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The Fritz Fisher thesis
Fritz Fisher focuses on the Kaiser, Gottlieb von Jagow, Bethmann Hollweg and Helmut von Moltke. These four were the German leading figures at that time; Fischer is convinced that these people were responsible for the outbreak of World War One. Fischer’s three main claims were:
1. Germany was prepared to launch the First World War in order to become a great power.
2. Germany encouraged Austria-Hungary to start a war with Serbia, and continued to do so, even when it seemed clear that such a war could not be localized.
3. Once the war began, Germany developed a clear set of aims, already discussed before the war, to gain large territorial gains in central and eastern Europe, very similar to Hitler’s later craving for Lebensraum (‘living space’) in eastern Europe
Fischer believes that the First World War was not a preventative war, but that it was planed and launched by Germany aggressively in order to dominate whole Europe. Furthermore Fischer sees Bethmann Hollweg in the role of the main constructor of the German policy during the July Crisis in 1914, and also as a central figure in the development of Germany’s expansionist goals once the war started.
The Egmont Zechlin thesis
Egmont Zechlin thinks that Bethmann Hollweg took a “calculated risk in July 1914 to gain diplomatic victory, or if it failed, to fight a “defensive preventive war” with nearly no objectives. This explains that Germany did not prepare a huge plan for expansion. Zechlin’s three main claims were:
1. Germany support for a preventative war grew after the Balkan wars had produced vast gains for Serbia.
2. Bethmann Hollweg lacked the patience to settle matters by negotiation, believed that the Entente powers were paralyzing Germany, and realized that Russia was growing stronger in the Balkans, and Austria-Hungary weaker.
3. When he gave Austria-Hungary the ‘blank cheque’, Bethmann Hollweg realized that the crisis might escalate into a European war.
It appeared like Germany hoped that the Austro-Serb crisis might divide the big Entente powers and with that give Germany a blood free victory. In addition to that Zechlin accepts the fact that Germany took advantage of the crisis to advance its own plan.
The Gerhard Ritter thesis
Gerhard Ritter supposes that Germany can’t be blamed for the outbreak of World War One. Ritter’s six main claims were:
1. There is no evidence of a unified German plan for war or world domination.
2. Germany acted defensively throughout the July Crisis to preserve its position in the existing status quo.
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3. The main German aim was to support Austria-Hungary, Germany’s only firm ally.
4. The German government realized too late that the conflict could not be localized.
5. The German government put to much reliance on military planners, who decided war plans which were bound to lead to an escalation of the crisis.
6. Bethmann Hollweg tried honourably and desperately to disentangle his country form being drawn into war at the end of the crisis, and became a victim of the military planners.
Ritter believes that Germany was pulled into the war because it gave too much power to the leaders and military planners, and additionally because of its close alliance with Austria-Hungary.