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GERMANY: The Second Reich

Cameron Sawyer defends the Second Reich: "Why would the fact that the Second Reich was a monarchy have prevented its survival? The English regime survived. The Second Reich was destroyed by the incredibly tragic and unnecessary First World War. This senseless war was the root cause of all of the worst events of the twentieth century, from the Bolshevik Revolution, to the Hitler regime, the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Cold War. The account of the outbreak of that war makes some of the most harrowing reading in history.

The Second Reich was in many ways the first really modern state, in the 20th century sense: a police state (if I remember correctly the term was invented to describe this regime) and the first welfare state. By our standards it surely had its drawbacks, but it was fabulously successful economically and militarily and surely would have continued to flourish. This very success, particularly the drubbing Prussia gave France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, generated a certain hubris which had something to do with how the First World War started. But one cannot put all the blame for World War I at the feet of the Germans. Bismarck did not invent the alliance system (that was, perhaps, Metternich), and besides that there was the military doctrine of preemptive mobilization and attack, and the total, shocking failure of diplomacy all around. There was some underlying tension between Germany and France leading up to the outbreak of war, but Germany, Britain and Russia had excellent relations among one another and even family ties among their royals. How could it have happened?!

The lights are going out all over Europe. They will not be lit again in our time".

RH: I hope Cameron is wrong in applying Lord Grey's famous remark to the present situation. Rightly or wrongly, historians blame Bismarck for the alliance system.

Ronald Hilton - 1/17/03