Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War
Looking back on the events of October 1911, Otto Hamman, Press Secretary at the Auswartiges Amt at the time, recalled: 'Just as we didn't seek the war, we didn't fear it either.'
At the height of the crisis, Moltke's mood was pronouncedly bellicose. Milan Ulmansky, of the Austrian General Staff, recalled a conversation with him on 7 August, shortly after the German Chief of Staff had returned from the annual North Sea cruise with the Kaiser. Moltke gave his complete support to Kiderlen-Wachter and considered the current Moroccan Crisis the most favourable time for a 'reckoning with England'. Moltke expressed his discontent over the renewed diplomatic wranglings in a letter to his wife on 19 August 1911:
The wretched Morocco story is beginning to get on my nerves. It is certainly a sign of laudable stamina to be eternally sitting on coals, but it is not pleasant. If we once again emerge from this affair with our tail between our legs, if we cannot bring ourselves to make energetic demands which we would be ready to force through with the sword, then I despair of the future of the German Reich. In that case I will leave. But before that I will make a request to get rid of the army, and to have us placed under a Japanese protectorate; then we can make money without being disturbed and we can turn completely simple-minded.These were Moltke's feelings in the light of disturbing news from Detlev von Winterfeldt, the German military attache in Paris. He was convinced 'that a fight with the French army could not be conducted without severe sacrifices, but that it could nonetheless be embarked on with a cheery prospect of success (mitfreudiger Aussicht auf Erfolg)' On 19 August he advised that the French Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of War were preparing for the possibility of war against Germany. On 24 August, Winterfeldt confirmed suspicions that the French army manoeuvres had been cancelled, which caused concern in Germany, particularly when it transpired that the British manoeuvres had also been called off. By 7 September, Moltke believed that while it was uncertain whether France was actually ready for war, the British army and navy certainly were not. Nonetheless, he did expect Britain to get involved in support of France.
Moltke's concern during the Agadir Crisis also extended to the military repercussions of French predominance in Africa, for the General Staff feared the potential danger that the French might build up their army by recruiting Moroccan soldiers. From Moltke's point of view, this was a much more serious threat to Germany than the economic consequences French predominance might have.
Some historians have been tempted to dismiss Moltke's aggressive 'tail between the legs' statement, implying that he was 'all talk' and did not actually mean what he said. L. C. F. Turner, for example, maintains that 'like many weak men, he frequently indulged in extravagant and bellicose talk', and that 'too much importance should not be attached to such outbursts' because Germany's dangerous mood at the time was, according to Turner, due less to 'a craving for Weltpolitik' than to 'injured pride and uneasy feeling'. However, the evidence of Moltke's desire for war suggests quite the opposite. His 'extravagant and bellicose talk' was aimed at achieving war before too long, and 'injured pride and uneasy feeling' do not exclude a desire for Weltpolitik. What was at work in Germany was a dangerous combination of the two sentiments, which were in no way mutually exclusive.
When the crisis was resolved peacefully, and in effect resulted in a diplomatic defeat for Germany, her military leaders saw their suspicions confirmed that in future only a war would hold any guarantee of changing the status quo in Germany's favour. They also became more convinced that their Weltbild, a Germany encircled by hostile powers, was indeed based on reality The consequences of the crisis were detrimental, both internationally and within Germany. 'From Agadir to Armageddon' suggests a causality of events that can indeed be demonstrated. Arguably the most significant result was that Germany had clearly identified herself as an aggressor and troublemaker. The list of direct and indirect results was, however, seemingly endless.
In the light of the fact that both Britain and Germany were being compensated for the French gains in Morocco, Italy, too, claimed recompense. She opted for Libya, and the Italian attack on Tripoli has to be seen as a 'direct sequel to the French march on Fez'. Turkey, weakened by the conflict, became an easy target for the Serbian-led Balkan League. Indirectly, the Moroccan affair thus led to the Balkan Wars of 1912/1913. Italy moved further away from the Alliance, and became a more unreliable partner for Germany and Austria. The strengthened Serbia and Montenegro posed a threat to Austria, who would in future have to deploy a sizeable number of troops against them, troops which would be lacking on the Russian front. In France, Germany's aggressive and provocative behaviour led to a revival of the revanche idea. If the mood in France had already been hostile towards Germany before Agadir, it was now distinctly anti-German. The annexed provinces on the Franco-German border became a focal point once again. As La France Militaire put it in November 1911: 'Beside the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, no colony, be it Tongking, Madagascar or Morocco, is worth anything. "Alsace", "Lorraine", these two words cry out what the policy of France ought to be."'
While Britain was now more wary of Germany, the latter, in turn, developed a hostile, anti-British mood. Following Lloyd George's Mansion House speech on 21 July 1911, when the British Chancellor of the Exchequer warned Germany against any acts of aggression towards France, Britain became an antagonist in the eyes of the German public. Ludendorff commented after the war on the effects of Lloyd George's speech: 'all doubts regarding the military agreement between France and England against Germany also disappeared. But Russia was not yet completely ready for war! Germany retreated once again.'
A long-term consequence of German provocation was the Anglo-French naval agreement, discussed during 1912 and signed in February 1913. The Entente emerged strengthened in its resolve to oppose Germany, who by now had shown herself clearly as an aggressor. As Kiderlen told Bethmann Hollweg in July 1911: 'Our reputation abroad has deteriorated (ist heruntergewirtschaftet), we must fight', an astonishing statement by the man who was responsible—almost single-handedly—for the disastrous Moroccan policy in the first place.