World War I: German Diplomacy

Figure 1.--Most Britons in the 19th century saw Germany as an ally and France as the threat. The royal family was not only pro-German, but of German discent with a range of family ties in Germany. Here in this August 1900 issue of the illustrated magazine "The Sphere" we see the British royal family visiting with German relatives as part of an article on Queen Victoria's descendents. The photograph was taken at Coburg. The only discenting voice was at first the Princess of Wales Alexandra who was horified of the Prusso-Danish War orchestrated by Bismarck. But it was German diplomacy and foreign policy overseen by Kaiser Wilhelm (seen here at lower left) that dramatically changed British attitudes toward Germany.

German diplomacy included two destinct phases, one dominated by Bismarck and the later phase after the news kaiser, Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck. Germany's major ally was Austria in part because they were both German speaking nations. This was in large part Bismarcks doing. Prussia had defeated Austria in the Ausrto-Prussian War (1866). Bismarcks assistance on a soft pease, however, allowed friedly relations to develop between the two countries after the War. Bismarck's central policy was to keep France isolated diplomatically. Bismarck oversaw the formation of the Three Emperor's League (1872). This was an alliance between Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary, all three monarchies in contrast to republican France. This was followed by the Triple Alliance with Italy and Austria-Hungary (1882). Bismarck took advantage of Italian resentment when France occupied Tunisia. Italian natiojnalist had dreamed of a empire in North Africa. Italy agreed to stay neutral if war broke out between Austria-Hungary and Russia. In return, Germany and Austria-Hungary pledged to protect Italy from France. The problem with this agreement was that Austria-Hungary controlled substantial areas with ethnic Italian populations. Bismarck devoted all his efforts to maintain relations with the Russians, but this wasmore and more difficult because of the deteriorating relations between Austria and Russia over the Balkans. Tensions between Russia and Austria-Hungary escalated (1887), but Bismarck managed to temporarily defuse the situation. He negotiated the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, allowing both powers to stay neutral if the other was at war. After firing Bismarck (1890), Kaiser Wilhelm II foolishly allowed the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia to lapse. Here the Kaiser's incompetence was only part of the problem. The dislike of the Slavs by many Germans was also a factor. The loss of the Russian alliance met that France was no longer isolated. But Wilhelm's diplomatic blunders did not stop with this. He also drive Britain into France;s arms. This is virtually inexplicable. Wilhelm's mother was English and his grandmother was Queen Victoria. The British royal family was essentially a German family had had close ties with Germany. There were no real territorial conflicts between Germany and Britain and in fact the two had been historic allies for centuries. German troops fought under the British flag (incliding during the Revolutionary War. It was Prussian troops that had saved Wellington at Waterloo. Kaiser Wilhelm managed to change all that. (Bismarck's Danish war (1864) had begun the process, making an enemy of the Princess of Wales--Alexandra.) The list of diplomatic gaffs is long indeed. Wilhelm's telegram (The Kruger telegram)sent to congratulate the Boer President outraged Britain (1896). He instructed German soldiers to behave like Huns in China during the Boxer Rebellion. Perhaps more than anything it was his decession to build a high-seas fleet that built anti-German feeling in Britain. And the Kaiser did not stop here. Wilhelm managed to also alienate the United States. Much of this was done during the War. America was even more difficult to alienate than Britain. There was considerable anti-British feeling in America. The most anti-British group were the Irish, but Britain and British colonialism had traditionally been seen as America's great antagonist. There was war talk in the 1840s over Oregon. British construction od Confederate raiders was widely resented. There was even the poosiblity of war as late as the 1890s over Venezuela. In addition, large number of Americans were of German origins. The Zimmerman Telegram and the resumtion of unrestricted submarine warfare finally pushed America to join the Allies.


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Created: 3:25 AM 3/25/2006
Last updated: 3:25 AM 3/25/2006