German Thinking Before World War I

The relatively new nation of Germany was eager to take its place among the colonial powers.

What Weltpolitik actually meant in terms of concrete policies was another matter. As Field Marshal Count von Waldersee, who commanded the European forces suppressing the Boxer Rebellion, wrote in his diary when the idea first started to circulate widely: “We are supposed to pursue Weltpolitik. If I only knew what that is supposed to be; for the time being it is nothing but a slogan.” 30 It did seem, though, to imply that Germany acquire its fair share of colonies. [German historian and nationalistic prophet] Treitschke certainly argued so. “All nations in history,” he said in his lectures, “felt the urge to impress the stamp of their authority on barbaric countries while they felt strong enough to do so.” And Germany was now strong enough; its high birth rate was evidence of German vitality. Yet Germany was cutting a poor figure by comparison with Britain and other empires: “It is therefore a vital question for the nation to show colonial drive.” 31

Macmillan, Margaret (2013-10-29). The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (Kindle Locations 1882-1891). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Thus the notion that a proper great power, like Britain, France, and Russia had vast colonial empires played a key role in the events that led up to the Great War, the war that, ironically, played a key role in the ultimate collapse of the colonial system, and eventually convinced the heretofore colonial powers that in the modern age, colonies would not be worth their cost.


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