The Family War Effort

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The Family War Effort


By: Thomas Theodor Heine

Date: 1915

Source: Corbis

About the Artist: Thomas Theodore Heine, who was trained as a painter and worked for illustrated papers such as Die Jugend, cofounded Simplicissimus, a magazine that published satirical commentary on German society and politics. Heine's artwork during World War I targeted the class that encouraged nationalism and militarism in Germany. He was an outspoken critic of the Nazi party and was forced to flee Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power.


To understand the complex factors that led to World War I, Germany's rise to power in the nineteenth century must be considered. At the close of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871, Prussia and the German kingdoms unified into a single nation under Kaiser Wilhelm I. The war was a humiliating defeat for France, which lost its Alsace and Lorraine territories to Germany.

By 1888, Germany had undergone a massive industrialization, and the kaiser had been succeeded by his son. Wilhelm II was decidedly militaristic and sought to increase Germany's armed forces, with a specific goal: to exceed Britain's navy. By 1890, Germany had become the strongest economic and military power in Europe; under the policy of weltpolitik, or world politics, it sought to exert global influence commensurate with its economic and military might.

To this end, Germany engaged in a series of alliances with surrounding nations. By 1910, its rapid economic development led to more wealth per capita than any other European state. But alliances proved unstable. In 1890, as Tsar Nicholas II assumed the Russian throne, Germany declined to renew the Reinsurance Treaty that had bound the two nations since 1887. Russia then entered into a treaty with France, Germany's foe, in 1892.

Europe began to divide itself with secret alliances. Germany allied with Austria-Hungary and Turkey to comprise the Central Powers. The Entente Powers consisted of France, Britain, and Russia. Clashes in European colonies began to affect the political situation in Europe. Fueled by these conflicts, between 1910 and 1914, German military expenditures rose by seventy-three percent and conscription increased the German military by 170,000 men.

On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. Within a month, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. As an ally of Serbia, Russia began to mobilize its army. This was seen as aggression toward Germany, which declared war on Russia in August. In the following days, Germany also declared war on France and Belgium, and Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. The Great War had begun.



See primary source image.


After defeating France in 1871, Germany had been united and a sense of pride swept the country. This nationalism grew stronger as Germany underwent its rapid industrialization and began to rival older, established countries' economies. But the alliance system began to isolate Germany diplomatically, leaving it with a feeling that it was encircled by its enemies.

In 1913, Crown Prince Wilhelm published the book, Germany in Arms, which lauded Germany's rise to power and cautioned the German people against getting too comfortable in their newfound prosperity. The crown prince asserted that those who truly loved Germany and believed in its future had to be ready to fight, arguing that war would benefit Germany.

After declaring war on Russia, France, and Belgium, Kaiser Wilhelm II addressed the German people in Berlin. In his speech, he declared that Germany's enemies sought to humiliate the nation and that its opponents were preparing to attack, forcing Germany to go to war. Reaction to the Kaiser's declaration of war was enthusiastic willingness to participate on the part of the average German citizen.


Web sites

BBC. "World Wars: World War I." January 3, 2002 〈〉 (accessed June 15, 2006).

First World "Primary Sources: Crown Prince Wilhelm on the Prospect of War, 1913." September 27, 2003 〈〉 (accessed June 15, 2006).

PBS. "The Great War: And the Shaping of the 20th Century." 〈〉 (accessed June 15, 2006).

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The Family War Effort

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