The German establishment, which included leading historians and politicians, reacted with outrage to Fischer’s claims. The so-called Fischer school was accused of ‘soiling its own nest’, and in the context of the Cold War of the early 1960s, it is not difficult to see that the question of the origins of the First World War was of serious contemporary political significance.Those willing to question Germany’s recent past and those wanting to hide any potential wrong-doings by Germany’s former leaders clashed in a public dispute of unprecedented ferocity.
Austrians and Hungarians were fighting to revenge the death of Franz Ferdinand.
Germans were assured by their Kaiser, Wilhelm II, and their Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, that Germany’s neighbours had ‘forced the sword’ into its hands.
This was crucial because the vast armies of soldiers that would be needed to fight this war could not be summoned for a war of aggression.
Socialists, of whom there were many millions by 1914, would not have supported a belligerent foreign policy, and could only be relied upon to fight in a defensive war.
Germany, he argued, bore the main share of responsibility for the outbreak of the war.
Moreover, its leaders had deliberately unleashed the war in pursuit of aggressive foreign policy aims which were startlingly similar to those pursued by Hitler in 1939.
For the victors, this was an easy question to answer, and they agreed at the peace conference at Paris in 1919 that Germany and its allies had been responsible for causing the Great War.
Based on this decision, which was embodied in Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, vast reparations would be payable.
Many did concede, however, that Germany seemed to have made use of the July Crisis to unleash a war. In the wake of the Fischer controversy, historians also focused more closely on the role of Austria-Hungary in the events that led to war, and concluded that in Vienna, at least as much as in Berlin, the crisis precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was seen as a golden opportunity to try and defeat a ring of enemies that seemed to threaten the Central Powers.
In recent years this post-Fischer consensus has in turn been revised.