Historical Social Research

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Konrad H. Jarausch, The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg’s Calculated Risk, July 1914 [1969] [Abstract]

The central figure in the Fischer controversy about Germany’s responsibility for the outbreak of the First World War was the imperial chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg. On the basis of the controversial diary of his personal assistant Kurt Riezler, this article revisits the policy of the civilian leader of the German government, characterized by a “defensive aggressiveness.” Fearing the growth of Russian power and closer Anglo-French cooperation, Bethmann was willing to run a “calculated risk” by backing a local Balkan war in which Austria could defeat Serbia, while risking a continental war with Russia and France in order to split the Entente. This gamble failed due to the Russian decision for general mobilization, German military pressure to invade Belgium and the British entry into the conflict that expanded the conflict to a European war which Berlin was unlikely to win. With such arguments the article tries to sketch a complex intermediary position between critics and apologists of German “war guilt.”.