The success of neoconservative myth-mongering about World War One was brought home to me for the millionth time this weekend as I picked up our borough weekly The Elizabethtown Advocate. The feature article was supposedly by our Republican congressman, who represents Pennsylvania’s 16th District. Although I don’t want to speak ill of him, I can’t think of anything positive to say about Congressman Joe Pitts, other than the fact that he mails me a nice picture of his family, around Election Day. Like our US Senator Pat Toomey, Pitts is a paradigmatic Republican, who marches in lockstep with his party, particularly in foreign affairs. This now means first and always parroting the Murdoch media and sounding like the Weekly Standard and Victor Davis Hanson in speaking about twentieth century history.
In Pitts’s imagination “the First World War has lessons we can learn one-hundred years later.” Back before the War began, “there were many educated persons who believed that the major European powers had moved past the notion of using armies to settle conflicts” and “trade ties between all the major powers had blossomed.” But then suddenly a Teutonic bee appeared in the ointment: “While business leaders and the general public may have been unprepared for war, the leaders of Germany had been preparing for years. At a secret war council meeting in1912, Kaiser Wilhelm and his top commanders had concluded that was inevitable. They set about finding a way to swiftly deal a knockout blow to France and defeat Russia. They stockpiled materials and trained what became one of the finest fighting forces ever assembled.” Multiculturalism and t... Best Price: $27.23 Buy New $50.00 (as of 03:40 EST - Details)
Allow me to note that I don’t think Pitts produced this garbled account of the antecedents of the Great War. It is too literate and sophisticated for anything that I associate with his persona. Presumably it came from the word processor of a congressional assistant who is steeped in neoconservative talking points. An attempt is made in this literary exercise, but never clearly developed, to link Wilhelm, Hitler and Putin in some kind of rogues’ gallery. But this is hardly original. It seems to be nothing more than a paraphrase of the latest invective of VDH or something that one could easily extract from any neocon publication mentioning the anniversary of the Great War. We are also told that the war unleashed by the Kaiser created such “horror” in the interwar period that the Allies allowed Hitler to run riot across Europe. This continuing fear of war and craving for material security are now producing what for Pitts or his ghost-writer is a new unwillingness to face international challenges.
As an historian of World War One, I continue to wonder what was the ominous meeting that the Kaiser and his General Staff held in 1912, in order to plan a European-wide war, for which they had been “stockpiling” weapons for decades. There were in fact multiple meetings that the General Staff held in 1911 and 1912 with and without Wilhelm and/or his ministers. The idea that there was one meeting in 1912 at which these decisions were reached is a fiction, as Gunter Spraul shows convincingly in Der Fischer Komplex. This charge arose among state-authorized historians in East Germany and then traveled by way of Fritz Fischer and his groupies to West Germany, where Conservatism in Americ... Best Price: $9.95 Buy New $58.37 (as of 03:50 EST - Details) the fateful, invented meeting became a staple of the antifascist Left’s brief against their country. Joe Pitts’s imagined meeting then migrated to England where anti-German historians and strangely enough, Mrs. Thatcher picked it up and used it as evidence of an eternal German danger. Not at all surprisingly, the East German Communists abandoned the narrative by then, perhaps for being incompatible with the Marxist-Leninist interpretation that both sides were responsible for the First World War, which had been a struggle for world power among late capitalists.
What really happened is that the Kaiser, the Chief of the General Staff, Helmut von Moltke, and other German political actors were concerned that the French and the Russians were drafting far more soldiers than the Germans and their Austrian allies. There was no plan to launch a European-wide preventive war, unless, as Wilhelm pointed out, the “very existence in Germany hung in the balance.” We know there was a Schlieffen Plan, drafted in the 1890s and then periodically updated, that would allow the Germans to gain the upper hand in a two-front war, since they were in fact encircled by hostile Entente powers. But this was discussed as a last resort, and Moltke expressed the view, in a memorandum in December 1911, that his country should be careful to avoid risks, given the imbalance of forces between them and their enemies. That particular memorandum, according to Spraul, has usually been cited in a garbled form to make it appear that Moltke was actually advocating a preventive war against France and Russia. Significantly, the Jewish social democratic historian Arthur Rosenberg, who was by Encounters: My Life wi... Best Price: $5.20 Buy New $5.60 (as of 08:10 EST - Details) no means a hardened German nationalist, noted in 1929: “General von Moltke as the head of the military faction never desired any war. Whoever asserts the contrary, knows nothing about the weak character of the first chief of the German general staff, who shuddered at whatever responsibilities were thrust on him.”
In 1912, while the German government was supposedly planning a great war, its leaders sat by passively while the Serbs, Greeks, Romanians and Greeks made war on Germany’s ally Turkey, with Russian support. The Germans also sat on their hands while the Balkan belligerents stripped the Ottoman Empire of most of its European possessions. This situation was a provocation not only for Germany but even more for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, since it allowed a very unfriendly Serbia, in alliance with Russia, to expand in Southeastern Europe. One might ask Congressman Pitts’s ghost-writer why the Germans didn’t mobilize their armies and reach for their long stockpiled weapons to launch a war at that point. Oh, and lest I forget to mention the obvious, the anti-German side had been arming to the teeth for decades. The Germans were not alone in this practice and in fact lagged behind the other side in military manpower as the Guns of August went off.