(Published in GralsWelt 18/2001)
At the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15, after Napoleon's fall, European diplomats created a so-called balance of power, which was supposed to give the continent stable conditions and save wars. The unification of the German provinces into a common state (1871) and the subsequent rise of the German Empire to an important industrial nation disturbed this balance of forces.
Such shifts in political, military, and economic weights have regularly led to armed conflicts in world history when established powers do not want to tolerate such an increase in a competitor. After all, wars were seen as a legitimate “continuation of politics by other means” (Clausewitz). Only nuclear weapons made major armed conflicts irresponsible and forced diplomats to find political solutions under all circumstances.
At the beginning of the 20th century, interests of European nations collided: the French demanded Alsace-Lorraine, annexed by Germany in 1871; Russians pushed towards the Bosporus; Austria and Russia (as well as France and Italy) had options in the Balkans; England, traditionally concerned about the political balance on the continent, felt the successful competition of German industry to its disadvantage; it was beset by crises in its colonies, saw its importance waning, suspiciously pursued the construction of a strong German navy, etc., etc. Not to mention the differences between the colonial powers overseas. Mutual distrust determined politics, and the European states prepared.
In tsarist Russia internal tensions escalated and gave rise to fears of a revolution that influential circles wanted to cover up with a war.
The German Empire, politically isolated by the unsuccessful diplomacy and the awkwardness of its saber-rattling emperor, politically allied itself with Austria-Hungary, the multi-ethnic state that was considered a relic from the Middle Ages in the times of exuberant national consciousness.
When the Austrian heir to the throne was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the hectic diplomatic crisis between Austria and Serbia that followed sparked a worldwide war, which Egon Friedell (1878-1938) described as "the end of modern times". (3, p. 1490).
Anyone looking for the guilty party for this catastrophe today should not only study the articles of the Versailles Treaty, which attributed “sole guilt” to Germany, but also look up the English Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1863-1945): “The more you get from the memoirs and reads books that have been written in different countries about the outbreak of war, the more clearly one can see that none of the leading men really wanted this war. They slipped in, so to speak, or rather: they stumbled and stumbled in, out of folly! ”(3, p. 1490).
In August 1914, hardly anyone suspected what was about to happen. Because the first "modern war" - the American civil war with enormous human losses and terrible suffering of the civilian population - did not serve as a warning to the Europeans for lack of knowledge. Thus the horrors of a mass war waged with all technical means broke over the old continent for the first time, while one had only expected a short, quick "armed conflict".
The first thing the German General Staff wanted to do, following the “Schlieffen Plan”, would overthrow France in order to then have their backs free if it had to go against Russia. To this end, German troops marched through neutral Belgium, whereupon England declared war on Germany. The German attack stalled in front of Paris, and the dreaded two-front war broke out. Even a victory over the invading Russians in the Battle of Tannenberg could not change that.
The "Central Powers" (Germany and Austria-Hungary) with their allies (Turkey, from 1915 Romania) were encircled by the "Allies" (England; France, Russia and, from 1915, Italy) and finally had to face a total of 26 enemy states, including even Japan, fight. Access to overseas resources was denied to the Central Powers that were not prepared for a blockade. A hitherto unknown arms industry had to be raised from the ground.
Then in 1917 peace seemed possible. The Central Powers had suffered unspeakably, France was on the brink of collapse and Russia was revolutionary. The American President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) believed in the "reason of the nations" and tried to mediate on the basis of his "14 points"; but foolish nationalists, also in Germany, still swore “victory” and prevented a compromise peace that was acceptable to all sides.
When the United States finally entered the war, convinced of defending freedom and democracy, the Allies had the military and economic preponderance. In the fall of 1918, the Central Powers and their allies lost the world war. Germany and Austria became republics that had to accept harsh peace conditions.
These peace treaties, dictated by the victors, the allies, made the altruistic ideas of the American president obsolete. Austria-Hungary was smashed, the Turkish empire collapsed, the German Reich suffered heavy losses and was supposed to pay war indemnities that drove it to ruin.
David Lloyd George sensed the consequences of the unjust and unstable peace order when he commented on the Treaty of Versailles: "Now we have a written document that guarantees and war in twenty years" (1, p. 58).
The consequences of the First World War were dramatic for Europe and the world:
The Bolsheviks ruled Russia. Communist ideology, the aim of which was world revolution, became the hope of the poor in the world who looked expectantly at socialist Russia.
Germany, under the knack of reparations payments, was caught between Western democracy and Bolshevik totalitarianism and had to look for a new way. The young German democracy born of defeat was unloved and misunderstood by the population.
The relationship between the white and colored peoples also changed. The Allies had deployed colonial troops in Europe, and whites had fought whites in Africa. The European nimbus was broken and the end of the colonial era heralded.
The US crusaders for freedom and democracy withdrew disappointed from the European stage and did not even join the League of Nations initiated by Woodrow Wilson. Henry Kissinger commented on the outcome of the First World War: “The result of the Napoleonic Wars had been a century of peace, based on a balanced European system and common values. The immediate aftermath of World War I was social upheaval, ideological conflicts and another world war. ”(4, p. 237).
Between the states of Europe, even within its peoples and nations, there was no longer any common value concept: democracy and dictatorship, free market economy and collectively planned economy, nationalism and internationalism, conservatism and progressive thinking faced each other irreconcilably and threatened to tear the state structures apart.
A period of unrest and crises followed, culminating in the Great Depression of 1929, which hit even the rich United States hard. On this ground of uncertainty and fear of the future, accompanied by the conflict of ideologies, everything seemed possible: a catharsis with a change for the better as well as a fall into chaos.
- Carmin, ER: "Guru Hitler", SV International / Swiss publishing house, Zurich, 1985.
- Drollinger, Hans: "The First World War", Kurt Desch, Munich, 1965.
- Friedell, Egon: “Cultural History of the Modern Age”, CH Beck, Munich, 1931.
- Kissinger, Henry: "The Reason of Nations", WJ Siedler, Berlin, 1994.