None of the European power wanted World War I, but they feared Germany. Germany was newly unified, and was beating the European powers in population and Industry. France wanted to recover the Alsace-Lorraine. Britain was a country used to being on the ocean, so they felt threatened by Germany’s colonial expansion and William II’s insisting on a large navy. Russia and Austria feared pressure on their unstable empires. In 1887 William II refused to renew the Reinsurance treaty with Russia, but continued the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.
In 1894 Russia made an alliance with France, and Great Britain settled it’s differences with France in the Entente Cordiale in 1904 forming the Triple Entente. The assassination, with Serbian Knowledge, of the liberal Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinan in Sarajevo in June 1914 was the spark that set off the war. Germany assured Austria full support, which resulted in an Austrian ultimatum that Serbia could not accept. Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia mobilized to defend Serbia, then Germany declared war on Russia.
Germany also declared war on France. Germany wanted a quick defeat of France. To avoid the French frontier, German forces moved through neutral Belgium thinking they would take Paris by surprise. The Germans encountered more resistance than expected in Belgium, giving France time to prepare. [Caidin 207] This violation of international law destroyed all sympathy for the Central Powers. Although German forces nearly reached Paris, the British and French Miraculously turned back the Germans at the Battle of Marne.
The two sides dug trenches for a war that would last four years. The Russians then attacked sending Germany into a two front war. The Germans defeated the Russians Many times on the east, but the Allies blockaded the Germans on the east by cutting off food and raw materials, The Germans became desperate to break the blockade, so they declared unrestricted submarine warfare. [Villiers 176] After several American ships were sunk, the United States entered the war in 1917. The Russians were in the middle of several revolutions so they were not a threat to Germans.
In 1918 when the Germans did not have to worry about the east, they launched an all out offensive attack in the west, but the United Allies slowly turned the tide. Realizing the situation was hopeless the German High Command urged William to let a new civil government sue for peace. Woodrow Wilson, U. S. President from 1913 to 1921, insisted on dealing with citizens. William grudgingly appointed Prince Max of Baden as chancellor. Even Though Wilson was negotiating with the chancellor there were still many problems.
Fighting continued, sailors mutinied, socialist staged strikes, workers and military formed Communist councils, and revolution broke out in Bavaria. [Grolier] Prince Max announced the abdication of William II and resigned. When Germany surrendered and changed its government, it expected a negotiated peace rather than the harsh terms of the Versailles treaty of 1919. The allies were determined to receive reparations for their losses and to see that Germany was never in a position to harm them again. Germany lost the Alsace-Lorraine to France and lost West Prussia to Poland.
It also lost all its colonies and had to give up most of its coal, trains, and merchant ships, as well as its navy. Germany had to limit its army and submit to Allied occupation of Rhineland for 15 years. Worst of all, the Germans had to ccept full responsibility for causing the war and, consequently pay its total cost. The Germans did not consider themselves anymore guilty than anyone else and could not possibly pay all of the costs demanded. The Versailles treaty seemed fair to the Allies point of view, but it did not ensure a lasting peace.
By accepting the treaty the German Government gained a bad name among its people. [Encarta96] The war reparations put a enormous strain on a country already bankrupted by four years of war. In Weimar in 1919 a nationalist assembly, led by the Social democratic party, wrote a democratic constitution for the ew German Reich. But the prospects of the Weimar Republic, as it was familiarly known, were dim. For most Germans the government was defeated and was controlled by the Versailles treaty, which they regarded as only temporary. Encarta96]
The Parliamentary government was opposed by conservative militarists and revolutionary scientists. Both sides frequently tried to overthrow the government with small armies. For instance the military Kapp Putsch in 1920 and, the Uprising of the Communist Sparticists in 1919 under Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The economic situation made matters worse because he German government could not pay off reparation requirements, so France invaded Ruhr in1923 to take over coal mines.
The government encouraged the workers to resist passively, printing large amounts of currency to pay them. The result was an inflation that wiped out savings, pensions, insurance, and other forms of fixed income, creating a revolution that destroyed the most stable elements of Germany. Aided by the Dawes plan of 1924, which set reasonable amounts of reparations and provided for foreign loans, the brilliant German Minister Gustav Stresemann reorganized the monetary system and ncouraged industry. Stresemann introduced a new currency, and paved the way for more reasonable reparation schedules.
For five years Germany enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. In 1926 Germany joined the League of Nations. In 1929 when the worldwide depression hit it plunged the city into disaster. Million of unemployed, disillusioned by capitalist democracy, turned to communism or to the party of National Socialism (Nazism) led by Adolf Hitler. In notable efforts called the Munich Putsch of 1923 Hitler and the Nazis made a farcical attempt to seize power in Bavaria. From 1930 on the government functioned by emergency decree.
The Communist profited briefly from radicalization, but the main beneficiary was the Nazi party. The Nazi party had twin attractions of appearing to offer radical solutions to economic problems while upholding patriotic values. [Encarta96] By 1932 it was the largest party in the Reighstag. The next year President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor after allowing himself to be convinced by generals and right-wing politicians that only the Nazi leader could restore order in Germany and that he could be controlled.