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  • Fritz Fischer

    As participants on this and other forums know, wars come to an end but the battle for history continues. This is as it should be. The better our understanding of history, the better our chances to avoid repeating it. Case in point: the kriegschuldvrage – the continuing debate about the cause(s) of the First World War. This debate was hampered by the apparent lack of a German motive other than self-defense. With each passing year the lack of a German motive became more and more conspicuous by its absence. This was all the more troubling because the Entente nations all had definite, compelling motives. France wanted Alsace/Lorraine and to restore her pre-1871 Continental hegemony. Russia wanted Constantinople and the Straits. England wanted commercial and naval supremacy which she felt to be threatened by Germany. All three nations had powerful leaders intent upon pursuing these objectives. Poincare “could discover no other reason for my generation to go on living except for the hope of recovering the lost provinces.” The Russian Czar had a father (Alexander III) who made conquest of the Straits a primary goal of Russian foreign policy. England’s foreign policy was controlled by Edward Grey who considered Germany to be “a threat greater than Napoleon” and his godfather, King Edward VII, who cleared the diplomatic ground for Grey's welter of military agreements with France and Russia. The lack of a comparable German motive was a vacuum in the ongoing battle for history. Nature abhors a vacuum and after the 2nd World War, German historian Fritz Fischer decided to do something about it. For two decades Mr. Fischer and his loyal servant, Imanuel Geiss, labored mightily in the trenches and, after Herculean efforts brought forth – wait for it – Bethmann-Hollweg’s September Programme. Announced by the German Chancellor in September of 1914, the September Programme was a blueprint for the disposition of Europe should the Central Powers prove victorious.

    Fritz Fischer somehow ascertained that Bethmann’s September Programme had been the German policy all along and announced his Eureka moment in his first book published in 1961, Griff nach der Weltmacht (published in English as Germany’s aims in the First World War). The book sparked a groundswell of German outrage. Led by Egmond Zechlin and Gerhard Ritter, the acknowledged dean of German historians, the battle for history turned hot.

    You will have guessed by now that I am not a fan of Fritz Fischer. But I recall that upon first reading Mr. Fischer some fifteen years ago, I wondered how such a boneheaded book could have gained any traction at all – let alone among German academics. Fischer cites General Friedrich von Bernhardi at great length. Bernhardi’s book, Germany and the Next War was read by German academics and intellectuals, but was virtually unknown among the German public. Furthermore, his adulation of the military cult was mirrored in the writings of other Powers such as Duadet, Barres, Cramb, Maxim, Maude, Deroulede, to mention just a few.

    But Fischer’s main fault lay in the fact that he considered German policy alone, without juxtaposing it against the policies of the other combatants. Thus we look in vain for the Franco-Russian Alliance, the Russian general mobilization, the policies of Edward VII, the policies of Raymond Poincare, the Isvolsky Correspondence, etc., etc., etc.

    By way of answering his critics, Fischer published Weltmacht oder Niedergang (World Power or Decline) in 1965 – a provocative title that appeared in the extreme nationalist writings of Friedrich von Bernhardi. Fischer acknowledges that Germany wished to escape from her encirclement consisting of Great Britain’s two Ententes with France and Russia. But Fischer contends that any such encirclement was the result of Germany’s own policies – despite the fact that German attempts to break up the Entente came as a direct consequence of the Entente Cordiale (when in 1905 she merely gave notice that northern Africa could not be partitioned without taking some notice of German rights and interests, and, in 1911, she was protesting against the violations of the Act of Algeciras by France and Spain.)

    Fischer’s case against Wilhelmine Germany is not nearly as solid and specific as the case by dissident French historians against Poincare whom they accused very directly of having caused the First World War. For purposes of comparison, have a look at the case against Raymond Poincare.

    About Poincaré’s mysterious July 20 visit to St. Petersburg, the brilliant French historian, Alfred Fabre-Luce, has written the following:

    “There is, then, no possible doubt about the attitude taken by Poincaré at St. Petersburg between the 20th and the 23d of July. Without any knowledge whatever of the Austrian demands or of the policy of Germany in the circumstances, he assumed a position of energetic opposition to the Central Powers, gave this opposition a very specific character, and never modified it in the slightest degree to the very end.
    From that time on there was a very slight chance indeed of averting war; and, moreover, Poincaré had given Russia carte blanche to initiate hostilities any time she wished to do so, as we know from the fact that two days after Poincaré’s departure from St. Petersburg, Paléologue, following his instructions, promised Sasonov, without any reservations after the delivery of the Austrian ultimatum, that France would fulfill all the obligations of the alliance. Further, Viviani, who accompanied Poincaré, declared to Nekludof at Stockholm on July 25th that ‘if it is a war for Russia, it will be, most certainly, a war for France also.’”



    Fabre-Luce has concluded that “The acts of Austria and Germany made the War possible; those of the Entente made the War inevitable.” And Poincare himself refutes Fischer in his memoirs, Au Service de la France:

    “I do not claim that Austria or Germany , in this first phase, had a thought-out intention of provoking a general war. No existing document gives us the right to suppose that, at that time, they had planned anything so systematic.”

    The distinguished French publicist, Mathias Morhardt, summed it up as follows:

    “Let one take, one by one, the acts of his political life during these twelve long and terrible years! Let one analyze even the secret intentions! One always will find there the same spirit, the same will, the same methods. M. Raymond Poincaré—he has solemnly affirmed it in the Manifeste aux Étudiante which we have cited—had no other ambition than to recapture Alsace-Lorraine. His policy was invariably directed against Germany. It was a narrow policy full of violence and hate . . . The plan created by M. Raymond Poincaré was all-embracing. Let a spark be lighted in the Balkans and the world war would be certain—for Russia coveted Constantinople and the Straits; and, like Austria, who was opposed to this dream and who was allied with Germany, France would undertake the struggle, because Germany would also enter . . . With an oriental fatalism he awaited serenely the hour of the realization of his program.
    If we examine his rôle, not, indeed, from the point of view of morality and reason, but from the standpoint of historic events, he takes first place among the men who have exercised a decisive influence upon the world. Take for example Napoleon I. The great Corsican adventurer did not succeed, after fifteen years of the most absolute power in accomplishing results at all comparable to those which M. Raymond Poincaré can glory in having achieved. No one before him ever upset the world with more cold-blooded enthusiasm.”



    Other Frenchmen – pamphleteers, distinguished literary figures, eminent scholars, and famous publicists - have leveled similar charges against Poincare. The more important of these have been, in addition to the two authors mentioned above: Victor Marguerite, Ernst Judet, Alfred Pevet, Colonel Converset, Georges Demartial, Gustave Dupin, Armand Charpentier, Grillot de Givry, and Reme Marchand.

    Even S.B. Fay (p. 366) refers to

    “. . . M. Poincare’s policy of having the Triple Entente stand as a solid block in opposition to Germany and Austria, refusing conciliatory arrangements with either of them, and preparing them to accept diplomatic defeat or fight against superior forces. For more than two years he had sought to tighten the Triple Entente in every way possible, and to prevent separate understandings by any one of its members with Germany or Austria.”

    The case against Poincare may be concluded by this highly incriminating telegram sent to St. Petersburg at 1 A.M. August 1st, by Isvolsky:

    “The French Minister of War [Messimy] disclosed to me with hearty high spirits that the French Government have firmly decided upon war, and begged me to confirm the hope of the French General Staff that all our efforts will be directed at Germany and that Austria will be treated as a quantité négligeable.”

    Please note that this decision must have been arrived at some hours before Isvolsky dispatched it to St. Petersburg, but even the time it was sent was sixteen hours before Germany declared war on Russia and two and a half days before Germany declared war upon France. This means that France was the first country in Europe to declare itself for war



    Getting back to Mr. Fischer, his final conclusion is that:

    “Consciousness of strength, an urge for expansion and a need for security combined to mold the policy of Wilhelm II’s Germany.” But these words apply even better to Great Britain after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

    My final conclusion is that Germany needed a heck of a lot more than that in order to attack the Triple Entente – a supremely powerful combination that outclassed the Central Powers by every conceivable measure.
    In spite of himself, Fischer ends up proving the exact opposite of what he set out to prove: Germany had no motive other than self-defense and was therefore innocent in 1914. I’ll conclude this post with a quote from Winston Churchill (from Massie’s Dreadnought):


    “We have got all we want in territory, but our claim to be left in undisputed enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, largely acquired by war and largely maintained by force, is one which often seems less reasonable to others than to us.”

    But it seems to have been eminently reasonable to the redoubtable Mr. Fischer.
    Last edited by peterhof; 07 Nov 12, 14:34.
    "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

  • #2
    Most of this has nothing to do with Fischer and the historians you cite were writing before Fischer revealed a lot of documents they had not seen - though people like Fay had access to the German archives they either were not shown these documents or decided to withhold knowledge of their existence in order to make claims for German innocence.

    How can you possibly use works written before Fischer to try and counter his position on anything? They cannot address the points he raised and are therefore pointless in being discussed. I notice this is not the first time you have used old works in an attempt to refute far newer and more detailed works, so I suppose it is too much to hope that you would change.

    The German motive is easy to see and summed up by Moltke 'War sooner rather than later while we still stand the chance of passing the test'. The chance came and Germany took it.

    Comment


    • #3
      Peter,

      You haven't proven your 'case' against Fischer.

      Additionally, you haven't proven your case for Germany. The Germans took a good chunk of territory from the Russians by Brest-Litovsk. Additionally, they made plans to incorporate Belgium into Germany, as well as territory in northern France.

      If you have a case to make, then make it. The Germans were expansionist and wanted to be a world power, which was one of the reasons they wasted so much money on a navy to rival Great Britains, and which generally sat in harbor for most of the war.

      And Prussia and then Germany after 1871 was a predatory nation-The so-called Prussian War of Liberation was nothing more than 'liberating' as much of Germany as they could get their hands on and incorporating it into Prussia. And they were in competition with Austria about who was going to be supreme in Germany-Austria or Prussia.

      And the Wars of Unification conducted by Prussia were to unite Germany under Prussia.

      Those are wars of conquest, just like the German participation in War I.

      Sincerely,
      M
      We are not now that strength which in old days
      Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
      Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
      To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Teseren View Post
        Most of this has nothing to do with Fischer and the historians you cite were writing before Fischer revealed a lot of documents they had not seen - though people like Fay had access to the German archives they either were not shown these documents or decided to withhold knowledge of their existence in order to make claims for German innocence.

        How can you possibly use works written before Fischer to try and counter his position on anything? They cannot address the points he raised and are therefore pointless in being discussed. I notice this is not the first time you have used old works in an attempt to refute far newer and more detailed works, so I suppose it is too much to hope that you would change.
        I have asked you to cite Documents uncovered by Fischer or anyone else which have substantially (or even barely) changed the debate. I have read Fischer's tiresome tome and can assure you that no such documents exist.

        The German motive is easy to see and summed up by Moltke 'War sooner rather than later while we still stand the chance of passing the test'. The chance came and Germany took it.
        You forgot to quote Moltke's "We do not want it. We have nothing to gain from it." (quoted by Annike Mombauer in Helmuth von Moltle and the Coming of the First World War, p. 166) You also have not (apparently) read Moltke's numerous letters to his wife which make it clear that his preference was for no war at all.
        "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

        Comment


        • #5
          The Geman war aims had nothing to do with the decision to go to war,because: war aims arise after war has started.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Teseren View Post
            Most of this has nothing to do with Fischer and the historians you cite were writing before Fischer revealed a lot of documents they had not seen - though people like Fay had access to the German archives they either were not shown these documents or decided to withhold knowledge of their existence in order to make claims for German innocence.

            How can you possibly use works written before Fischer to try and counter his position on anything? They cannot address the points he raised and are therefore pointless in being discussed. I notice this is not the first time you have used old works in an attempt to refute far newer and more detailed works, so I suppose it is too much to hope that you would change.

            The German motive is easy to see and summed up by Moltke 'War sooner rather than later while we still stand the chance of passing the test'. The chance came and Germany took it.
            From the German POV,it was no chance,it was necessity.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Massena View Post
              Peter,

              You haven't proven your 'case' against Fischer.
              But I have proven that the case against Poincare was a lot stronger than Fischer's case against Germany. This true as well in the case against Great Britain.

              Additionally, you haven't proven your case for Germany. The Germans took a good chunk of territory from the Russians by Brest-Litovsk.
              Only after the Bolshevik delaying tactics.
              Additionally, they made plans to incorporate Belgium into Germany, as well as territory in northern France.
              Please read about the creation of the British Empire.

              If you have a case to make, then make it. The Germans were expansionist and wanted to be a world power,
              Sort of Like the Brits?

              And Prussia and then Germany after 1871 was a predatory nation-The so-called Prussian War of Liberation was nothing more than 'liberating' as much of Germany as they could get their hands on and incorporating it into Prussia. And they were in competition with Austria about who was going to be supreme in Germany-Austria or Prussia.

              And the Wars of Unification conducted by Prussia were to unite Germany under Prussia.

              Those are wars of conquest, just like the German participation in War I.

              Sincerely,
              M
              The 1864 war with Denmark was provoked by the Danish King. The 1866 squabble with Austria-Hungary was unfortunate but brief. It was all but settled by a single engagement. The 1870 Franco-Prussian War was the latest example of French aggression. If we view WW2 as an extension of WW1, the German record compares very favorably with that of Britain or France.
              "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by ljadw View Post
                The Geman war aims had nothing to do with the decision to go to war,because: war aims arise after war has started.
                Which leaves us with question of why Germany went to war (Hint: it had something to do with the Russian general mobilization - encouraged by France and not to objected to by Grey).
                "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

                Comment


                • #9
                  Your early dismissal of Professor Fischer's work as "boneheaded" rather taints your supposedly dispassionate commentary, don't you think ?

                  Also your initial statement that " apparent lack of a German motive other than self-defense" while the Entente powers, on the other hand, were all motivated by revenge and greed, shows your bias even before you launch into your argument.

                  You have frequently described people who might happen to differ from your point of view as supporters of the "White Hats " brigade.

                  Could it possibly be that you are guilty of a similar prejudice ?
                  "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                  Samuel Johnson.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by peterhof View Post
                    the brilliant French historian, Alfred Fabre-Luce
                    Alfred Fabre-Luce was a journalist who wrote history, like Albertini.

                    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Fabre-Luce

                    and from a previous thread I believe the following statements by you about Albertini as a journalist writing history were pointed out:

                    http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forum...127319&page=22

                    Albertini has his place but he also illustrates what can happen when journalists try to be historians

                    And before that:

                    I also said that Albertini was a journalist, not an historian. He may therefore have relied on unsubstantiated sources.
                    Is it not then possible that the journalist Fabre-Luce may have relied on unsubtantiated sources too and that he also may illustrate what can happen when journalists try to be historians?
                    Or is Fabre-Luce given a pass because he agrees with the conclusions you've reached?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by CarpeDiem View Post
                      Alfred Fabre-Luce was a journalist who wrote history, like Albertini.
                      Wikipedia: Grand-son of Henri Germain , founder of Credit Lyonnais , and son of the banker Edmond Fabre-Luce, he is studying literature and law and obtained a degree in political science, history, and law. In 1919, he was posted to London as attache. A year later, he decided to return to Paris to begin a career in journalism.

                      Fabre-Luce did have formal historical training. He is worthy of citation just as is Albertini who had none (AFAIK).
                      "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by BELGRAVE View Post
                        Your early dismissal of Professor Fischer's work as "boneheaded" rather taints your supposedly dispassionate commentary, don't you think ?
                        No. Fischer considered Germany as though it existed in a vacuum - NOT as a part of a diverse Geo-political whole. He does not mention Poincare, the Livre Noir, the Isvolsky Correspondence, or a veritable mountain of relevant and credible evidence. This is what makes his work "boneheaded."

                        Also your initial statement that " apparent lack of a German motive other than self-defense" while the Entente powers, on the other hand, were all motivated by revenge and greed, shows your bias even before you launch into your argument.
                        The indisputable fact is that no one has ever identified a compelling or even credible motive for Germany to go to war with an adversary that was far stronger, other than self-defense. On the other hand, such motives were easily discernible in the case of the Entente nations.

                        You have frequently described people who might happen to differ from your point of view as supporters of the "White Hats " brigade.

                        Could it possibly be that you are guilty of a similar prejudice ?
                        No. The British maintained that they were obligated by the Treaty of 1839 and stubbornly continue to maintain it today, even though British statesmen have themselves admitted that commitments France - NOT Belgium was their casus foederis. And those commitments were made with Germany in mind. I call this hypocrisy, or wearing the 'white hats.'
                        "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by peterhof View Post
                          I have asked you to cite Documents uncovered by Fischer or anyone else which have substantially (or even barely) changed the debate. I have read Fischer's tiresome tome and can assure you that no such documents exist.
                          You asked that of somebody else previously, not me. If you have Fischer's works or have read them then you will know of several documents, unless you are lying about having read Fischer. If you need an example the minutes of the so called 'war council' in 1912 for one had been hidden by previous German governments and only revealed when Fischer came across Muller's record of the event. It doesnt matter what you think of Fischer's conclusions about the meaning of the document, you cannot deny that it exists and was previously unknown. That refutes your claim that 'no such documents exist'.



                          Originally posted by peterhof View Post
                          You forgot to quote Moltke's "We do not want it. We have nothing to gain from it." (quoted by Annike Mombauer in Helmuth von Moltle and the Coming of the First World War, p. 166) You also have not (apparently) read Moltke's numerous letters to his wife which make it clear that his preference was for no war at all.
                          Dont be stupid. Just because I have not posted every single possible quote from Moltke does not mean I have not read about him or seen his letters. I am sure you would not like me to quote too much from Mombauer as you dislike her work too, or at least so you have said when T Duncan has posted sections of her work on THC and Axis History forums. You asked for a motive, you have been given one.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by peterhof View Post
                            No. Fischer considered Germany as though it existed in a vacuum - NOT as a part of a diverse Geo-political whole. He does not mention Poincare, the Livre Noir, the Isvolsky Correspondence, or a veritable mountain of relevant and credible evidence. This is what makes his work "boneheaded."
                            Fischer examined the German side of events and the documents they had hidden for years in order to claim innocence. He did not need to examine other nations in order to show Germany had been dishonest during the 1920's and 1930's on this issue, or indeed that she continued to pretend to have been innocent right into the 1960's.



                            Originally posted by peterhof View Post
                            The indisputable fact is that no one has ever identified a compelling or even credible motive for Germany to go to war with an adversary that was far stronger, other than self-defense. On the other hand, such motives were easily discernible in the case of the Entente nations.

                            Motives have been provided many times, you just ignore them in the same manner you ignore any historian that doesn't agree with you.


                            Originally posted by peterhof View Post
                            No. The British maintained that they were obligated by the Treaty of 1839 and stubbornly continue to maintain it today, even though British statesmen have themselves admitted that commitments France - NOT Belgium was their casus foederis. And those commitments were made with Germany in mind. I call this hypocrisy, or wearing the 'white hats.'
                            You will have no trouble showing where 'the British maintain' any such thing then? Where has anyone said this? This is certainly not the line followed by British historians so it looks like you are making this up.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Teseren View Post
                              You asked that of somebody else previously, not me. If you have Fischer's works or have read them then you will know of several documents, unless you are lying about having read Fischer. If you need an example the minutes of the so called 'war council' in 1912 for one had been hidden by previous German governments and only revealed when Fischer came across Muller's record of the event. It doesnt matter what you think of Fischer's conclusions about the meaning of the document, you cannot deny that it exists and was previously unknown. That refutes your claim that 'no such documents exist'.
                              You're speaking (I assume) of The German Imperial War Council of December 8th, 1912, which was an informal conference of some German military and civilian leaders. The Council was convened to discuss the political situation in the wake of the failed Haldane Mission which was regarded by some German leaders as the last chance for an understanding with England.

                              Admiral Mueller reported:

                              Gen. v. Moltke: "I consider a war inevitable—the sooner, the better. But we should do a better job of gaining popular support for a war against Russia, in line with the Kaiser's remarks." H.M. confirmed this and asked the secretary of state to use the press to work toward this end. T. called attention to the fact that the navy would gladly see a major war delayed by one and a half years. Moltke said that even then the navy would not be ready, and the army's situation would continue to worsen, since due to our limited financial resources our opponents are able to arm themselves more rapidly.

                              That was the end of the meeting. There were almost no results.

                              The chief of the general staff says: the sooner war comes, the better; however, he hasn't concluded from this that we should give Russia or France, or even both, an ultimatum that would trigger a war for which they would carry the blame.


                              I'm sure Fischer must have rubbed his hands together in sheer delight, but I see no particular importance in the meeting.


                              Dont be stupid. Just because I have not posted every single possible quote from Moltke does not mean I have not read about him or seen his letters. I am sure you would not like me to quote too much from Mombauer as you dislike her work too, or at least so you have said when T Duncan has posted sections of her work on THC and Axis History forums.
                              Is there anyone with a discernible pulse who fails to grasp that Germany since 1894 had been concerned about an attack from the Franco-Russian Alliance? You can be very "stupid" and still understand that Germany was extremely worried about any rapprochement between the British Empire - the largest in the history of the world - and France, let alone France and Russia. You and others have repeatedly truncated Moltke's words with a view towards establishing that he was in favor of war. Period. Nothing could be further from the truth. Moltke and others worried that if a war with the Franco-Russian alliance proved unavoidable, then, AND ONLY THEN, should it be fought "the sooner the better." Moltke worried that the completion of the reorganization of Russia's armed forces slated for 1917 - even then the largest in the world - would put Germany in an untenable position with virtually no chance of victory.

                              That's why it is important to include Moltke's "we do not want it. We have nothing to gain from it." This puts Moltke's words into perspective without which the context is changed and his words take on a sinister connotation.

                              You asked for a motive, you have been given one.
                              Now who's being "stupid?"
                              "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

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