Did the Germans en masse believe they were waging a defensive war or a war for colonies, or a war for living space, or preventive war or a war in support of allies?

I have read about some opinions of the Germans of the time and post-war that even sacrifice of millions would worth a victory, but why that victory was so important for average Germans?

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    Thank you for your question; please consider revising it to be more in line with our community expectations. Like other stacks, we expect questions to provide evidence of prior research. That helps us to understand the question, and avoids our repeating work you've already done. Our help center, and other stacks provide additional resources to assist with revisions. Please revise your question to document your preliminary research.
    – MCW
    Oct 4 at 8:07
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    "The Germans" didn't have a belief. Individuals believe things.. And "Why was victory important..." is very likely because the alternative was defeat.
    – MCW
    Oct 4 at 8:09
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    @MCW I think the opposite is true, in that most living Germans haven't suffered defeat in 1914. Instead, Prussia and later Germany had a continuous string of victories (German War 1966, War vs Denmark, Franco-Prussian war,Boxer rebellion, Herero-uprising etc. )since the mid 19th century, which made their leadership overconfident, validated their militaristic approach and only showed the good sides of war, which they intended to further pursue (e.g. by looking for a "place in the sun" akin to the UK and France). You may be confused with WW2 (particularly regarding the stab-in-the-back-myth).
    – R.K.
    Oct 4 at 8:33
  • @R.K.; you are entirely correct; hazards of reading questions before 0400. Thank you for the correction.
    – MCW
    Oct 4 at 9:02
  • Please include prior research. Also, plz clear up the focus: emphasise that the 'average German''s reasoning is inquired; and that it is solely on 'rationalisations about the causes' (which would lead partially away from 'why worth' anything except for when that really is the cause. Still unclear: this meanders between German's motivations and inquiring about explanations they came up with for themselves. Can you clarify between those more clearly? Oct 4 at 23:19

While there wasn't a single overarching belief, many Germans of the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia (including the German leadership) in 1914 felt:

  • a growing feeling of encirclement stemming from the changing diplomatic landscape. Possibly since the end of Bismarck but definitely since the formation of the Entente in 1907 with Russia, France and England forming stronger and stronger anti-German ties.
  • that the other great powers (unjustly) denied Germany her place in the sun ("Platz in der Sonne"), especially in regards to colonies. This was coupled with the feeling of an exceptionalism due to, among others, Germany's quick economic and military successes (especially and including the War of 1870) since unification and its cultural and scientific output. Ultimately, this feeling also influenced the overarching war goals of creating a German hegemony in central Europe and the acquisition of further colonies and territories from the losers of the war.
  • that there was a growing lifestyle decadence and unmanliness, especially in other Great Powers but also in Germany, that could be cleansed with steel. For many, at the same time, war was an escapism from daily life. And sacrifice in the name of the state was considered a patriotic duty.
  • that they could win the war, even if it required sacrifice as there were many victories but few losses in recent memory (e.g. War against Denmark, War against Austria, War of Unification, the Boxer Rebellion, the Herero Rebellion). At the same time, many also thought that the odds were increasingly turning against Germany, so the sooner the war starts, the better the odds for Germany.

This support expressed itself in patriotic marches in the cities, the "Geist von 1914" (Spirit of 1914 or "Augusterlebnis"). Proponents for a patriotic war also included notable intellectuals like Max Weber or Thomas Mann.

Anti-War sentiments and demonstrations were less common and more commonly carried by the countryside and the workers, though the Social Democrats (SPD), in the end, supported the war.

With the war unfolding, many of these ideas faded and the war gathered its own momentum. Former patriots became disillusioned as the reality of war set in, with a death toll in the millions.

Following the war, many others considered the war and the Treaty of Versailles a humiliation. This was instrumentalized in e.g. the Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back-myth, i.e. the myth that Germany was undefeated in the field, but stabbed in the back by politicians or the Jewish population).

  • Most Germans had lived through WW1, so they knew what it would be like. I always find it hard to believe that average Germans had more appetite for war than their French neighbors, who are usually criticized for not willing to fight in WW2. Oct 4 at 16:58
  • Lacks sources! The SPD leadership supported the war almost as soon as it was orchestrated. Ppl like Mann & Weber were not "average" (main drift of the Q?). Likewise we see mainly (right-wing) "intelligentsia" & lofty 'deeper reasons' —at least before the war, the worker/left-wing perspective before the war is missing, plus "idiotes" (guy's shot, fate)… A contrast between before/after for causes would also be nice (does not incl Versailles, as that is surely not a cause for WW1?) I don't read the Q as 'German, your op'ed on the war, plz' but 'whadda you think why it started?' Oct 4 at 22:47
  • @LаngLаngС Versailles is certainly not a cause, but had a very large impact on interpreting the causes of the war afterwards. Its Article 231(War Guilt Clause) forced Germany to accept full responsibility for causing the war, which clashed with the perceptions of many within Germany. For sources, overall I'd say e.g. Golo Manns "Deutsche Geschichte im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert". Any specific claims you would like to see sourced, as I consider nothing stated notably controversial.
    – R.K.
    Oct 5 at 8:47
  • All As need sources, in As, principle. The Versailles angle gets interesting, in your comment: 'clashed with perception', as it is this perception that's asked about, not that _formally' that clause was 'accepted'? Like SPD formally supporting the war (with members following after and for a while) says nothing in itself about 'causes'. 'Verdorrte Hand' (no real acceptance) vs 'rightly so' (resignation into 'German' guilt acceptance). Then Monarchs going mad, militarism, mere capitalist interests as further rationalisation/explanations. & of course: when did 'Jewry's plans' come into play? Oct 5 at 9:16
  • With Antisemitenparteien, Judenzählung, DAP? While this later point imo needs inclusion for causes constructed/thought of, that will need careful handling, fitting 'controversial' caveat, and then: 'needs sources'? Note that I didn't write the above would be wrong in itself, I just read it as largely quite oblique to the Q as asked (and I read it. If you disagree with my reading, maybe clarification on your reading/framing would improve this A as well?) Oct 5 at 9:20

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