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Old April 14th, 2011, 08:14 AM
Caesar Australis Caesar Australis is offline
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Views on Niall Ferguson's analysis of WW1

From:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niall_Ferguson#World_War_I

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Ferguson maintained that Germany waged a preventive war in 1914, a war largely forced on the Germans by reckless and irresponsible British diplomacy. In particular, Ferguson accused the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey of maintaining an ambiguous attitude to the question of whether Britain would enter the war or not, and thus confusing Berlin over just what was the British attitude towards the question of intervention in the war. Ferguson accused London of unnecessarily allowing a regional war in Europe to escalate into a world war. Moreover, Ferguson denied that the origins of National Socialism could be traced back to Imperial Germany; instead Ferguson asserted the origins of Nazism could only be traced back to the First World War and its aftermath.

The “myths” of World War I that Ferguson attacked, with his counter-arguments in parentheticals, are:

1)That Germany was a highly militarist country before 1914 (Ferguson claims Germany was Europe’s most anti-militarist country)
2)That naval challenges mounted by Germany drove Britain into informal alliances with France and Russia before 1914 (Ferguson claims the British were driven into alliances with France and Russia as a form of appeasement due to the strength of those nations, and an Anglo-German alliance failed to materialize due to German weakness)
3)That British foreign policy was driven by legitimate fears of Germany (Ferguson claims Germany posed no threat to Britain before 1914, and that all British fears of Germany were due to irrational anti-German prejudices)
4)That the pre-1914 arms race was consuming ever larger portions of national budgets at an unsustainable rate (Ferguson claims that the only limitations on more military spending before 1914 were political, not economic)
5)That World War I was, as Fritz Fischer claimed, a war of aggression on part of Germany that necessitated British involvement to stop Germany from conquering Europe (Ferguson claims that if Germany had been victorious, something like the European Union would have been created in 1914, and that it would have been for the best if Britain had chosen to opt out of war in 1914)
6)That most people were happy with the outbreak of war in 1914 (Ferguson claims that most Europeans were saddened by the coming of war)
7)That propaganda was successful in making men wish to fight (Ferguson argues the opposite)
8)That the Allies made the best use of their economic resources (Ferguson argues that the Allies “squandered” their economic resources)
9)That the British and the French had the better armies (Ferguson claims the German Army was superior)
10)That the Allies were more efficient at killing Germans (Ferguson argues that the Germans were more efficient at killing the Allies)
11)That most soldiers hated fighting in the war (Ferguson argues most soldiers fought more or less willingly)
12)That the British treated German prisoners of war well (Ferguson argues the British routinely killed German POWS)
13)That Germany was faced with reparations after 1921 that could not be paid except at ruinous economic cost (Ferguson argues that Germany could easily have paid reparations had there been the political will)

Another controversial aspect of the Pity of War was Ferguson's use of counterfactual history. Ferguson presented a counter-factual version of Europe under Imperial German domination that was peaceful, prosperous, democratic and without ideologies like Communism and fascism. In Ferguson's view, had Germany won World War I, then the lives of millions would have been saved, something like the European Union would have been founded in 1914, and Britain would have remained an empire and the world's dominant financial power
I have some issues with his assertions- 6 and 7 on the one hand and 11 on the other seem to contradict one another. And 1 seems especially dubious.

But in general his point that a likely Pax Germana in Europe would be preferable to a long drawn out WW1, subsequent WW2, ascendant fascism and then communist domination of half of Europe seems reasonable. Not to mention preventing the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the resultant instability and reactionary tendencies in the Middle East.

The only especially troubling consequence that I can see is that British capacity to sustain it's empire would not have been crippled- colonialism might even have continued until present day.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 08:28 AM
Grey Wolf Grey Wolf is offline
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Things like 5 seem to be subjective

I imagine there is evidence both ways for 7 and 8 and hard to decide on a "majority" view

10 is probably a mixture of in some cases one thing, and in some cases the other, whilst the definition of "efficient" is subjective

Regarding Grey, of course he had no definitive view on the matter before it happened, going to war is reactive and in a parliamentary democracy you can't commit to it definitively ahead of time

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Old April 14th, 2011, 08:32 AM
TyranicusMaximus TyranicusMaximus is offline
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Originally Posted by Caesar Australis View Post
But in general his point that a likely Pax Germana in Europe would be preferable to a long drawn out WW1, subsequent WW2, ascendant fascism and then communist domination of half of Europe seems reasonable. Not to mention preventing the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the resultant instability and reactionary tendencies in the Middle East.
While a longer (and probably surviving) Ottoman Empire and a Pax Germania would indeed be preferable to WW2, Fascism, and Communist Eastern Europe, by no means are the horrors of OTL in any way predetermined in 1918.

The run up to WW2 isn't inevitable, far from it. I think a scenario that sees a surviving Weimar Republic, with everything else as IOTL up to that point, would at least be as good, if not much better than "Pax Germania".

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The only especially troubling consequence that I can see is that British capacity to sustain it's empire would not have been crippled- colonialism might even have continued until present day.
But colonialism was mostly a drain on those who practiced it. Although colonialism could last longer than IOTL, at some point I'm sure that people would find it much too expensive.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 09:46 AM
Nassirisimo Nassirisimo is offline
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Im pretty sure Ferguson wouldn't be over the moon about a surviving Ottoman empire. About some of his other points, wasn't the German army a bit better then the Entene armies? If I can remember rightly, if you go off casulty rates alone, there were few battles in which the Germans lost more men then the allies. This may have been down to the heavier armaments and an ability to raise a bigger force then France (and by extention, Britian). However, Tyranicus is right when he says that although OTL world war 2 might not happen, a number of unforseen wars could, and we could be looking at a potentially deadlier conflict in a CP victorious world.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 10:02 AM
I Blame Communism I Blame Communism is offline
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A lot of his claims are things which are very difficult to prove one way or the other (How willing is willing? What does 'better' mean?), but I regard some of them as a lot of nonsense, for instance the claim that Germany was "the most anti-militarist country in Europe". Militarism means different things, but at any rate Germany was more militaristic than Denmark.

If you're going to use counterfactuals, you're opening a can of worms. If history is mutable, then one can't say that German victory early in WW1 will be better than OTL. And as TM points out, who said OTL was the only outcome from Entente victory in 1918? There's time to avert not only Nazism but Stalinism too.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 10:20 AM
Grey Wolf Grey Wolf is offline
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Originally Posted by I Blame Communism View Post

If you're going to use counterfactuals, you're opening a can of worms. If history is mutable, then one can't say that German victory early in WW1 will be better than OTL. And as TM points out, who said OTL was the only outcome from Entente victory in 1918? There's time to avert not only Nazism but Stalinism too.
Ah,but my Eleventh Hour timeline "shows" how other worse things could arise, such as world-wide Satanism

Best Regards
Grey Wolf
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Old April 14th, 2011, 10:23 AM
Mikestone8 Mikestone8 is offline
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Originally Posted by TyranicusMaximus View Post
While a longer (and probably surviving) Ottoman Empire and a Pax Germania would indeed be preferable to WW2, Fascism, and Communist Eastern Europe, by no means are the horrors of OTL in any way predetermined in 1918.

The run up to WW2 isn't inevitable, far from it. I think a scenario that sees a surviving Weimar Republic, with everything else as IOTL up to that point, would at least be as good, if not much better than "Pax Germania".

But was there ever much likelihood of a successful WR?

By the mid-1930s, in all of Continental Europe there were only two democracies left (Finland and Czechoslovakia) which hadn't already been democracies in 1914. Otherwise, all had become dictatorships of one stripe or another. Was there any particular reason for expecting Germany to buck this trend?

I don't say a successful WR is 100% impossible, buit I can't see any especial reason to expect one.

Last edited by Mikestone8; April 14th, 2011 at 02:11 PM..
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Old April 14th, 2011, 10:27 AM
Kelenas Kelenas is offline
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Well, in some cases he's possibly right, in others possibly wrong, and in a few it's strictly a matter of one's point of view.
"It would have been for the best if Britain stayed out of the war", for example; best for whom? Britain? Definitely; the war cost them a bloody fortune, and ultimately changed little to their benefit. Germany? Likely as well. France? Without the BEF and british loans for war supplies they'd probably have been beaten in '14/'15, so not really. The US? Definitely not; they could sit back and watch as many of the other great powers beat each other senseless, and made a bloody killing by selling war materials at the same time.

The same goes for other points. While the British undoubtedly played their part in making the bloodbath that was WW1 possible, so did the French, Germans, Russians, and others.

- Kelenas
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Old April 14th, 2011, 10:34 AM
Tyr Tyr is offline
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1) Eh? Weren't they a highly militarised country with a gigantic army and a large chunk of their men in the reserves?
2) Isn't this GCSE history? The ententes?
3) Nobody claims Germany was a direct threat to Britain. Germany however was a threat to the balance of power in Europe and long term that could threaten Britain.
4) No idea.
5) Very much doubt it as we see with the way Germany carved up Russia.
6) I doubt this, unless every other historian is wrong.
7) No idea.
8) Like how?
9) Doesn't everyone know that the Germans had a better army than the French? The British...well the best army in the world but it was a tiny fraction of the size of the German one.
10) Doesn't everyone know that the Germans generally had the better of things?
11) Can't really say either way here, too subjective, nobody was 100% for or against I bet, they were all conflicted with points for and against.
12) I know nought of that.
13) The truth lies halfway IMO. They were possible to pay but they would be damaging.

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Originally Posted by Caesar Australis View Post
The only especially troubling consequence that I can see is that British capacity to sustain it's empire would not have been crippled- colonialism might even have continued until present day.
Unlikely.
The rise of the labour party in Britain predates WW1 and would likely have happened just the same without it. Unless Fabian groups make a sudden take over (unlikely) labour is going to want what is best for the British people before anything else- and that involves cutting loose the empire. Additionally they didn't have the old school imperialist element the tories had so would be more willing to work with independance activists in the empire.
But a slower, better organised decolonisation would overall have been much better for the world.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 01:09 PM
Lord Douglas Lord Douglas is offline
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Originally Posted by I Blame Communism View Post
A lot of his claims are things which are very difficult to prove one way or the other (How willing is willing? What does 'better' mean?), but I regard some of them as a lot of nonsense, for instance the claim that Germany was "the most anti-militarist country in Europe". Militarism means different things, but at any rate Germany was more militaristic than Denmark.
I read The Pity of War, which, like most Fergusson books was eminently readable and very well argued even if the points themselves were contentious. I think his argument was that the German populace was far less militaristic than stereotypically portrayed due to pre-war voting patterns for the Reichstag. Which is perhaps fair enough but you could say much the same thing for Britain, where the population showed contempt for men in uniform before 1914.

With regards to the Labour Party I'm not sure that their rise was inevitable. The First World War ripped the heart out of the Liberal Party and it permitted Labour to cut loose its Lib-Lab ties - without the trauma of the war the party would probably have continued to evolve along 'New Liberal' lines and remained the main centre-left grouping in Parliament, although non-socialist of course.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 01:15 PM
Faeelin Faeelin is offline
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See, this is why I think Ferguson is an awful historian. You have to be incredibly naive and flat out disingenious to read German documents on "mitteleuropa" from the Great War period as envisioning the formation of an EU. A one way common market dominated by German industry for the benefit of Germany? Sure.
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Don't take this the wrong way, it's mean in a more neutral, observational manner, but you sort of have the general look of a young politician.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 02:09 PM
DValdron DValdron is online now
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A Europe under the thumb of German hegemony, even a relatively benign version, would have been unacceptable to Britain, which saw its interests best served by a European 'balance' of Great powers.

The war was incredibly destructive and destabilizing, and clearly Europe would have been better off if it had never fought it. Alternately, it would have been better off if the war had been short and sharp, as opposed to protracted and grueling, no matter who won.

Under the circumstances of a long protracted war which bled populations and economies white and destabilized states, the outcome was going to be a mess no matter how things turned out.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 02:10 PM
Mikestone8 Mikestone8 is offline
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And even if Ferguson is right as viewed from 2011 (which is possible but by no means self-evident) it is still just a classic case of "hindsight is always 20/20".

Britain, in 1914, was simply doing what she had been doing since Elizabeth I's day, namely throwing her weight in on the side of the "balance of power" so that any over-mighty state which looked like bringing all Europe under its sway should be cut down to size and made to reconcile itself to just being one power among several. In the event it didn't work out the way it had done on previous occasions, but it's not at all obvious how any government could have forseen that - or done much about it even if they had. Going to war meant the end of British power in the long run, but standing aside while Germany took over Europe would probably have meant the same thing in the short run.

Acquiescing in a German victory meant accepting that Britain was through as a great power, which may not sound such a big deal now that we've had half a century to get used to it, but was a very big deal indeed in 1914.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 02:20 PM
Faeelin Faeelin is offline
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Originally Posted by DValdron View Post
The war was incredibly destructive and destabilizing, and clearly Europe would have been better off if it had never fought it. Alternately, it would have been better off if the war had been short and sharp, as opposed to protracted and grueling, no matter who won.

Under the circumstances of a long protracted war which bled populations and economies white and destabilized states, the outcome was going to be a mess no matter how things turned out.
Really? I can think of German hegemony after a short victorious war only exacerbating German militarism. In the 1930s and 1940s, a far right Germany armed with nuclear devices goes to war with an industrialized Russia...
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Don't take this the wrong way, it's mean in a more neutral, observational manner, but you sort of have the general look of a young politician.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 02:38 PM
Kelenas Kelenas is offline
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Really? I can think of German hegemony after a short victorious war only exacerbating German militarism. In the 1930s and 1940s, a far right Germany armed with nuclear devices goes to war with an industrialized Russia...
Y'know, I never really understood why Germany was supposed to be so incredibly militaristic compared to the other nations. Was it's attitude in regards to its army all that much different from the attitude the British had in regards to their Royal Navy?

- Kelenas
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Old April 14th, 2011, 02:57 PM
Julius Vogel Julius Vogel is offline
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Y'know, I never really understood why Germany was supposed to be so incredibly militaristic compared to the other nations. Was it's attitude in regards to its army all that much different from the attitude the British had in regards to their Royal Navy?

- Kelenas

Well, off the top of my head I'd say it was a combination of the following:

1. The size of the peace time army and the size of the colours/reservists as compared to the neighbouring countries (the UK/France in this case, rather than say Russia, which was much bigger)

2. The fact that the state was subordinate to the Kaiser, rather than the other way around. So his position of Commander in Chief etc was more real than say the head of state for France or Britain/UK

3. The fact that Germany had late in the piece decided to develop a large, capable battle fleet in addition to the large, capable army (both sufficient to challenge Britain or France)

4. The various popular lobby leagues that developed in Germany to support the growth of the Navy and Army. I do understand that there were lobbies in Britain/France for both services, but I do not think that they were anywhere near as widespread as Germany (would need to check this)

5. The independent nature of the military services in Germany, compared to the UK/Britain. IIRC the services had a huge degree of control over doctrine, purchasing and budget that was independent of the civilian government and largely only answerable to the Kaiser. This is quite distinct from the UK, where despite the power of the RN, it was still clearly under the thumb of Westminster. In the German situation the military was almost a separate branch of the state, rather than say subsidiary to the civilian head of government.
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Old April 14th, 2011, 03:38 PM
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy is offline
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In particular, Ferguson accused the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey of maintaining an ambiguous attitude to the question of whether Britain would enter the war or not, and thus confusing Berlin over just what was the British attitude towards the question of intervention in the war.
Grey didn't know what the British response would be. The closest he could guarantee was that Britain would respond to a violation of Belgian neutrality. Something which the Germans refused to believe.

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Ferguson claims the British were driven into alliances with France and Russia as a form of appeasement due to the strength of those nations, and an Anglo-German alliance failed to materialize due to German weakness
So Britain had to please the country that it humiliated at Fashoda and the one which got its butt kicked by Japan and almost had its government overthrown?

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Ferguson claims that if Germany had been victorious, something like the European Union would have been created in 1914, and that it would have been for the best if Britain had chosen to opt out of war in 1914
It wouldn't have been like the EU, it would have been like the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

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Originally Posted by Caesar Australis View Post
Not to mention preventing the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the resultant instability and reactionary tendencies in the Middle East.
Could have been prevented had the Turks stayed out of the war. Besides, disaster need not follow their demise - had the Arabs not been screwed and the Jewish issue been handled better...

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The only especially troubling consequence that I can see is that British capacity to sustain it's empire would not have been crippled- colonialism might even have continued until present day.
British non-involvement in the world wars would have given them 2 or 3 extra decades at the most. Any more and they'd face a subcontinent-wide uprising they couldn't defeat. With India gone, it's only a matter of time before most of the rest of the Empire followed.

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Originally Posted by TyranicusMaximus View Post
While a longer (and probably surviving) Ottoman Empire and a Pax Germania would indeed be preferable to WW2, Fascism, and Communist Eastern Europe, by no means are the horrors of OTL in any way predetermined in 1918.

The run up to WW2 isn't inevitable, far from it.
Yes, thank you! It's exasperating to see all this determinism on an AH board. Get a French bullet through Hitler's skull and have Germany defeated fast enough to avoid a revolution in Russia.

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Originally Posted by Mikestone8 View Post
But was there ever much likelihood of a successful WR?

By the mid-1930s, in all of Continental Europe there were only two democracies left (Finland and Czechoslovakia) which hadn't already been democracies in 1914. Otherwise, all had become dictatorships of one stripe or another. Was there any particular reason for expecting Germany to buck this trend?

I don't say a successful WR is 100% impossible, buit I can't see any especial reason to expect one.
The choice was not between Weimar and the Nazis. The monarchists and the communists had a better chance to replace it throughout most of its history.

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Originally Posted by Tyr View Post
The rise of the labour party in Britain predates WW1 and would likely have happened just the same without it. Unless Fabian groups make a sudden take over (unlikely) labour is going to want what is best for the British people before anything else- and that involves cutting loose the empire. Additionally they didn't have the old school imperialist element the tories had so would be more willing to work with independance activists in the empire.
Labour first came to power in 1924. The Empire didn't end then, did it?
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Old April 14th, 2011, 04:07 PM
Adler17 Adler17 is offline
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I am just reading his book. I am not through. However in most points he may be very right. In the last point, where he may be right, too, the question was never IMO if Germany could pay the sum economically but politically. The burden of Versailles was the main cause for the fall of the WR and the rise of Hitler. Not ww1 was the main catastrophe of the 20th century but Versailles.

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Old April 14th, 2011, 04:16 PM
Grey Wolf Grey Wolf is offline
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Originally Posted by Adler17 View Post
I am just reading his book. I am not through. However in most points he may be very right. In the last point, where he may be right, too, the question was never IMO if Germany could pay the sum economically but politically. The burden of Versailles was the main cause for the fall of the WR and the rise of Hitler. Not ww1 was the main catastrophe of the 20th century but Versailles.

Adler
You may be thinking that because you are currently "in" his book. A bit later when you reflect on other evidence, you may temper the belief.

Just an observation on life - its like that a lot, even with political belief. If you sit through a speech by someone who gets you to believe in what they are saying, you might tweet in support of it. Later, after you get "out" of that atmosphere, you reflect and see the flaws

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Old April 14th, 2011, 04:22 PM
Faeelin Faeelin is offline
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Originally Posted by Adler17 View Post
I am just reading his book. I am not through. However in most points he may be very right. In the last point, where he may be right, too, the question was never IMO if Germany could pay the sum economically but politically. The burden of Versailles was the main cause for the fall of the WR and the rise of Hitler. Not ww1 was the main catastrophe of the 20th century but Versailles.

Adler

So in other words the Germans could have paid reparations but chose instead to finance a war machine to try conquering Europe once again?
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Don't take this the wrong way, it's mean in a more neutral, observational manner, but you sort of have the general look of a young politician.
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