Friday, December 27, 2013

What If Germany Won WWI?

Won't be much longer til ebberdobby "YaYs!" the 100th Anniversary of the Guns of August.

What if Imperial Deutschland had won the First World War? 

The first world war came to an end in November 1918, when the German armies surrendered near Compiegne. But it could plausibly have ended in a very different way in spring 1918, if Ludendorff's offensive on Paris and towards the Channel had succeeded. It nearly did so. And what might 20th-century Europe have been like if it had?

Obviously, it would have been dominated and shaped by Germany. But what kind of Germany? The militaristic, conservative, repressive Prussian power created by Bismarck? Or the Germany with the largest labour movement in early 20th-century Europe? German history after 1918 would have been a contest between the two – and no one can say which would have won in the end.   
But one can say that a victorious Germany, imposing peace on the defeated allies at the treaty of Potsdam, would not have had the reparations and grievances that were actually inflicted upon it by France at Versailles. As a consequence, the rise of Hitler would have been much less likely. In that case, neither the Holocaust nor the second world war would necessarily have followed. If Germany's Jews had survived, Zionism might not have had the international moral force that it rightly claimed after Hitler's defeat. The modern history of the Middle East would therefore be very different – partly also because Turkey would have been among the victors in 1918.

In the kaiser's Europe, defeated France would be the more likely seedbed for fascism, not Germany. But with its steel and coal still in German-controlled Alsace-Lorraine, France's military and naval potential would have been contained. Meanwhile, defeated Britain would have seen its navy sunk in the Heligoland Bight, have been forced to cede its oil interests in the Middle East and the Gulf to Germany, and have been unable to contain Indian nationalism. In practice, the British empire would have been unsustainable. Today's Britain might have ended up as a modest north European social democratic republic – like Denmark without a prince.

Meanwhile America, whose entry into the war would have been successfully pre-empted by Germany's victory, would have become a firmly isolationist power and not the enforcer of international order. Franklin Roosevelt would solve America's postwar economic problems in the 1930s, but he would never fight a war in Europe – though he might have to fight one against Japan. The Soviet Union, with a wary but powerful neighbour in victorious Germany, would have been the great destabilising factor but it might not have been invaded as it was in 1941. And with no second world war there might never have been a cold war either. 
A parlour game? Obviously. But at least we can see that the outcome mattered. Europe would have been different if Germany had won in 1918. It would have been grim, repressive and unpredictable in many ways. But there is a plausible case for saying many fewer people would have died in 20th-century Europe. If nothing else, that is worth some reflection. The first world war was a catastrophe in the mud. But it was about something more than tragic sacrifice too. The outcome – what happened and what did not – made a difference. In 2014 we need to get beyond the rival national perspectives and learn to see the war more objectively and thoughtfully than has yet happened.

Pic - "It would have been in the military's interest to push for more democracy in the Reich government, since the people would have been conspicuously pro-military."


Rob said...

Hi Courtney,
I love these kind of what ifs!

I would say the following, for what it's worth. I think that rather than a German victory, the best Germany could have gotten was an armistice on more favorable terms

I don't think the US would have folded its tents if Ludendorf's offensive had been more successful. I don't think it would have entirely succeeded because Germany was near bankrupt by then, had severe shortages of food and raw materials and lacked offensive weapons like tanks, Churchill's brainstorm.The German public had a significant anti-war movement by then as well. That 1918 offensive was a last gasp.

Also, by that time the U.S. and its manpower and industrial might were firmly committed after the Argonne, Belleau Wood and Chateau Thierry.And U.S.public opinion was firmly behind the war by then after the Zimmerman Telegram. We would have kept fighting, and because the British fleet was still intact by 1918, Germany was still blockaded and the convoys would have kept coming over the Atlantic.

The best Ludendorf might have achieved is a stalemate and armistice, peace on better terms.

I also am not so certain about the fate of Ottomans and Austria-Hungary, Germany's allies.

Both empires had essentially collapsed by mid-1918, from internal stress, the cost of the war and in A/H's case, severe ethnic tensions. Even an armistice would not have saved them, or their empires.So Sykes Picot and the division of the ME would still have occurred IMO.

The armistice would likely have allowed Germany to keep the Ruhr, the Rhineland and East Prussia and to avoid the crippling reparations. I don't think it would have entirely avoided the civil war between the communists and groups like the Stahlhelm, and I'm also not sure that the Kaiser would have survived, given how unpopular he was even before Versailles. Even if the Hohenzollern regime had survived and the civil war was not as violent or protracted as it was, I still think you would have seen limits on the Kaiser's power.

The Nazis? There would have been a lot of revanchist sentiment in Germany regardless of whether they lost the war or merely signed on to an armistice that left Germany and its military more or less intact. There would undoubtedly have been similar nonsense about how the Germans could have won the war if only they weren't stabbed in the back by the politicians and the Jews (Jew hatred at that time was an integral part of Germany's kultur). Some political group would have gobbled up that constituency.

I also am not all that sure that Germany would have avoided the Inflation because of Germany's inherent economic problems from WWI and certainly would not have avoided the Great Depression, which is what really brought Hitler to power. remember,the Nazis were National Socialists, a Left wing party that combined policies promising 'social justice' as well as nationalist goals like an end to the Versailles restrictions and a reboot of Germany's greatness.

I really think there would have been another war either way. Even Marshall Foch said so at Versailles, remarking that what had been achieved was not victory and peace but an armistice for twenty years.He was only a year off.