Decisions for Mitteleuropa

•January 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Decisions for Mitteleuropa

Darius Mortimer Bostick

History 4350

Professor Alfred Mierzejewski

November 29th 2011

In the present day, The United States is dealing with an ideological crisis that can be felt in every issue the government is obligated to legislate on. The American people are divided amongst themselves to where progress by any definition is an uphill battle. This is synonymous with much of what Germany was facing a century before. The elections of January 12, 1912 had an 84.9% voter turnout, the highest in the Reichstag’s history up to that time, demonstrating that much of the populace was displeased with the current Reich’s situation of rising food prices, financial reforms, and economic stagnation. The agrarian, industrial and financial classes were struggling amongst each other for a dominate place in a desperate economic climate. Regarding these current problems before the Great War, a question presents itself. Were these the social and economic factors that pushed the Reich in the direction of war? Economic disaster was just as much speculation as a war with the triple entente in 1913 and German diplomacy was aimed at weakening this opposing alliance since the turn of the of twentieth century. The aggressive decisions for mitteleuropa by Kaiser Wilhelm II and the General Staff of the military with the contentment of the German people had evidently be influenced by the recession going on before the war began that drew out the socio-political atmosphere that made such decisions for war easy to comply with. Indeed, the victory of the social-democrats in the parliament, and the suggestions that the war would help save Imperial Germany from economic disaster would prove decisive.

Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted a war, but he did not just want any war. Germany needed a great war in order to achieve their desired war aims; a hegemony in Europe. Victory was a priority in order to gain mitteleuropa and (as a result) economic prosperity. One must look back as far as Wilhelm’s beginnings in order put these bold agendas between 1914 and 1918 into context. Subsequently, the dissension of Bismarck as Chancellor and the beginning of “Wilhelmine” Germany marked a new Germany and the young Kaiser’s personality occupied the policies in Germany leading through World War I.[1] A personality of unique intellect, yet irrational temperament, as well as the persona of complete emotional absence led the “new course” for Germany. This was outlined by the new chancellor, regarded as Wilhelm’s own Bismarck, Bernhard Von Bülow. With an expertise in diplomacy, Bülow summarized his policy to the German legislature, “Wir wollen niemand in den Schatten stellen, aber wir verlanger auch unseren Platz an der Sonne”. He would continue to state that Germany should not be denied “the support and advancement of the tasks that have grown out of the expansion of our industry, our trade, the labor-power, activity, and intelligence of our people.”[2] This statement from Bülow suggests he believed Germany only prospered from (and could only prosper by) expansion. Whether that expansion would be aggressive would be left to the Triple Entente. Indeed, there is no denying that the German Empire was born from war. Ten days before the fall of Paris on 28 January 1871 to Prussian and German forces, The Prussian Kingdom and the North German Confederation had united as one nation calling themselves the German Empire. Intellectuals across Europe romanticized the Franco – Prussian war that brought the Rhineland together under a single flag and (as a result) the Intellektuelleneingabe were among the loudest voices in Welhelmine Germany pushing for a repeat of this reunification, but this time with all German peoples.[3] But what was the extent of this reunification?

To answer this question, one must understand what the term Mitteleuropa meant during the pre-war period of Germany? The provocative term that aimed for war in 1914 and the complete Germanification of Central Europe. Simply meaning “middle Europe” before 1871, the term would evolve to correlate with the ideas of social Darwinism, Lebensraum, and Weltpolitik.[4] It was the social, cultural, scientific, and ideological basis for German Imperialism. Simply put, Germany needed a dominate position and Europe in order to have dominate place in the world. The agrarians needed land; the working-class needed factories, and the corporations needed markets. Expansion was seen as the easiest solution and France, England and Russia were seen by the German public (through tariff wars, etc.) as hindering the Imperial economy.[5] This would explain the enthusiasm in Germany after the war broke out, especially among the mittelstand or small-business class, because it was believed to be a conflict between their enemies, the stereotypical materialistic English, who wanted the world for themselves. The Germans had already surpassed the British in production by 1914 and culturally, the Germans believed they were the “fittest” and capable to win the war quickly against their “weak” enemies. Most notably, Friedrich Gundolf declared, “whoever is strong enough to create, has a right to destroy”[6]. However, the legitimacy for the need to achieve Mitteleuropa becomes apparent as war begins and the importation of food is decreased substantially. Grain imports from England and Russia were significant enough before the war to do serious damage to the German populace. Indeed, Kaiser Wilhelm II understood these issues well before hand.

What is so spectacular about this period of German history is the leadership of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s during the initial power struggles with Great Britain. To compete with their empire, the Kaiser pushed for a navy in the North Sea that would compete with great powers on a global scale. Unfortunately this initial step (taken after the dismissal of Chancellor Bismarck) was the decision that compromised German diplomacy in the twentieth century.[7] With little support from the parliament, Wilhelm put Germany in the position as the antagonist to the largest empire in the world, picking an arms race with a naval power it couldn’t win. However, the Kaiser saw himself as the man to make Germany a world power and understood the importance of a modern navy during times of tensions and conflict. It is worth mentioning that even though Wilhelm aimed for a massive navy, he never made his reasons known that it was for a possible conflict with England. This is a great example of the differences between Bismarck’s between Realpolitik and Wilhelm’s Weltpolitik; the very definition of global politics. It was commonly believed by the members of the Reichstag that his efforts to expand the navy were too excessive and without an ends but said nothing in order to keep on good terms with the Kaiser.[8] This split between the civilian government and military command were the initial signs of the trends that would prove detrimental to the leadership during World War I.

Decisions for mitteleuropa did not just lay with Kaiser Wilhelm. The General staff of the military was the leading force in German politics and foreign policy. However, the issue was that these branches did not coordinate with one another. Strategy, policy, and doctrine were not organized or coordinated consistently at a unified level which would be the root causes bringing them to war in 1914 and also to their defeat in 1918.[9] The Schleiffen plan is an example of this, for this plan of invasion of the west was not shared with civilian members of the Reichstag. Only three chancellors had ever heard of Schlieffen’s plan and remarkably, the three that did knew of it never questioned its strategic implications in an actual World War.[10] Evidently, Prussian militarism was such a threat to the West; the allies would push to abolish it with the General staff of the army in the treaty of Versailles in 1918. Indeed officers in high positions of the army shared a common “war hysteria” with the Bildungsbürgertum, educated bourgeoisie that devoted their pens to a war from 1912 to the actual beginnings of it in 1914. Martha Hanna writes in The Mobilization of Intellect that the intellectual elites in Germany and France assessed German expansion as inevitable and, after the onset of the war, a document known as manifesto 93, the “Appeal to the Civilized World”, came out of Germany expressing and condemning any allegations of the German people wanting such a war.[11] There is no doubt that these ideals of nationalism were felt among every level of Germo-Prussian state infrastructure and of course among the working class who supported the SPD. This of course was not the case. Every sector of society looked at a war as a relief to the problems hurting Germany and the nationalistic drive for it might have been too great to resist considering the intellectual climate.

Never the less, after 1914, the SPD and the conservatives “came together” for the betterment of Germany and scholars believe this was the reason conservatives and their agrarian allies had initially pushed for the war. Indeed, the ruling class felt threatened by the “socialist challenge” and wished for a war to throw the populace back with the conservatives.[12] Between 1912- 1918, in order to secure their power from this growing threat, the conservatives would use the bureaucracy of the army as a tool of influence, which would lead to the military having the power to coordinate itself without the authority of the government throughout the war. The conservatives and agrarians were on the defense against the social-democrats, who had beaten them and received the majority seats in the 1912 elections. This outcome demonstrates the effectiveness of the liberals in the Reichstag as well present the fact that the conservatives felt their years were limited. Thus, cooperation was sought, influenced by nationalism and war aims for the coming war which was seen as eminent among its people. Burgfrieden was established; where all political issues were set aside in order to be successful in the war. The SPD threw its initiatives out the window in order to unite with the rest of the Germans. Abraham Peck writes on the political trends following the war and comments on the hopes for agricultural expansion for the agrarian class as well as the hopes of political unification behind the war.[13] He points out the degree of promises expressed in their war aims by the German leadership to economical classes like agrarians who were suffering the most. Areas like lands in the East which was annexed from Russia after their defeat in 1917.

The confidence of the German people and the optimism they expressed for the future of Germany is astonishing to say the least. But of course, war has its heavy consequences on a people. In hindsight it is easy to say that this eagerness for a World War was a mistake, but one must analyze the economic climate and the political atmosphere to come to the conclusion that Germany had eventually came to. Their nation was relatively new and the social inertia being experienced by Germany after half a century of existence was coming to fruition.[14] Imperial Germany had an unclear domestic future. Socialism was gaining momentum as well as a growing tariff war between Russian and Britain. However, it becomes apparent that the leadership of the military as well as the Kaiser himself, despite these strains upon their country, did not understand the gravitude of the war they had so eagerly decided to undertake. “By May of 1914, there was a general concern in the Reich about Germany’s preparations for war. Among the most important issues was that of grain supplies for the production of food stuffs.”[15] This war was to have an even more grievous impact economically. Questions were subsided by the assurance that a war would be quick only foreshadowed their defeat.

World War I proved to end German dominance rather than implant it in Europe. The defeat was so devastating, their military refused to accept it. The Reich dissolved among the government but the aspects of its aggressiveness would remain in their military staff. They continued to believe that they had won the war in the east and only had to beat the west in order to gain their mitteleuropa. Unfortunately they over estimated their military strength, believing to be completely separate from its civilian duties. They underestimated their economy, not understanding they were not superior enough to be completely self-sufficient. Germany remains a pure example of how economic factors coinciding with ideological beliefs can possess the power to push a people to action no matter how aggressive the policy.



BIBLIOGRAPHY Hanna, Martha. The Mobilization of Intellect. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Johnson, Lonnie R. Central Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Megargee, Geoffrey P. Inside Hitler’s High Command. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2000.

Peck, Abraham J. Radicals and Reactionaries: The Crisis of Conservatism in Wilhelmine Germany. Washington D.C.: University Press of America, 1978.

Rohl, John G. Wilhelm II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Welch, David. Germany, Propaganda adn Total War, 1914-1918. London: Rutgers University Press, 2000.

Winter, Jay, John Horne, Michael Richards, and Jean-Louis Robert. European Culture in the Great War. Edited by Jay Winter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

[1] Rohl, John G. Wilhelm II. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 1040-1067.

[2] Johnson, Lonnie R. Central Europe. (New York: Oxford University Press 2002), 165-167.

[3] Winter, Jay, John Horne, Michael Richards, and Jean-Louis Robert. European Culture in the Great War. Edited by Jay Winter. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 46.

[4] CITATION Lon02 \l 1033  (Johnson 2002), 165-167

[5] Peck, Abraham J. Radicals and Reactionaries: The Crisis of Conservatism in Wilhelmine Germany. (Washington D.C.: University Press of America, 1978), 119-128.

[6]  CITATION Win99 \l 1033 (Winter, et al. 1999), 44.

[7]  CITATION Joh04 \l 1033 (Rohl 2004), 999-1039.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Megargee, Geoffrey P. Inside Hitler’s High Command. (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2000), 3-12.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Hanna, Martha. The Mobilization of Intellect. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 78-89.

[12] Welch, David. Germany, Propaganda adn Total War, 1914-1918.(London: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 12.

[13]  CITATION Abr78 \l 1033 (Peck 1978), 145.

[14] ibid, 54-60

[15] ibid, 126