Lizixer's Reviews > The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus

The Origins of the First World War by Annika Mombauer
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's review
Mar 18, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2012-finished

Who started the First World War? The Germans right? Well, it depends who you ask and when you ask the question. This book is a history book about the writing and rewriting of history as it reflects the political mood in Europe and the US. It traces how the arguments and controversies around who was the most to blame for the war and sets them in the political framework of the times.
The issues around Versailles meant that many historians set out to prove that the heavy price demanded by the victors were based upon wrong assumptions about who should be held responsible for the war. War guilt and the perceived unfairness of Versailles continued to drive politics in Germany and contributed, perhaps, to the rise of National Socialism.
The uneasy consensus post WW2 that no one was really to blame and that Europe had slithered into war was blown apart in the 60s by Fischer who used primary sources to come to the conclusion that imperial Germany was the instigator of the war. The 60s were all about challenging orthodoxy and Fischer's work caused a storm of controversy. As far as some, mainly younger historians were concerned, war guilt for 14-18 was unfinished business. It was suggested that if the 'truth' has been faced earlier before 1939, then Hitler would not have found such fertile ground for Nazism. For conservative historians for whom WW1 was a memory not just history and for those historians who sought to portray Nazism as an aberration, the Hamburg school was heretical as it suggested that aggression and the seeking of world domination was an integral part of German state policy pre 1945.
Mombauer traces how Fischer's version becomes accepted in part but that historians continue to seek excuses and scapegoats throughout the rest of the 20th century.
This book is a fascinating insight into how history is anything but objective and must always be considered in the context in which it was written. It is immensely readable and suitable for both history students and the more casual reader with an interest in how history is written and why, as well as those who have a general interest in WW1.
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