Germany's Aims in the First World War

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Germany's Aims in the First World War
Author Fritz Fischer
Original title Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegzielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918
Country Germany
Language German
Genre History
Publisher W. W. Norton & Company
Publication date
Published in English
ISBN 0-393-09798-6

Germany's Aims in the First World War (German title: Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegzielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918) is a book by German Historian Fritz Fischer. It is one of the leading contributions to historical analysis of the causes of World War I, and along with this work War of Illusions (Krieg der Illusionen) gave rise to the "Fischer Thesis" on the causes of the war. The title translates as "Grab for World Power".[1] or "Bid for World Power".[2] Essentially Fischer attempts to link together a continuum of German belligerence in their "grab for power" weaving it all together into a cohesive theme of German Weltpolitik.[3]


Griff nach der Weltmacht was published in October 1961. It was published in Britain under the title Germany's Aims in the First World War in 1967, translated by C.A. Macartney with an introduction by James Joll.[2] The book included a memorandum by the then German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg dated 9 September 1914 which set out a plan for Germany to dominate Europe.[4]


Fischer argued that Germany had a policy of deliberately provoking war during July 1914 and that during the war Germany developed a set of annexationist war aims similar to those of Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.[5] On publication, the book caused controversy in West Germany as it challenged the view that Hitler was an aberration by emphasising the continuity in German foreign policy in 1914 and 1939.[6] The book was also controversial for challenging the established view that Germany did not bear the primary responsibility for outbreak of the war, the so-called "war guilt lie". Fischer also claimed that German elites had wanted war since as early as 1902.[7]

Academic reaction

The historian John Moses stated in his 1975 work The Politics of Illusion that "No serious German historian today can venture to pit himself against the evidence compiled by the Fischer school."[8] Fischer inspired several disciples, including the historian Imanuel Geiss.[7] However, Fischer was ridiculed by conservative German historians who created a backlash against his ideas.[7] The most notable critic was conservative historian and patriot Gerhard Ritter, who is said to have broken down in tears when lecturing on Fischer's line of argument in Griff nach der Weltmacht.[2] Fischer's ideas were welcomed by historians in communist East Germany; Fritz Klein considered Fischer's views to be uncontroversial.[9]

Mombauer argues that Fischer's work led to greater discussion of the Holocaust by German history professors.[10] A number of German and British historians find the assertions of Fischer a glaring oversimplification of how the First World War developed, arguing that is decidedly disingenuous given the complexity of the situation as a whole - especially since parts of the evidence for German war aims (i.e. belligerence) from before the Great War were collected amid the fringe writings of Pan-Germans or were parceled together from Kaiser Wilhelm's rantings; none of which constituted official state policy.[11]

Stephen A. Schuker, writing in 2015, notes that although Fischer's book aroused great controversy when it was published, "Fischer's work made its way. Refinements by Immanuel Geiss, John Röhl, Holger Afflerbach, Annika Mombauer, and others have confirmed the essentials".[12]

See also

External Links

  • Löffelbein, Nils: War Aims and War Aims Discussions (Germany) , in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.
  • Mulligan, William: The Historiography of the Origins of the First World War , in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.


  1. ^ Trachtenberg, Marc, History and strategy, 1st ed, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-02343-3, p49
  2. ^ a b c "Obituary: Professor Fritz Fischer - Arts & Entertainment". London: The Independent. 1999-12-13. Retrieved 2009-11-15.
  3. ^ Weltpolitik appeared previous to the First World War, shortly following unification and industrialization. It was employed by various groups and its true meaning has never be explicated at length or solely defined by anyone. Taken literally, the term Weltpolitik translates to ‘world politic” or ‘world policy.’ In this regard, it signified German foreign policy on the global stage. Often quoted by historians, Weltpolitik generally refers to German diplomatic efforts starting around 1890 up until the First World War, which were characterized by German political assertiveness and aggression. More accurately perhaps, Weltpolitik encompassed the outward expansion and securing of German industrial markets for which colonialism/imperialism were a part. It is frequently attributed to Admiral Tipitz’s naval policies, subsumed of course by the naval war race. For more on the manifestation and implementation of the term Weltpolitik during the years 1890 through 1902, see: Konrad Canis, Von Bismarck zur Weltpolitik: Deutsche Aussenpolitik 1890 bis 1902 (Oldenbourg: Akademie Verlag, 1997).
  4. ^ Hayes, Paul, Themes in modern European history, 1890-1945, p115
  5. ^ Stibbe, Matthew, The Fischer Constrovery over German War aims in the First World War and its reception by East German Historians 1961-1989, The Historical Journal, 46, 3 (2003), pp. 649–668
  6. ^ "The Causes of the First World War: The Fritz Fischer thesis". 1912-12-08. Retrieved 2009-11-15.
  7. ^ a b c "WWI Origins". Archived from the original on 2009-10-14. Retrieved 2009-11-15.
  8. ^ Moses, John, The Politics of Illusion, (London, 1975) p127
  9. ^ Joll James, Martel, Gordon, The Origins of the First World War, Longman, 3rd ed, p6
  10. ^ Annika Mombauer, The origins of the First World War: controversies and consensus (London, 2002), p. 129.
  11. ^ Ferguson, Niall (1998). The Pity of War: Explaining World War I. New York: Basic Books. pp. 169–170. ISBN 0-465-05712-8.
  12. ^ Stephen A. Schuker, 'Old wine in new bottles', The New Criterion (January 2015), p. 85.
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