snopes.com  

Go Back   snopes.com > Urban Legends > Military

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #21  
Old 13 February 2014, 10:14 PM
Johnny Slick's Avatar
Johnny Slick Johnny Slick is offline
 
Join Date: 13 February 2003
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Posts: 11,628
Default

It's a hard situation to read but Europe circa 1914 was a powder keg waiting for someone to set it off. Those situations don't *always* end up in war but they sure do a lot of the time. The labyrinthine system of alliances and co-alliances that had kept Europe out of a major war with herself since Napoleon had pretty well broken down by then, or rather had broken up into sides. The sheer length of time since the Napoleonic wars caused a lot of people to just plain forget how bloody and savage war could be, and then on top of that technology had managed to make it a whole lot worse without a lot of Europeans really accepting that (the US Civil War had demonstrated this, as well as to a very small extent the Crimean War, but even so, a *lot* of early accounts of the war talk about soldiers fretting that they won't be able to join in on the "glory" and so on, words that nobody who has ever actually experienced modern warfare would ever say).

Out of that I think Germany maybe takes the *lead* in blame but there's a lot of it to go around. France had been sore over their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71 (which, as a war, was more or less over right after it started, with Napoleon III and Paris being captured weeks after hostilities broke out) and had been openly devising strategies as to how to get Alsace and Lorraine back. Britain and Germany had been engaging in what might be the first modern arms race. Even Russia's attempts to bring peace to everybody was seen (with a great deal of evidentiary support) as them trying to avoid being bankrupted by the march of military tech while also not falling so far behind the rest of the continent that they could be easily overwhelmed.

Basically, the way that Austro-Hungary triggered the war was that Russia declared that they would defend Serbia, Germany declared they'd defend Austro-Hungary, and then France and England declared they'd defend Russia. See, right there it's just plain not clear to me that that makes Germany the aggressor. Yes, they were the first country to actually declare war on everyone else (outside of A-H/Serbia), but even there, this was much due to a necessity on their part (the Schlieffen Plan called for them to knock out France before Russia could mobilize) as a counter-necessity for the Allies to not appear to be the aggressors (although all three of France, England, and Russia certainly mobilized for war as though they were declaring it, whether they were the first to declare or not).

I think our history tends to be clouded by the fact that in World War II it really was Germany (and to a lesser extent Japan) inciting a relatively peaceful world into war. The First World War is a completely different situation: even if you will say that Germany was the big aggressor, it was only just so, and this is one of these situations where it's very, very hard to argue that there wouldn't be a massive continental war had Gavrilo Princip not gotten lucky / Russia hadn't elected to go to war with Austro-Hungary / Germany hadn't mobilized all to heck.
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 14 February 2014, 02:33 AM
ASL's Avatar
ASL ASL is offline
 
Join Date: 04 July 2003
Location: Norfolk, VA
Posts: 5,073
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew of Ware View Post
For example, perhaps Britain could have done more to try and avert war. It certainly need not have honoured its treaty with Belgium (as it did not with the Danes in 1864).
Except Belgium, unlike any Dannish duchey, was located close enough to Britain that it's occupation by a great power and potential adversary posed a real risk to Britain as the staging point for a possible invasion and also hostile naval vessels that could more easily contest control of the Channel. Germany had to have known this and known that Belgium was a completely different animal from Britain's POV.

No doubt Britain felt it was bad enough having France in sight on a clear day: did not need to have a German Army with a demonstarted lack of respect for neutralitity controlling land just on the other side of the Channel too.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 14 February 2014, 02:37 AM
snopes's Avatar
snopes snopes is offline
 
Join Date: 18 February 2000
Location: California
Posts: 109,612
Germany

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Slick View Post
Basically, the way that Austro-Hungary triggered the war was that Russia declared that they would defend Serbia, Germany declared they'd defend Austro-Hungary, and then France and England declared they'd defend Russia. See, right there it's just plain not clear to me that that makes Germany the aggressor.
Declaring that you will defend your interests is not war; invading other countries is war. Germany did the latter, which makes them the aggressor.
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 14 February 2014, 09:54 AM
Andrew of Ware's Avatar
Andrew of Ware Andrew of Ware is offline
 
Join Date: 22 April 2003
Location: Ware, Hertfordshire, England
Posts: 8,011
Default

Johnny is quite right in pointing out the complex system of treaties which guaranteed war when Germany invaded the Low Countries and France. It might well have been possible to avoid invading Belgium (or maybe just clipping its very edge), but it deliberately overran it, knowing that Britain would then also be dragged into the war (for the reasons that ASL makes).

Germany was clearly the main aggressor, but the Treaty of Versailles was still unfair in laying the whole blame on it.
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 14 February 2014, 10:11 AM
snopes's Avatar
snopes snopes is offline
 
Join Date: 18 February 2000
Location: California
Posts: 109,612
Germany

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew of Ware View Post
Johnny is quite right in pointing out the complex system of treaties which guaranteed war when Germany invaded the Low Countries and France.
Once Germany invaded the Low Countries and France, the war was already on -- treaties or no treaties. That complex treaty systems may have brought additional combatants into the conflict doesn't change Germany's culpability.
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 14 February 2014, 10:42 AM
Don Enrico's Avatar
Don Enrico Don Enrico is offline
 
Join Date: 05 October 2004
Location: Hamburg, Germany
Posts: 7,254
Germany < not the German flag at that time, but nevertheless...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Slick View Post
Yes, they [Germany] were the first country to actually declare war on everyone else (outside of A-H/Serbia), but even there, this was much due to a necessity on their part (the Schlieffen Plan called for them to knock out France before Russia could mobilize) ...
Well, the Schlieffen Plan was a plan devised to win a two-front-war with France and Russia - to follow it was a necessity only if you planed to fight such a war. That the Germans devised it already in 1905 shows that you are right about nations preparing for war, but preparing isn't the same as starting a war. That's what Germany did when they declared war on and invaded neighboring countries.
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 14 February 2014, 03:57 PM
Johnny Slick's Avatar
Johnny Slick Johnny Slick is offline
 
Join Date: 13 February 2003
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Posts: 11,628
Default

But again, the reality of the treaties was that if Germany attacked Russia - or, more likely, if France attacked Germany - then they would have had to have fought on two sides. This wasn't necessarily a choice for them.

This is only tangential to the original bit we were talking about, but it seems to me that Germany suffered from what I see as three strokes of slightly bad to really bad luck in August of 1914. First, the fact that the Low Countries decided not to let them through. I'd say the chances were less than 50/50 but better than zero that Belgium et al might have decided to allow Germany to march through their territories; indeed, this was one of the things that the Schlieffen Plan kind of depended on. Second, Britain's guarantee of Belgium was pretty far and away the weakest part of the setup: Germany actually had the bloodlines that stood in place of strict diplomatic ties in those days with England which were at least as strong as Russia's, and Belgium itself was neither a particularly powerful nor particularly traditional country. In the end, Britain decided to honor their guarantee, but in spite of what actually happened this was hardly a sure thing.

The third bit was that Russia mobilized far, far more quickly than anyone in Germany anticipated. In one sense this turned out to be a blessing in disguise for them, as the Russians were disorganized and were basically asking for someone to trounce them (if memory serves, they were sending battle plans across the Eastern Front via open telegraph lines, not even bother to encrypt their messages!). However, this still forced von Moltke to send troops to the East instead of sticking to the Schlieffen Plan (which IMO was doomed to failure as soon as the Belgians fought back and the BEF stayed on the continent, but that's another story altogether).

****

Anyway, to the original question, I agree that the fact that Germany was, in the end, something like the initial aggressor (although I still say that on the West this is a largely semantic argument) grants them the plurality of the blame for starting the conflict. I think that a good deal of the blame still has to be apportioned to Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, and Britain as well. I'd say that the single largest "cause" was the situation that Europe found itself in, where several political leaders had been assassinated in the previous 20 years and several large political movements (communism, anarchism, and a more parochial form of nationalism being the big 3) and, without a war, there would have almost certainly been many political upheavals and civil war (as it was, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, and to some extent Turkey all saw their governments fall during or just after the Great War).

Germany lit the fuse, or at least was the last person in the room who could have put it out. That doesn't mean they put the bombs underneath Parliament.
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 14 February 2014, 04:09 PM
snopes's Avatar
snopes snopes is offline
 
Join Date: 18 February 2000
Location: California
Posts: 109,612
Germany

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Slick View Post
But again, the reality of the treaties was that if Germany attacked Russia - or, more likely, if France attacked Germany - then they would have had to have fought on two sides. This wasn't necessarily a choice for them.
But Germany didn't have to fight on either front until they started the war, so that's no excuse. And it's very unlikely that France would have started the war by pre-emptively attacking Germany had Germany not attacked them first.

Quote:
Germany lit the fuse, or at least was the last person in the room who could have put it out. That doesn't mean they put the bombs underneath Parliament.
But who put the bombs there isn't really relevant. The fault lies with the person who sets them off.
Reply With Quote
  #29  
Old 14 February 2014, 04:35 PM
Johnny Slick's Avatar
Johnny Slick Johnny Slick is offline
 
Join Date: 13 February 2003
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Posts: 11,628
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
But Germany didn't have to fight on either front until they started the war, so that's no excuse. And it's very unlikely that France would have started the war by pre-emptively attacking Germany had Germany not attacked them first.
I strongly disagree with the second statement. I think it's more likely than not that France would have attacked Germany in some time during the next 5 years if Germany hadn't precipitated the attack. During the early part of the war itself, France was *very* quick to go on the offensive in Alsace/Lorraine; in fact, their doing so almost led to the Schlieffen Plan working in spite of itself.

Quote:
But who put the bombs there isn't really relevant. The fault lies with the person who sets them off.
I would quote Billy Joel here but somehow "And So It Goes" does not seem appropriate. You may think I'm not so tough just because I'm in love with an uptown girl.
Reply With Quote
  #30  
Old 14 February 2014, 04:37 PM
ASL's Avatar
ASL ASL is offline
 
Join Date: 04 July 2003
Location: Norfolk, VA
Posts: 5,073
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Slick View Post
This is only tangential to the original bit we were talking about, but it seems to me that Germany suffered from what I see as three strokes of slightly bad to really bad luck in August of 1914. First, the fact that the Low Countries decided not to let them through. I'd say the chances were less than 50/50 but better than zero that Belgium et al might have decided to allow Germany to march through their territories; indeed, this was one of the things that the Schlieffen Plan kind of depended on.
Well, there was that whole Hague Convention thing held in 1907 that specifically required neutral states to enforce their neutrality by interning any belligerent troops within their territory. Not only would Belgium have had to make a decision to effectively surrender a key part of its sovereignty, it would have also have to have been willing to surrender its status as a neutral state and effectively risk invasion and occupuation by the UK or France. You don't get to play the neutrality card after you let one belligerent's army pass through.

Quote:
Second, Britain's guarantee of Belgium was pretty far and away the weakest part of the setup: Germany actually had the bloodlines that stood in place of strict diplomatic ties in those days with England which were at least as strong as Russia's, and Belgium itself was neither a particularly powerful nor particularly traditional country. In the end, Britain decided to honor their guarantee, but in spite of what actually happened this was hardly a sure thing.
Still, the best Germany could have hoped for was a major continental war. The fact that Britain was willing to go to war ostensibly over the neutrality of Belgium hardly changes the fact that Belgium's neutrality was violated by an invading German Army in the first place. The fault doesn't lie with the country honoring a decision to defend a neutral nation, it lies with the country invading said neutral nation.

Quote:
The third bit was that Russia mobilized far, far more quickly than anyone in Germany anticipated. In one sense this turned out to be a blessing in disguise for them, as the Russians were disorganized and were basically asking for someone to trounce them (if memory serves, they were sending battle plans across the Eastern Front via open telegraph lines, not even bother to encrypt their messages!).
I believe you're thinking of the Battle of Tannenberg, in which the German's were tipped off to Russian troop movements via unencrypted radio transmissions. A rookie mistake, but then just about everyone was a rookie when it came to wireless radio. It certainly wasn't the last time a country failed to fully consider the vulnerabilities inherent in an otherwise convenient new communications technology. Consider German U-boats transmitting HF radio signals for long enough to give their positions away to HF Direction Finding stations during WWII. There's an entire area of warfare concerned with these kinds of vulnerabilities (both their elimination and their exploitation) to this day.

Quote:
However, this still forced von Moltke to send troops to the East instead of sticking to the Schlieffen Plan (which IMO was doomed to failure as soon as the Belgians fought back and the BEF stayed on the continent, but that's another story altogether).
Is it another story altogether? So far all you've done is paint a picture of a Germany that made a lot of flawed assumptions that led to a catastrophic war for most of Europe. At best, you've explained that Germany was at fault for the war, but it just didn't expect for it to be such a big/bloody war. Mere criminally negligent global warfare vice per-meditated global warfare then... Which, to be fair, is perhaps a genuine difference between Germany in WWI vs. Germany in WWII.

Quote:
Germany lit the fuse, or at least was the last person in the room who could have put it out. That doesn't mean they put the bombs underneath Parliament.
I'd say the Black Hand lit the fuse, but Germany laid out the plans for where all the charges ought to be laid and in what sequence the building should come down well before the fuse was lit. They just did a bad job of laying the charges and instead of the building coming down on France, it came down on Germany with substantial blast damage to nearby buildings over in Russia and in fact the rest of Europe.
Reply With Quote
  #31  
Old 14 February 2014, 04:56 PM
Johnny Slick's Avatar
Johnny Slick Johnny Slick is offline
 
Join Date: 13 February 2003
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Posts: 11,628
Default

Yeah, the three bits of bad luck were not in any way, shape, or form attempting to mitigate Germany's role in the conflict. I specifically stated it was an aside and, really, I don't think, says a lot about them either way, as all three events really occurred after the run-up had already been decided (really, in the case of Belgium, well before then). The Belgium point is a good one that I neglected to bring up myself; it figures into why I think it was a less than 50/50 proposition (actually, way less, I'd say; maybe 80/20 against is more fair) that they'd capitulate like that. If there was any relation to the thing as a whole it was just to point out that at the end of the day Britain could have used its existing alliances to get into the war or to stay out of it and they chose the former.

(Incidentally, I think the Schlieffen Plan was a terrible idea from the start and von Molttke was right to monkey around with it on the fly.)

But that's England, specifically. I think in the 2 weeks after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, there was something of a political game being played between France and Germany in particular but also involving Austria-Hungary and Russia. France dearly wanted to go to war (in a manner that seems flat-out strange to modern readers, in fact) but wanted Germany to be labeled the aggressors. Meanwhile, Russia had basically already entered into war with A-H and knew that Germany joining in to protect their allies was an inevitability and so were also trying to mobilize on the German-Prussian front without it actually looking like they were mobilizing since that would constitute an act of war without a declaration thereof.

I imagine you've read Barbara Tuchmann's "The Guns of August" but I recommend it in general anyway, as it's probably the best account of the first few months of the war, including what could have been done to stop it, that exist. I also recommend her book "The Proud Tower", which speaks to the environment leading up to that war.
Reply With Quote
  #32  
Old 14 February 2014, 08:09 PM
Andrew of Ware's Avatar
Andrew of Ware Andrew of Ware is offline
 
Join Date: 22 April 2003
Location: Ware, Hertfordshire, England
Posts: 8,011
Default

[QUOTE=Johnny Slick;1802334](Incidentally, I think the Schlieffen Plan was a terrible idea from the start and von Molttke was right to monkey around with it on the fly.)[QUOTE]

Some modern historians have questioned whether the German operations of 1914 should be called the Schlieffen Plan, preferring the von Molttke Plan instead. Personally I would still call it the Schlieffen Plan altered, as you say, by von Molttke with disastrous consequences (for Germany that is).

Quote:
But that's England, specifically. I think in the 2 weeks after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, there was something of a political game being played between France and Germany in particular but also involving Austria-Hungary and Russia. France dearly wanted to go to war (in a manner that seems flat-out strange to modern readers, in fact) but wanted Germany to be labeled the aggressors.
Indeed France did want war to recover lost lands in 1870. However, it could not rely on Russia and so would be reluctant to enter a war with Germany without British support. Britain did not want a German dominated Europe (which was why it honoured its treaty with Belgium), but would not want to fight a war just for France to recover its lost land.

Quote:
I imagine you've read Barbara Tuchmann's "The Guns of August" but I recommend it in general anyway, as it's probably the best account of the first few months of the war, including what could have been done to stop it, that exist. I also recommend her book "The Proud Tower", which speaks to the environment leading up to that war.
The BBC has already started its World War I documentary series. Hundreds of television and radio programmes are planned over the next four years (and beyond). Of relevance to this debate is 37 Days which looks at the time between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the start of the war. It is a three-part series, broadcast over three successive days from 25th February. Whether it will be on BBC America I don't know, but it should be interesting.
Reply With Quote
  #33  
Old 15 February 2014, 04:43 AM
E. Q. Taft's Avatar
E. Q. Taft E. Q. Taft is online now
 
Join Date: 30 July 2003
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 13,187
Default

Hey, at least no one is blaming America for starting this one.

Of course from the British point of view, the German army was less alarming than the fact that Germany had been building up a modern navy which was beginning to be capable of challenging British naval supremacy. So yes, allowing Germany to gain naval bases further west would be a serious threat.

I recall reading that one of the big problems with WWI was control of the battlefield. In the old Napoleonic model, you have the picture of the general up on a hill on a horse watching the fight and sending in orders by runners, bugles, or drums. World War I was far too broad and complex for that, but communications by telephone, radio, and telegraph weren't really up to the task yet, either.

Anyway you look at it, it was a massively stupid war that didn't need to be fought, and while there may have been a lot of innovation, there were also a lot of lives wasted in futile action before the tactics caught up. I suppose this always happens, but the scale in WWI was unprecedented.
Reply With Quote
  #34  
Old 15 February 2014, 08:39 AM
Andrew of Ware's Avatar
Andrew of Ware Andrew of Ware is offline
 
Join Date: 22 April 2003
Location: Ware, Hertfordshire, England
Posts: 8,011
Default

You make some good points, E. Q. Taft. As the war was fought was fought on such a huge battlefront generals had to be a long way behind the line so they could keep an eye on developments. Improved communications meant they could give orders from a great distance - although field telephones were far from reliable (see Blackadder).

Yes, Britain had to prevent a German dominated Europe and did not want Germany to have access to ports west of the Straights of Dover - but it was ill-prepared for a land war. Its army, as compared to the Royal Navy, was tiny and relied on reservists (the territorials).

Improved tactics, especially by the British, eventually led to the allies triumphing in 1918. The Battle of the Somme, hideous as it was, taught the British how to combine the use artillery and infantry effectively. Later the British also learnt how to use tanks as well - leading to the huge advances made in the '100 Days' from August to November 1918. [See the BBC History Magazine book on the First World War, especially pages 60 - 61.]

German air technology was superior to the British and French, the Sopwith Camel and Snoopy not withstanding (see the display at the RAF Museum Hendon), but it was the British who learnt how to use it effectively in combination with other forces. For example Zeebrugge where, arguably for the first time, air, land and sea forces were combined. [See the BBC History Magazine book, page 89.]
Reply With Quote
  #35  
Old 03 April 2015, 08:41 AM
Kibu Kibu is offline
 
 
Join Date: 05 January 2014
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Posts: 17
Default

One myth, though not listed on that list, often associated with WW1, is in regards to pilots and parachutes.

The myth is:

World War One pilots refused to wear parachutes due to some kind of bravado. IE the action would be seen as cowardly.

While the above is partly true, at least in the case of some pilots, overall it's false. The truth of the matter is that the majority of the aircraft used during that period, really didn't have enough room for the pilots to fit into the cockpits, and wear a bulky (by today's standards) parachute. It wasn't until later in the war, as the designs began to evolve some and more open cockpits were implemented, that pilots were actually able to wear the parachutes. It's at that point where the original myth originates, since by the time parachutes were possible, many of the pilots would not wear them. Once again, though, it's not because of bravado; but rather simply because they either A.) Didn't trust the parachutes, or B.) Had never needed one before, so why need it now?
Reply With Quote
  #36  
Old 10 April 2015, 11:23 AM
Troberg Troberg is offline
 
 
Join Date: 04 November 2005
Location: Borlänge, Sweden
Posts: 11,580
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by UEL View Post
(this was particularly set off by the photo that accompanied the display where a colonel with his full coat on was seen walking through the mud. That coat must have weighed about 30 kilos as he waddled around. But there were no photos of privates at this particular display.)
You mean that he had his coat closed?

Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
Really? If they didn't, who did?
The circumstances, more or less. Everybody were building new war toys, tensions were rising, alliances forming all over the place. Basically, everyone expected a war, and was gearing up for it so that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then, with all the alliances, once the spark came, everything went boom.

Or, as they described it in Black Adder:

George: The war started because of the vile Hun and his villainous empire-building!
Blackadder: George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika. I hardly think we can be entirely absolved from blame on the imperialistic front.
George: Oh... Oh no, sir! Absolutely not! [quietly to Baldrick] Mad as a bicycle!
Baldrick: I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich 'cause he was hungry.
Blackadder: I think you mean it started when the Archduke of Austro-Hungary got shot.
Baldrick: Nah, there was definitely an ostrich involved, sir.
Blackadder: Well, possibly. But the real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort not to have a war.
George: By Gum, this is interesting! I always loved history. The Battle of Hastings, Henry VIII and his six knives and all that!
Blackadder: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent a war in Europe, two super blocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side; and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast, opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent. That way, there could never be a war.
Baldrick: Except, well, this is sort of a war, isn't it?
Blackadder: That's right. There was one tiny flaw in the plan.
George: Oh, what was that?
Blackadder: It was bollocks.
Baldrick: So the poor old ostrich died for nothing!
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
3 Common Facebook Myths -- Debunked snopes Snopes Spotting 0 11 November 2013 03:10 AM
10 Immigration myths debunked snopes Politics 2 19 October 2013 06:53 PM
10 Myths About US Cities and States Debunked snopes Snopes Spotting 1 14 June 2012 03:09 AM
Travel Myths Debunked snopes Snopes Spotting 0 13 January 2011 12:42 AM
Top 10 celebrity myths debunked snopes Entertainment 6 17 August 2009 07:39 PM


All times are GMT. The time now is 08:33 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.