Kaiser William II
“Kaiser William II of Germany, 1888-1918, by his personality
and actions, contributed to the outbreak of World War I,”
William II came to power prematurely, on the death of his father, at
the age of 29. He lacked discipline, was arrogant and bad-tempered.
He lacked political experience and maturity and was influenced in his
youth by Hinzpeter who instilled in him the idea that a monarch should
be independent and follow orders from none.
It was obvious to all who were politically aware in Germany in 1890
that a clash would occur between the Chancellor Bismarck, and the
Kaiser. When this clash did occur it was over the issue of German
policy towards Russia. William favoured outright hostility towards
Russia and when he expressed this belief to Bismarck he was met
with disillusionment and disbelief. Bismarck realised that twenty years
of his work was about to be undone by this impetuous imbicile. William
has begun on his road to distruction for Europe.
After the collapse of the renewed Dreikaiserbund in 1884, Bismarck
recognised that there was a possibility that the isolated Russia would
join with France who was in a similar situation. He recognised that this
would be disaster for Germany as it would pose the constant threat of
a two-front war. However, Bismarck convinced Russia to sign the
Reinsurance Treaty and once again managed to insure Germany was
safe. However, in 1890 when the treaty was due for renewal William,
maintaining that his position “having been imposed on me from
heaven.” Allowed him to let this treaty lapse. He worsened the
situation by refusing to let German bankers makes loans to Russian
banks. French bankers took their place and in 1894 the Franco-Russian
alliance fused the two together. For Bismarck, this was the ultimate
blunder and Germany was faced with a nightmare war.
William then adopted a policy of “Weltpolitik”, that is now that
Germany was a European power he wanted to make it a World power
also. He hoped to do this by expanding Germany’s number of colonies
and by getting involved in international crises between other powers.
However, this policy was to bring Germany into conflict with Britain
and hence alienate a potential French ally. This began when he
announced the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad railway. Baghdad
was contained within a British Sphere of influence and was suspicious
of the Kaisers actions.
The second and more serious incident which turned the British against
the Germans was the Kaiser’s interference in South Africa. After the
defeat of Cecil Rhodes in the Jameson Raid in 1895 by the Boers,
William sent a telegram to Paul Kringer, the Boer leader,
congradulating them on their achievement. The British saw this as a
blatent interfernce in what they considered was a internal affair. For
them, this proved that the Kaiser was a dangerous figure mwho posed
a serious threat to the balance and stability which they wanted to
maintain in Europe. Thus, when the Kaiser decided to build up military
armaments, they felt they could not allow him to surpass their army
Admiral von Tirpitz, a powerful military figure, felt that if Germany
were to become a world power she needed a strong Navy. William
was easily persuaded of this because of his love of pomp and parades
and set about buiding up a Navy. The British sawm this as a war
threat and pointed out that “the Royal Navy is a dire necessity- the
German fleet a luxury” The bringing into operation of the dreadnought
made all other ships obsolite because of its power and this a Naval
Rce began between the two powers. Huge bitterness and suspicion
lingered between the two and by 1914 the two were bitter enemies and
Britain used the meek excuse of Germany marching on Belgium as an
excuse to declare war on Germany.
William’s wanting to get involved in international eruses was also a
cause of World War I, because of how hje failed to achieve anything
at these conferences but to alienate other powers. He demanded an
internationa; meeting on the question of French influence in Morocco
thinking that opther countries would stand with him. However, France
and Britain together crushed him and his first diplomatic defeat was
one not easily forgotten. This 1906 confernece also brought France
and Britain together and after the Entente Cordiate was signedthey
began drawing up military plans. The Morrocan Crisis rose again in
1911 and once again the Kaiser was diplomatically humiliated. By his
alienation of other powers he was lining up the sides for World War I.
Williams humiliating defeats were beginning to be critisized at home.
The necessity of a war became apparent. Count von Schlieffen drew
up a plan as to how Germany was to cope with the two front war. The
plan was to annilulate France and then turn all forces to Russia who it
was thought would take longer to mobilise. The army numbers were
increased and improved weaponary was developed. 90% of the
German budget went on military and naval build up. Williams
impetuous personality had now made it necessary for Germany to go
to war if he was to survive and she was to prosper.
Between William’s years of power, a great number of alliances build
up around his own Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria and
Italy. The Triple Entente between Russia, Britain and France
markedthe bringing together of the Anglo-French Entente, 1904, the
Anglo-Russian alliance, 1907, and the Franco- Russian alliance, 1894.
In his twenty four years in power he had managed to make true the
ultimate nightmare of the ‘iron chancellor’ Bismarck. When Austria
asked Germany if she would support her if she were to attack Serbia,
and the Kaiser gave his full support, war was imminent.