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Source A

Expecting as he did that peace negotiations would be opening shortly,


Bethmann-Hollweg describes his programme of 9th September as ‘provisional
notes on the direction of our policy on the conclusion of peace’. The ‘general aim
of the war’ was for him, ‘security for the German Reich in west and east for all
imaginable time. For this purpose France must be so weakened as to make her
revival as a great power impossible for all time. Russia must be thrust back as
far as possible from Germany’s eastern frontiers and her domination over the
non-Russian peoples broken.’

The objectives in the east were not yet set out in detail in the programme itself,
since peace with Russia was not yet regarded as imminent, but this does not
mean that they had not yet assumed concrete form. The detailed explanation of
‘individual war aims’ was confined to the continental west, where the conclusion
of peace seemed within grasp. They ran as follows:

1. France. The Military to decide whether we should demand cession of


Belfort and western slopes of the Vosges, razing fortresses and cession of
coastal strip from Dunkirk to Boulogne.

The ore field of Briey, which is necessary for the supply of ore for our industry, to
be ceded in any case.

Further, a war indemnity, to be paid in instalments; it must be high enough to


prevent France from spending any considerable sums on armaments in the next
fifteen-twenty years.

Furthermore a commercial treaty, which makes France economically dependent


on Germany, secures the French market for our exports and makes it possible to
exclude British commerce from France. This treaty must secure for us financial
and industrial freedom of movement in France in such fashion that German
enterprises can no longer receive different treatment from the French.

And so the document goes on for other countries……

From Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, published 1967

Source B

There is a fundamental flaw in Fischer’s reasoning which too many historians


have let pass. It is the assumption that Germany’s war aims as stated after the
war had started were the same as German aims beforehand. Thus Bethmann-
Hollweg’s ‘September Programme’ for a separate peace with France – drafted on
the assumption of a quick German victory in the West – is sometimes portrayed
as if it were the first open statement of aims which had existed before the war. If
it were true, then the argument that war was avoidable would collapse; for it is
clear that no British government would have accepted the territorial and political
terms which the September programme proposed for France and Belgium, as
these would have realised the Napoleonic nightmare by giving Germany control
of the Belgian coast. But the inescapable fact is that no evidence has been found
by Fischer and his pupils that these objectives existed before Britain’s entry into
the war.

From Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War, published 1998

Source C

Three points deserve emphasis. Firstly German war aims not only exceed those
of any other combatant; there were aspirations to world power. Secondly, there
was a greater consensus over those aims that pre-Fischer historians like to
admit. Annexationist ambitions were not confined to soldiers like Hindenburg or
Ludendorff, or to pan-Germans and other super-patriots. They were shared by
civilian ministers, civil servants, Catholic and liberal politicians, liberal
intellectuals such as Max Weber, even by some Social Democrats.

From David Blackbourn, History of Germany 1780-1918, published 1997

Source D

It is now apparent that the ‘men of 1914’ in Berlin were working to an elaborate
and cunning scenario, a secret plot designed either to split the Triple Entente
wide open in order to effect a massive diplomatic revolution, which would have
given Germany control of the European Continent and much of the world
beyond, or – a better methods in the eyes of many to achieve the same goal – to
provoke a continental wars against France and Russia in what appeared to be
exceptionally favourable circumstances. If that war could be brought about
through a Balkan crisis rather than through some incident in western Europe,
they calculated, three highly desirable advantages would accrue to the Reich:
Austria-Hungary would be on the front line and would not be able to wriggle out
of its alliance commitments to Germany; the German population could be
manipulated into believing that Germany was being attacked by ‘barbarous’
Russia and so would rally to the defence of the Fatherland; and Britain might be
persuaded to stay out of the war, at least for the first six crucial weeks during
which France would be defeated by means of a lightning attack through Belgium.

From John Rohl, ‘Germany’, in Keith Wilson (editor),

Decisions for War, published 1995