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Why is Germany always portrayed as the prime evil in the war?

Why does Germany bear war guilt and given the title of the aggressor?

Let’s wheel the clock back to 1871 and get an overview from the beginning. Bismark, after cleverly tricking the French into declaring war would unite the German states with Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, and Saxony leading the charge into a single Germanic State. They would in the process of peace negotiations seize the French territories of Alsace-Lorraine and as the result of the war Napoleon III would be ousted and the Third Republic would be declared.

After this war and the 1866 war with Austria to seize other German lands, Germany would be declared and they would overnight rise into being a world power. By 1880 they would be the leading industrial power in Europe…and they would be completely surrounded by “great powers” — Britain in the seas to the North, France to the West, Austria-Hungary to the South, and Russia to the East. This is where we briefly mention Bismarkian politics or what is more aptly referenced as the “3/5th’s rule”. That is, Germany must always have alliance 3 out of the 5 “great powers” as to secure the risk from total encirclement. In 1879 they would create a defense treaty with Austria-Hungary w.r.t. the mutual threat of the Russian Empire. In 1887 Bismark would also secure a non-aggression treaty with said Russian Empire which would state both parties would remain neutral in each others respective conflicts unless the other was the aggressor.

This was precisely what Bismark wanted — he had completely secured his Southern and Easterly borders. With the addition of Italy to the group Germany would only have to worry about her French enemies to the West and a potential British threat in the North Sea. When Willhelm II ascended his fathers throne in 1888 he had big shoes to fill and felt the need to do it on his own with his own new troupe of advisers, thus sacking Bismark to retirement and taking up the reigns of diplomacy himself. When in 1890 Russia (rather persistently) tried to renew the treaty for a more permanent, more alliance sounding one Willhelm II would just as persistently refuse. The Russian Tsar, Alexander II, would (rightfully so) feel exposed and without any friends. The British hated Russia and vice versa because of the Crimean War and Central Asian colonial ambitions, Austria-Hungary was a natural enemy to them because of conflict in the Balkans, Germany was supporting Austria-Hungary and was giving him the cold shoulder, but France remained. And boy, France would take Russia in with open arms creating a formal alliance in 1892.


Now we can start discussing aggression. This is the formal state of affairs going into the 20th century: Germany and Austria-Hungary have a defensive pact with regards to Russia. France and Russia have a mutual defense treaty against Germany. The United Kingdom is allied to nobody formally but is unfriendly to the Russian Empire, neutral with the French Republic, and neutral with a leaning of cordial with the Germans.

Kaiser Willhelm and frankly the German people as a whole were incredibly insecure about their status in the world. They were less than 50 years old at this point and were bordered by nations which had been around for almost a thousand and at times can trace their history back even further. They had no great national history or prestige to work off of as a unified Germany. They also came into the game in 1871 — well after the 16th and 17th century colonial rushes. They had no colonies. Germany is a notably isolated region and as the industrial leader relied on foreign imports to keep its factories churning out goods but perhaps equally important is the concept of prestige.Wilhelm II embarked on a policy of “Weltmahct,” or world power. A common turn of phrase in Germany was “Weltmacht oder Niedergang,” world power or downfall. They legitimately believed, the Kaiser, the government, and the people themselves, that it was Germany’s time to be the world power. That the German people, through social darwinism, were the superior and they were to seize prestige, colony, and resources through aggression. Don’t conflate this with Nazism, it wasn’t by any means. However, the concept of social darwinism was a popular one in this time and would last well into the 20th century.

To get colonies and to secure colonies though, you need a navy. So Germany would start a rapid buildup of said navy. This had a twofold purpose — one of creating a colonial fleet to secure shipping lanes and seize lands through war and to secure an alliance with the British. By performing a rapid naval buildup and flexing German muscle, combined with a shared cultural heritage, he had hoped that Britain would see Germany as too strong too culturally similar to be an enemy and would fall right into Germany’s arms with an alliance. Does any of that make sense? No, because it doesn’t and it failed horrendously. Britain told Germany to stop building up such a massive navy (which was being created for the express intent of contesting British naval hegemony) and Germany repeatedly refused.

As the Germans continued to contest British naval hegemony into the 20th century, we get to our first major date! In 1904 the French and the British, already uneasy with the German buildup, would begin to create some of the first legitimate and lasting bonds of friendship in their entire history. It actually wasn’t initially made with any regard toward Germany but rather a mutual understanding between the two powers. France would recognize the U.K.’s control over Egypt and likewise the U.K. would recognize French hegemony of basically the rest of North Africa Westward from there, Algiers and Morocco namely. In a few years Britain would also begin to make nice with Russia by diplomatically solving the the disputes in central asia (ie: Persia primarily) permanently.

The French and Spanish would divvy up Morocco between them (with the French getting the majority, obviously) and Germany would respond in its second act of aggression — the May 1905 Moroccan Crisis. Kaiser Willhelm II would sail to Morocco just as these deals were being finalized and gave a keynote speech with the Sultan in front of a large crowd crying out for Moroccan independence from “foreign oppressors” and that Morocco should remain independent and free from influence. This was an attempt to undermine French legitimacy and drive a wedge between the British and French relationships by giving the Entente Cordiale a strenuous test w.r.t. the legitimacy of their agreement. It would have the exact opposite effect as you might already imagine. The French and British, already uneasy by the German build up, would be pressed closer than they would at any point in history. While it would be nothing formal, Britain began seriously considering Germany a threat at this point and would, more as an act of informal policy and general thinking than anything else, lean toward supporting France in a theoretical European conflict.

The third major event would be the coming of the famous Dreadnought — with one pictured here. The coming of the Dreadnought shook the naval world, so much so that every battleship in recent memory before it became known as “pre-Dreadnoughts.” They would completely and utterly outclass anything any other nation was fielding. Their range and their firepower and their new engines and armor was like a fencing sword facing up against a claymore. and it would “reset” the naval arms race between Britain, Germany, and the world as a whole. You see Britain’s policy was called the Two-Power Standard — that is, having as many ships as the next two highest powers combined. They were a naval nation and they had naval hegemony. This gave Germany its first real shot, as both were starting from a blank slate essentially, to create a fleet that could legitimately contest the British in the North Sea region. It should be noted that Dreadnought’s were not exactly long range fighters, which made them useless for colonial protections. They had one use, attacking the British fleet in the North and Baltic Seas. The Germans would begin an unprecedented buildup buildings dozens upon dozens of these ships and constantly making orders for more.

All these tensions would finally culminate in 1911 — the Second Moroccan Crisis. Oh those Germans were back for a vengeance and it would totally work this time. Right guys? The Moroccans would rebel against French rule and the French were going to send troops to protect its interests. Kaiser Willhelm, always the opportunist, would seize the situation by the proverbial horns and send a gunboat — the SMS Panther — to be backed up by the SMS Berlin shortly after to go “protect German trade interests.” Let’s call a spade a spade however, Germany sent war ships to go intervene in a conflict between France and a country which had, in the very conference Germany called for in 1905was determined to remain under French influence. Germany would also demand territorial concessions in sub-Saharan Africa from the French along with pulling out of Morocco entirely. Not only would Britain back up France again driving them closer, Austria-Hungary wouldn’t even give Germany diplomatic support — let alone military backing.

Germany had at this point completely abandoned Bismark’s strategy of balance: Constantly giving conciliatory gifts or speeches or letters to rival powers to calm their nerves and keep everyone friendly. Remaining content as not only a land power, but the land power of Europe. Not getting greedy about the idea of the superior German and German prestige. Germany was in a precarious position in the world and Willhelm II did everything in his power to do the worst possible options. France and Britain, who were formerly neutral at best were driven into the strongest friendship they’ve had in their 1000 year history. Britain, who in 1887 had no intent of getting involved in continental conflicts and was now drawing up plans for direct land intervention in Europe to assist the two powers and had an agreement with France to provide it naval support in the event of war with Germany. Even more astoundingly was how it drove Britain and Russia together. These were two nations who for all purposes wanted nothing to do with each other. Britain, fearing German control over the Baltic Sea (that one to the right of Sweden and bordering Russia and Germany) and a reciprocated fear from Russia would begin to fix former grievances. Britain and Russia would go from hating each other in 1900 to informal military support and friendship in 1912 because of Germany’s actions.

The last peg in Germany’s coffin of war guilt was their actions in between June 28th and July 28th 1914 — the July Crisis. This post is dragging on and this doesn’t require the most analysis so it goes like this: Austria-Hungary used the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand as a justification and premise for their long standing objective of annexing Serbia. They knew however this would definitively mean war with Russia, which means they need German permission before doing this. Germany would give them the infamous Blank Cheque — essentially telling the Austro-Hungarians to do whatever they want with Serbia and tacitly accepting war. Austria-Hungary would send Serbia, who to this day has absolutely no hard link to the assassins and by all accounts cut ties with the Black Hand well before the killing, an ultimatum. A list of concessions Serbia would have to agree to which amounted to essentially Serbia becoming a puppet state. Serbia would obviously decline. Russia would begin to mobilize, Germany would declare war.

Not only would Germany declare war, it was their strategic plan that sealed the deal of them being perceived as the aggressors. Fearing their ‘encirclement’ they wanted to strike at France with everything they had and knock them out immediately. Infamously it would be given 950 hours — 40 days, no more. To do this they couldn’t just go through the border and push the French back, they would need to crush the French with total encirclement. This meant attacking through neutral Belgium. This is a topic that goes into the “evil” discussion that I’ll talk about briefly but needless to say, Belgium had absolutely no ties to the French or Russians or Germans or anyone for that matter. They were sitting there by themselves and Germany saw them as a convenient stepping stone to knock the French out faster so they invaded this completely uninvolved power without provocation. This would be the primary accusation as to the claim of German aggression — someone who is merely defending against two fronts would not declare war and then immediately perform a massive offensive through an uninvolved neutral country for the express intent of encirclement and annihilation of the enemy army. That is aggression full stop.

The Zeppelin airship “Graf Zeppelin” flying over the Reichstag building in Berlin; October 1928

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In 1928 the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin became the first commercial passenger transatlantic flight service in the world.

LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin (Deutsches Luftschiff Zeppelin #127; Registration: D-LZ 127) was a German-built and -operated, passenger-carrying, hydrogen-filled, rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a Count in the German nobility.

The ‘Graf Zeppelin’ is considered the finest airship ever built. It flew more miles than any airship had done to that time or would in the future. Its first flight was on September 18, 1928. In August 1929, it circled the globe. Its flight began with a trip from Friedrichshaften, Germany, to Lakehurst, New Jersey, allowing William Randolph Hearst, who had financed the trip in exchange for exclusive rights to the story, to claim that the voyage began from American soil.

Piloted by Eckener, the craft stopped only at Tokyo, Japan, Los Angeles, California, and Lakehurst. The trip took 12 days—less time than the ocean trip from Tokyo to San Francisco.

During the 10 years the Graf Zeppelin flew, it made 590 flights including 144 ocean crossings. It flew more than one million miles (1,609,344 kilometers), visited the United States, the Arctic, the Middle East, and South America, and carried 13,110 passengers.

(Wikipedia)

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Dagen H -Sweden switches from left to right-hand traffic; Sept 3rd, 1967

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Dagen H (H day), today usually called “Högertrafikomläggningen” (“The right-hand traffic diversion”), was the day on 3 September 1967, in which the traffic in Sweden switched from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right. The “H” stands for “Högertrafik”, the Swedish word for “right traffic”. It was by far the largest logistical event in Sweden’s history.

There were various major arguments for the change:

  • All of Sweden’s neighbours (including Norway and Finland, with which Sweden has land borders) drove on the right, with 5 million vehicles crossing those borders annually.
  • Approximately 90 percent of Swedes drove left-hand drive (LHD) vehicles. This led to many head-on collisions when passing on narrow two-lane highways, which were common in Sweden due to the fact that the country’s low population density and traffic levels made road-building expensive in per capita terms. City buses were among the very few vehicles that conformed to the normal opposite-steering wheel rule, being left-hand drive.

However, the change was widely unpopular; in a 1955 referendum, 83 percent voted to keep driving on the left. Nevertheless, on May 10, 1963, the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen) approved the Prime Minister Tage Erlander‘s government proposal of an introduction of right hand traffic in 1967, as the number of cars on the road tripled from 500,000 to 1.5 million, and was expected to reach 2.8 million by 1975. A body known as Statens Högertrafikkommission (HTK) (“the state right-hand traffic commission”) was established to oversee the changeover. It also began implementing a four-year education programme, with the advice of psychologists.

The campaign included displaying the Dagen H logo on various commemorative items, including milk cartons and underwear. Swedish television held a contest for songs about the change; the winning entry was “Håll dig till höger, Svensson” (‘Keep to the right, Svensson‘) written by Expressen journalist by Peter Himmelstrand and performed by The Telstars.

As Dagen H neared, every intersection was equipped with an extra set of poles and traffic signals wrapped in black plastic. Workers roamed the streets early in the morning on Dagen H to remove the plastic. Similarly, a parallel set of lines were painted on the roads with white paint, then covered with black tape. Before Dagen H, Swedish roads had used yellow lines.

On Dagen H, Sunday, 3 September, all non-essential traffic was banned from the roads from 01:00 to 06:00. Any vehicles on the roads during that time had to follow special rules. All vehicles had to come to a complete stop at 04:50, then carefully change to the right-hand side of the road and stop again (to give others time to switch sides of the road and avoid a head on collision) before being allowed to proceed at 05:00. In Stockholm and Malmö, however, the ban was longer — from 10:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday — to allow work crews to reconfigure intersections. Certain other towns also saw an extended ban, from 15:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday.  

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The relatively smooth changeover saw a reduction in the number of accidents. On the day of the change, only 157 minor accidents were reported, of which only 32 involved personal injuries, with only a handful serious. On the Monday following Dagen H, there were 125 reported traffic accidents, compared to a range of 130 to 198 for previous Mondays, none of them fatal. Experts suggested that changing to driving on the right reduced accidents while overtaking, as people already drove left-hand drive vehicles, thereby having a better view of the road ahead; additionally, the change made a marked surge in perceived risk that exceeded the target level and thus was followed by very cautious behaviour that caused a major decrease in road fatalities. Indeed, fatal car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian accidents dropped sharply as a result, and the number of motor insurance claims went down by 40%.

These initial improvements did not last, however. The number of motor insurance claims returned to ‘normal’ over the next six weeks and, by 1969, the accident rates were back to the levels seen before the change.

(From: Wikipedia)

Unpacking Mona Lisa after the end of World War II; ca.1945

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In 3 days, 200 people packed 3600+ pieces of art, sculpture, and other valuables and transported them into the Loire Valley, where they were kept until the end of the war. (Source)

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Titanic collapsible lifeboat D approaching the rescue ship RMS Carpathia; April 15th 1912

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By the time Collapsible Boat D was launched at 2:05 a.m., there were still 1,500 people on board Titanic and only 47 seats in the lifeboat. Crew members formed a circle around the boat to ensure that only women and children could board. Two small boys were brought through the cordon by a man calling himself “Louis Hoffman”. His real name was Michel Navratil; he was a Slovak tailor who had kidnapped his sons from his estranged wife and was taking them to the United States. He did not board the lifeboat and died when the ship sank. The identity of the children, who became known as the “Titanic Orphans”, was a mystery for some time after the sinking and was only resolved when Navratil’s wife recognised them from photographs that had been circulated around the world. The older of the two boys, Michel Marcel Navratil, was the last living male survivor of the disaster. First Class passenger Edith Evans gave up her place in the lifeboat to Caroline Brown, who became the last passenger to enter a lifeboat from the davits. Evans became one of only four First Class women to perish in the disaster.

In the end, about 25 people were on board when it left the deck under the command of Quartermaster Arthur Bright. Two first class passengers, Hugh Woolner and Mauritz Håkan Björnström-Steffansson, jumped from A-Deck (which had started to flood) into the boat as it was being lowered, with Björnström-Stefansson landing upside down in the boat’s bow and Woolner landing half-out, before being pulled aboard by the occupants. Another first class passenger, Frederick Maxfield Hoyt, who had previously put his wife in the boat, jumped in the water immediately after, and was hauled aboard by Woolner and Björnström-Steffansson. The number of people on board later increased when about 10–12 survivors were transferred to collapsible D from another boat. Carpathia picked up those aboard collapsible D at 7:15 a.m.

(Source)

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