Germany’s war aims

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2015), Letters, Volume 23

Sir,—In his response to my earlier observations D.R. O’Connor Lysaght makes some fair points (HI 22.6, Nov./Dec. 2014, Letters). It would be foolish to pretend that Germany was solely responsible for the Great War, and the argument that the Reich was striking a pre-emptive blow in 1914 is not entirely implausible. The September Programme, however, and the swingeing terms of the treaties of Bucharest and Brest-Litovsk prove that the Reich’s ambition was European hegemony.

Encirclement, moreover, was Germany’s own fault after the disastrous failure to renew the Reinsurance Treaty in 1890. No longer one à trois among the Great Powers, the Reich became increasingly paranoid and its bellicosity alienated the other powers further. Any ‘possibilities for better [Anglo-German] relations’, in 1902 and 1912, were rejected not by the British but by the Germans. Also, though France had ambitions to recover Alsace-Lorraine and Russia coveted the Straits, neither of these belligerents invaded and plundered a neutral country and raped and mass-murdered its civilians. While I, too, doubt the possibility of a ‘benevolent imperial power’, any suggestion of moral parity between Britain and the Reich fails the most cursory examination. ‘[T]hat Germany was Britain’s enemy, not Ireland’s’, likewise fails scrutiny—unless you think it a friendly power that would arm both sides for civil war.

Mr O’Connor Lysaght weakens his argument by speaking of Carson and Redmond having ‘a Dutch auction of [Irish] lives’. The weakness lies less in the emotive language than in the anachronism. A century ago war was an extreme yet respectable policy, and public perception of it far better expressed by Pearse and Brooke than by Owen and Sassoon. Furthermore, apart from the famously stupid generals, everyone expected the war to be over in weeks. A Kent firm, Turners, surrendered all their horses to the War Office with patriotic alacrity, confident of having most, if not all, of them back between shafts for the Christmas market. A thriving business collapsed.—Yours etc.,

MICHAEL CARRAGHER

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