Book Review: Germany and the Causes of the First World War


by Mark Hewitson

London / New York: Bloomsbury, 2005. Pp. x, 268. Notes, biblio., index. $37.95 paper. ISBN: 1859738702

Germany’s Irresponsible Road to War

Dr. Hewitson (University College London) takes a look at German domestic and foreign policy in the decades or so before the Great War and finds not “guilt” but much irresponsibility, a failing shared somewhat by most of the Great Powers.  He opens with a review of historiography on the subject since Fritz Fischer’s Germany's Aims in the First World War (1961 in German, 1968 in English), finding much to criticize not on in Fischer’s thesis, but also in the works of its critics. 

Hewitson then discusses the roles played by various communities in Germany in developing the political and military decision making that led to the disastrous “blank cheque” of 1914.  He examines how often divergent groups (e.g., industrialists, nationalists, political parties from conservative to socialist, the public, military institutions and planners, imperialists, and more) gradually came to perceive Germany as being “encircled” by her enemies.  The perception was that in the many crises over the preceding decade or so Germany had lost face and influence.  Hewitson attributes this to the fact that from the First Moroccan Crisis in 1905, Germany had increasingly employed a policy of “brinkmanship,” pushing her enemies to the edge of war in successive crises.  Generally, the political settlement of these crises did not usually go Germany’s way, and there grew a sense that the nation had to assert itself.  This was coupled with fears that there was only what we today would call only a small “window of opportunity” to assert German authority by force before French and Russian military power became overwhelming.  So when the a new crisis erupted in July of 1914, there was a strong sense that Germany could not be seen again to have “backed down.”

A volume in the series “Legacy of the Great War,” Germany and the Causes of the First World War is an essential work for anyone interested in the origins of the war.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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