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German responsibility for touching off two World Wars should not obscure the fact--historian Hillgruber (Univ. of Cologne) maintains in this short, compelling assessment--that German aims at the outset of each were importantly different: restricted, in the first instance; expansionist, in the second. Or, motivated by the fear of power prior to World War I; by the desire to exercise power, prior to World War II. But there is, he shows, a link. Imperial Germany felt threatened by the growth of Russian power; but the solutions of Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg and the military high command differed--with drastic results. The military planned for a war in which a quick victory over France would be followed by the defeat of Russia (the Schlieffen Plan), leaving England with a fait accompli and Germany preeminent on the Continent. In Hollweg's scenario, on the other hand, a limited strike by Austria on Serbia (such as occurred in 1914) would be followed by a bluff of German force against Russia--which would step back, knowing it was not yet strong enough to defeat Germany. Germany would then enter into negotiations with England toward recognition of German preeminence. But the Russian military failed to inform the Czar of his army's weakness, and the Russians did not step back; and that, combined with a military attack in the west--itself a direct threat to England--sealed the fate of Hollweg's gamble. Integral to Hollweg's plan had been the acknowledgment that Germany could not compete with England on a world scale; hence his choice of a middle Europe economic sphere for Germany. But during the war, Hillgruber demonstrates, German aims shifted toward annexation of territory in the east, partly to secure German economic strength in the area. The German army succeeded in occupying the Ukraine, only to lose it in the Versailles peace negotiations--and the new, nationalist resentment created a climate for the foreign policy aims of Hitler. He, however, placed these expansionist aims in the context, not of traditional political goals, but--crucially--of an all-encompassing anti-Semitism and drive for racial unification. Composed as an essay, Hillgruber's readable study extracts new significance from familiar material, adding up to an important accomplishment for anyone with an interest in modern European history.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0674353226
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press