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As I mentioned in last week’s feature on Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, he is a bit of an enigma for me. I find him fascinating to study, as is the time period in which he lived, but I am not sure what to make of him at times.

One of the issues I want to touch on today is his role in World War I. After the war there were many cries to “Hang the Kaiser” as he was seen as responsible for the war. I always wondered how a war that was triggered by the assassination of an Austrian Archduke got blamed on the German Emperor? In viewing his reign one can see how ill equipped for parts of his role he really was. Unlike his grandfather, who let Bismark pretty much run the country, Wilhelm wanted the reigns of power in his own hands, or at least in the hands of ministers he felt he could control. Within 2 years of his accession Bismark, the man who almost single handily forged the empire, was summarily dismissed. Wilhelm took an active role in politics, most notable in foreign policy. As noted last week his impulsive nature and ability to stick his foot in his mouth cost him dearly during the Daily Telegraph affair. His other blunder was the 1905 Moroccan Crisis.

In 1904 the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France, established with the helpful diplomacy of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (the Kaiser’s Uncle, whom he disliked) left Germany feeling isolated. Morocco was a French protectorate seeking greater autonomy from France. On March 31, 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm II landed at Tangier, Morocco and held a conference with the representatives of Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco. Wilhelm II declared he had come to support the sovereignty of the Sultan and this was perceived by France and its allies to be a direct challenge to France’s influence over Morocco. As tensions quickly mounted and with war between France and Germany almost a certainty, a conference was set up to avoid a war and to resolve the conflict. This lead to a 13 nation tribunal which heavily sided with France, including Germany’s sole ally, Austria-Hungary. Although a war was averted the whole crisis lead to the Kaiser feeling that both he and Germany were humiliated. Despite the war being averted this incident lead to tensions between the Triple Alliance and Triple Entente that lead to the start of World War I.

Did the Kaiser want the war? From all the sources I have read I have come to a definite maybe on that question. It seems he himself had mixed feeling about the war from the start. He certainly was a saber rattler during his reign and wanting to be seen as a Prussian Warlord was part of the image he liked to portray. He also seemed to feel that Germany was a late comer as a European power and he wanted Germany to be the dominant power in Europe. It was attitudes like that, and Germany was not alone in this instance, which lead to an atmosphere that was ripe for war in 1914. I also have read that the Kaiser wanted to avoid the war and it seems in the last moments before the start of the war that may have been true. What I think is closer to the truth is that both the Kaiser and his ministers were overconfident. Germany offered Austria-Hungary full and unconditional support, thinking that Austria would have a brief war with Serbia and that Germany’s presence would hold off Russia. I am sure they could not foresee a major European and World wide conflict over this issue.

The Kaiser was a symbol for the war. I think the evidence that he was a symbol for the war, and possibly even a scapegoat, was the fact that once the war started the Kaiser seems to fade into the woodwork of history. With both Hindenburg and Ludendorff taking over the day to day operations of the war the Kaiser was sent on his train to the troops to offer moral support. He did not have much decision making power or authority during this time.

I will conclude Part III nest week and I will look at his abdication, his life in exile and his relationships with his family and the vast array of royal relatives.

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