Origins of the First World War, part III

As to the nature of this second nefarious alliance we will turn to next, but suffice it so say Britain recklessly provoked an unnecessary conflict with a nation that was acting in a perfectly rational way i.e., expanding its global markets and seeking to produce a navy able to protect its merchant marine.

The French motivation for war was simple revanchism or revenge over their defeat in 1870 and restoration of Alsace-Lorraine. John Maynard Keynes explains it thus:

So far as possible, therefore, it was the policy of France to set the clock back and to undo what, since 1870, the progress of Germany had accomplished. By loss of territory and other measures her population was to be curtailed; but chiefly the economic system, upon which she depended for her new strength, the vast fabric of iron, coal, and transport must be destroyed. If France could seize, even in part, what Germany was compelled to drop, the inequality of strength between the two rivals for European hegemony might be remedied for many generations.1

The effectively unknown work of George Frost Kennan, The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia and the Coming of the First World War, is the most thorough work on the Franco-Russian alliance in the English speaking world. His account of a vengeful France and expansionist Russia colluding to plot a World War is a very dark read.

The essentials are this: (1) in 1890 the Kaiser did not want war with any of his neighbors, (2) certain Generals and Politicians in France wanted war to regain Alsace-Lorraine, (3) Russia wanted to settle old scores with Austria and Turkey, but needed Germany out of the picture first and (4) both sides sought the complete dismemberment of the German nation.

As to the alleged bellicosity of the Kaiser, Mr. Kennan has this to say:

Such expressions of peaceful intent were all right in their way, and they were probably quite sincere on the part of the Kaiser, who, while he liked to boast about Germany’s military strength, did not actually wish to see it employed in a highly destructive war between great powers. But (as Caprivi should have known, for Schweinitz had repeatedly emphasized the point in his dispatches) these expressions failed completely to satisfy Giers’ need for something more specific, in writing – something that would have committed not only Caprivi’s successors but, by implication, those of the Tsar and Giers as well, to the continuation of the recent relationship.”2

While one can charge the Kaiser of a grave diplomatic error and ignoring the wisdom of Bismark to court Russia to isolate France, he was not guilty of deliberately fomenting hostile feelings with Russia nor of wider European conflict at large.

The two chief architects of this general European conflagration were the Frenchman Boisdeffre and the Russian Obruchev. In the July 1891 meetings between these two men on the possibility of an offensive alliance between France and Russia, a very revealing comment was made by both men.

And what, he (Obruchev) then asked would be the equivalent aims of the French?

Boisdeffre’s answer was instantaneous: the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine.

Obruchev was suspicious. “Would you not also,” he asked, “wish to extend your bourders to the Rhine and to break up Germany?” (One sense here the effects of Giers’ warnings against Russia’s associating herself with any such far-reaching aims.)

Boisdeffre, in response to this sally, was evasive. One would first have to know what success one had on the field of battle. “Let us begin by beating them; after that it will be easy.”3

We see clearly the intentions of France and Russia to form a coalition that, they hoped, would lead to the dismemberment of Germany. Such thoughts of dismemberment were also shared by Tsar Alexander III who said, after being confronted by Giers over the new alliance with France:

We must correct the mistakes of the past and destroy Germany at the first possible moment.” With Germany broken up, he agreed, Austria would not dare to move.

Giers, gathering his courage in the face of this unexpected statement, put the question: “But what would we gain by helping the French destroy Germany?”

“Why, what indeed?” replied the Tsar. “What we would gain would be that Germany, as such, would disappear. It would break up into a number of small, weak states, the way it used to be.”4

The aggressive intentions of this treaty were seen by the Russian diplomat Lamsdorf who wrote:

This commitment they are demanding of us would give the French a carte blanche for adventures and for the provocation of conflicts in which it would be hard to distinguish who had really started the affair; and then we are obliged to support them with an army of 800,000!” 5

From these secret communiques it is clear that French and Russian governments sought, without any legitimate recourse or prior precedent, the total annihilation of a fellow great power. While one can sympathize with France’s desire to reclaim Alsace-Lorraine, the fact that lunatics like Boisdeffre and later Poincaré would plan a World War of annihilation as a means to regain this land is insanity of the first degree.

We see that only a lunatic could perceive Germany’s actions as aggressive and threatening, given the great press of foes at gathering around her, France and Russia were plotting a war of annihilation and eventually dragooned Britain into their skullduggery and yet all of this, and more has been kept hidden from the public. favicon


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1 John Maynard Keynes, The economic consequences of the peace (Harcourt, Brace & Howe, 1920), 36.

2 George F. Kennan , The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War, (Pantheon Books, 1984), 44.

3 Ibid pg 95

4 Ibid pg 153-54

5 Ibid 153