding the French were an important catalyst in the events preceding WWI. And their efforts, from the very beginning, were geared towards keeping Germany in check. Little wonder then that the French insisted on the German "war guilt" clause in the Versailles treaty.