The First World War

(Published in GralsWelt 18/2001)

On the Congress of Vienna European diplomats created a so-called balance of power in 1814/15 after Napoleon's fall, which was supposed to give the continent stable conditions and spare wars. The unification of the German provinces into a common state (1871) and the subsequent rise of the German Empire as a major industrial nation disrupted this balance of power.

In the history of the world, such shifts in the political, military and economic weights have regularly led to armed conflicts when established powers do not want to tolerate such an increase in a competitor. After all, wars were considered a legitimate "continuation of politics by other means" (Clausewitz).
Only nuclear weapons made major armed conflicts between great powers irresponsible and forced diplomats to find political solutions under all circumstances.

The jealousy of nations
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.

Cluelessly into the disaster
When the Austrian heir to the throne was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the ensuing hectic diplomatic crisis between Austria and Serbia triggered a worldwide war, which Egon Friedell (1878-1938) described as a "the end of the modern era" designated. (3, S. 1490).

Anyone looking for culprits for this catastrophe today should not study exclusively the articles of the Treaty of Versailles, which attributed "sole guilt" to Germany, but should also look up the English prime minister David Lloyd George (1863-1945):
"The more one reads of the memoirs and books written in the various countries about the outbreak of war, the more clearly one realizes that none of the leading men really wanted this war. They slipped into it, so to speak, or rather: they staggered and stumbled into it, out of folly!" (3, S. 1490).

In August 1914, hardly anyone suspected what was ahead. For the first "modern war" - the American Civil War with immense human losses and terrible suffering of the civilian population [1] - did not serve as a warning to the Europeans due to lack of knowledge. Thus, for the first time, the horrors of a mass war waged with all technical means broke out over the old continent, while one had expected only a short, quick "armament run".

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.

An unstable peace order
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 foresaw 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, S. 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 crusaders for freedom and democracy from the USA 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 thus:
"The aftermath 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 conflict, and another world war." (4, S. 237).
And the wisdom of the age of this perhaps most experienced politician has not got around until today and is ignored again and again:
"In my life I have fought four wars [World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan.] experienced, begun with great enthusiasm and public support, none of which we knew how they would end, and from three of which we unilaterally withdrew. The test of politics is how it ends, not how it begins."

There were no longer any common values between the states of Europe, or within its peoples and nations: democracy and dictatorship, free market economy and collectively planned economy, nationalism and internationalism, conservatism and progressive thinking were irreconcilably opposed and threatened to tear the state entities apart.

A period of turmoil and crisis followed, culminating in the Great Depression of 1929, which hit even the wealthy United States hard.
On this ground of insecurity and fear of the future, accompanied by the clash of ideologies, everything seemed possible: a catharsis with a turn for the better as well as the fall into chaos.

Final grade: 
[1] See "Short, Succinct, Curious," page 446, "Slavery ended, racism remained."

(1) Carmin, E. R.: "Guru Hitler," SV International/Schweizer Verlagshaus, Zurich, 1985.
(2) Drollinger, Hans: "Der erste Weltkrieg," Kurt Desch, Munich, 1965.
(3) Friedell, Egon: "Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit," C. H. Beck, Munich, 1931.
(4) Kissinger, Henry: "The Reason of Nations," W. J. Siedler, Berlin, 1994.