History 10b – Spring 2007Kathleen FitzgeraldWeek 10: The Crucible of WarApril 16, 2007Study QuestionsHelena—T.F.Zuckmayer writes that, “in 1914, we still believed that a war would bring about the trueblossoming of the nation. Instead, everything withered.” Why was there such optimism,and why did it wither away?
“Some embraced [World War I] as a test of greatness, a purification of a society that had become lazy and complacent. When war did come in 1914, it was a choice, not anaccident.”
During the political battles of the early 20
century, many European nations believed afew quick skirmishes could be enough to trounce segments of their populations whichcontradicted nationalist sensibilities. This brief war method had been used successfullythroughout the nineteenth century, and it was thought to remain a reliable resource during thefirst years of the 20
century. In fact, by analyzing a cross-section of those countries which firstentered WWI (unlike those which entered later as a result of the ‘alliance domino effect’), oneunderstands how much nationalism fueled the flame of war. For instance, Austria-Hungary wentto war in the Balkans because it hoped to destroy subversive Serbian sub-populations in thatregion, thereby strengthening its own nation-state.
Similarly, Germany viewed World War I asa chance to permanently weaken its enemy, France, in order to ensure that Germany would notface a two-front war in the event that Russia ever attacked from the East; the German Kaiser believed world war would permanently strengthen Germany’s geographic and geopoliticalsituation. After all, how bad could a war be if it were quick, decisive, and “over by Christmas,”yet still managed to solidify national security and identity?
As a result of this hope for blossoming nationalism, “mass decisions” were made withineach WWI-fighting nation, and myriad young boys, like Germany’s Zuckmayer, flocked to
Kishlansky, “Civilization in the West: Volume II Since 1555,” p. 802.
Ibid., p. 805.
Ibid., p. 802.