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."