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looks you see sadness these days. The other day on the train a
woman sat counting the fingers on her hand. One, two, three, four,
five she said, then began the counting again. She repeated herself
over and over. Some of us riding the car couldn't help but to start
smiling at her. Her husband then spoke in a soft voice. Ladies and
gentlemen, please don't laugh at my wife. She has lost all five of
her sons in battle defending our fine nation. Now she is gone in
the head and I am taking her to the asylum.
The Nations Involved in
Between the Wars
Declaration of War
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Wilfred Owen, "Gas"
World War One Battles
Letters from the Front
A Special Christmas Story
Music from World War One
Long Way To Tipperary
Pack Up Your Troubles
War One, Kaiser Wilhelm II
b. Jan. 27, 1859, Potsdam, near Berlin
d. June 4, 1941, Doorn, Neth.
German IN FULL FRIEDRICH WILHELM VIKTOR ALBERT, German emperor (kaiser)
and king of Prussia from 1888 to the end of World War I in 1918,
known for his frequently militaristic manner as well as for his
William II (1859-1941, ruled
1888-1918), the last German emperor, gave up his throne when Germany
was defeated in World War I. He was the grandson of William I and
the eldest son of Frederick III. His mother was Princess Victoria,
eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of England. Both his grandfather
and his father died in 1888 (Frederick III reigned only three
months). William was 29 years old when his father's sudden death
brought him to the throne as king of Prussia and emperor of Germany.
From birth William had a crippled
left arm, but he had enormous energy and as a schoolboy took the
motto "If I rest, I rust." At school he acted like a prince and was
treated like one. He had ability much above the average. He had many
interests, ranging from art and music to science and technology, but
he spent little time in serious study. At 20 he began military
training and became one of the most dashing officers in the army.
When he was 22 he married the young German princess, Augusta
Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg. Six sons and
a daughter were born to them.
When William II came to the
throne, Bismarck, his grandfather's "iron chancellor," was still the
chief minister. William had always admired Bismarck, but he forced
his resignation in 1890 and chose as his advisers men who were more
willing to follow his lead. It was a tradition of the house of
Hohenzollern, he said on one occasion, "to consider ourselves as
designed by God to govern the peoples over which it is given us to
Germany at this time was forging
rapidly ahead to become a great industrial nation. To win for
Germany a place among the world powers, William wanted a strong navy
as well as army. Before 1900 he began to develop a fleet to rival
that of the British. The British then began to increase the number
and size of their ships, and other European powers followed their
example. Armies also were enormously increased as the nations became
engaged in an armaments race.
William continued Bismarck's
policy in maintaining the Triple Alliance with Austria and Italy. In
1914, when the heir to the Austrian throne was murdered, he
determined to help Austria get satisfaction from Serbia. At the same
time, he tried to keep Austria from declaring war on Serbia. He sent
personal telegrams to Czar Nicholas II in an effort to keep Russia
from going to Serbia's aid. His efforts failed. Germany, along with
the major powers of Europe, was drawn into World War I. Although he
was nominally the German supreme commander during the war, he did
not interfere when his generals took the conduct of the war into
their hands. His laxness diminished the chance for a negotiated
In November 1918, when the Germans
were retreating, William was on the Western Front. Before the
armistice was signed he abdicated his throne and stole away to the
neutral Netherlands. He spent the rest of his life there, living in
seclusion first in Amerongen and later in Doorn. His wife died in
1921, and the next year he married the widowed Princess Hermine of
Schonaich-Carolath. He died during World War II on June 4, 1941.
Adolf Hitler gave him a military funeral
Youth and early influences.
William was the eldest child of Crown Prince Frederick (later
Emperor Frederick III) and Victoria, the eldest child of Britain's
queen Victoria. He was born with a damaged left arm; the limb never
grew to full size, and some historians have found the clue to his
behavior in this disability.
A more influential cause lay in his parentage. His father was
honorable, intelligent, and considerate but had neither the will nor
the stamina needed to dominate. That lack was not shared by his
wife, who had acquired from her father, the Prince Consort,
seriousness of purpose and from her mother, emotion and obstinacy.
Her intellect was hopelessly at the mercy of her feelings, and she
took rapid likes and dislikes. She tried to force on her son the
outlook of a 19th-century British Liberal and bring him up as an
English gentleman. The result, however, was to make him sympathetic
to those who were urging him to fulfill the ideal that the Prussian
people had formed of a ruler--firm, brave, frugal, just and manly,
self-sacrificing but also self-reliant.
Difficult as William's relations with his mother were, she left a
deep and lasting mark on him. He was never able to shake off the
respect instilled into him in the nursery for liberal values and
habits of life. To be the tough warrior-king did not come naturally
to him, yet this was the role to which he felt he must live up, and
the result was that he overdid it. Inclination and a sense of duty
(inculcated by a Calvinist tutor) were alternating in him
continually, each managing to frustrate the other. The tension
between the two, superimposed on his physical disability, is the
ultimate explanation of his taut, restless, and irresolute
character. In 1881 William married Princess Augusta Victoria of
Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, a plain, unimaginative
person with few intellectual interests and no talents, who bored him
and encouraged his reactionary tendencies but all the same
represented a point of stability in his life, besides presenting him
with six sons and a daughter.
William as emperor
Seven years later, William's grandfather William I died at the age
of 90. Liberals had long hoped, and conservatives feared, that when
the Crown Prince came to the throne, he would alter the constitution
by making the chancellor responsible to the Reichstag. But by the
time Frederick became emperor, he was dying of cancer. Thus,
William, who showed little sympathy for his parents in their bitter
crisis, found himself kaiser at the age of 29.
In March 1890 William drove Bismarck into resigning as chancellor.
Bismarck had found brilliant answers to the problems facing him when
he first took office but in doing so had given the Prussian upper
classes a veto on political change and had made France Germany's
implacable enemy. He was not at 75 the man to solve the problems he
had largely brought about in creating the German Empire, so that
William's action would have been justifiable if he himself had been
in possession of a solution. As it was, however, he dropped vague
plans for helping the working classes as soon as he ran into court
opposition, and he allowed Bismarck's successors to decide against
renewing his 1887 Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. Superficially,
this decision again could be justified, but it opened the way for
Russia in 1891 to make its alliance with France.
For four years after Bismarck's departure, Leo, Graf von Caprivi, as
chancellor, tried unsuccessfully to find a policy that would be
acceptable both to the Reichstag (lower house of the parliament) and
to the ruling classes. He was followed by the aged prince Chlodwig
von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, who fared no better. In 1897 William
appointed the debonair Bernhard, Fürst von Bülow, as foreign
secretary and in 1900 made him chancellor; the intention was that
Bülow would persuade the Reichstag to accept the policies that the
Kaiser and the upper classes chose to adopt. This did little or
nothing to bring about the political changes that Germany's very
rapid industrialization called for. Instead, Bülow was allowed to
divert attention by an exciting foreign policy.
British anger had already been aroused by a telegram that, on the
advice of his foreign secretary, William had sent in 1896 to Pres.
Paul Kruger of the South African Republic, congratulating him on
defeating the British-led Jameson raid; and alarm followed anger as
the implications of the German Naval Bills of 1897 and 1900 sank in.
The Kaiser often indignantly denied that Germany was challenging
Britain's domination of the seas, but there is clear evidence that
this was in fact the aim of Adm. Alfred von Tirpitz, whom he made
secretary of the navy in 1897. When in 1904 Britain settled its
outstanding disputes with France, the Kaiser, at Bülow's suggestion,
went to Tangier the following year to challenge France's position in
Morocco by announcing German support for Moroccan independence. His
hopes of thereby showing that Britain was of no value as an ally to
France were disappointed at the 1906 Algeciras Conference, at which
the Germans were forced to accept French predominance in Morocco.
In 1908 William caused great excitement in Germany by giving, after
a visit to England, a tactless interview to The Daily Telegraph,
telling his interviewer that large sections of the German people
were anti-English. He had sent the text beforehand to Bülow, who had
probably neglected to read it and who defended his master very
lamely in the Reichstag. This led William to play a less prominent
role in public affairs, and, feeling that he had been betrayed by
Bülow, he replaced him with Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg.
Bethmann's attempts to reach agreement with Britain failed because
Britain would not promise neutrality in a war between Germany and
France unless Germany would limit its fleet. This the Kaiser and
Tirpitz refused to allow. The Moroccan (Agadir) crisis of 1911, in
which Germany again tried to intervene in Morocco against French
encroachment, might have led to war if Germany (with the
encouragement of the Kaiser) had not given way.
Role in World War I.
World War I began as an attempt to save Austria-Hungary from
collapse; it was transformed into a world conflict by Germany.
William, having encouraged the Austrians to adopt an uncompromising
line, took fright when he found war impending but was not able to
halt the implementation of the mobilization measures that he had
allowed his generals to prepare. During the war, although nominally
supreme commander, he did not attempt to resist his generals when
they kept its conduct in their own hands. He encouraged, instead of
challenging, the grandiose war aims of the generals and of many
politicians that ruled out all chance of a compromise peace. By the
autumn of 1918 he realized that Germany had lost the war but not
that this had made the loss of his throne inevitable. Refusing to
abdicate, his hand was finally forced on November 9, when he was
persuaded to seek asylum in The Netherlands. He thus avoided
captivity and perhaps death but also by this move made impossible
the retention of a monarchy in Germany. He lived quietly as a
country gentleman in The Netherlands until his death in 1941.
William often bombastically claimed to be the man who took the
decisions. It is true that the German constitution of 1871 put two
important powers in his hands. First, he was responsible for
appointing and dismissing the chancellor, the head of the civil
government. Admittedly, the chancellor could only govern if he could
get a majority in the Reichstag, but this limitation on the
emperor's freedom of choice was more apparent than real, because
most members of the Reichstag felt it their loyal duty to support
whomever the Kaiser appointed. Secondly, the German Army and Navy
were not responsible to the civil government, so that the Kaiser was
the only person in Germany who was in a position to see that the
policy followed by the soldiers and sailors was in line with that
pursued by the civil servants and diplomats. Thus, British
journalists and publicists had some justification when during and
immediately after the war they portrayed the Kaiser as Supreme War
Lord, and therefore the man who, more than anyone else, decided to
As time passes, however, historians are increasingly coming to see
William as an accomplice rather than an instigator. In the years
after 1890 the German upper and middle classes would have wanted a
larger say in the world's councils no matter who had been on the
throne, and this "urge to world power" was almost bound to bring
them into collision with some of the existing great powers. The
chief real criticism to be made of the Kaiser is that, instead of
seeing this danger and using his influence to restrain German
appetites, he shared those appetites and indeed increased them,
particularly by his determination to give Germany a navy of which it
could be proud. He was a quick-witted, well-meaning man who went
with the stream instead of having the vision and strength of
judgment to stand out against it.
World History Project