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IV. Seeking an End to the War
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Overview: Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914   |   I. Economic Development   |   II. Society and Culture   |   III. "Modern Life": Diagnoses, Prescriptions, Alternatives   |   IV. State and Society   |   V. Politics   |   VI. Germany in International Affairs   |   Germany at War, 1914-1918   |   I. Battle   |   II. Mobilization of the Home Front   |   III. Privation and Ferment on the Home Front   |   IV. Seeking an End to the War

Why was Germany fighting? And what kind of peace would justify the sacrifices that Germans had invested in the war? These questions were divisive almost from the beginning, as the initial exuberance over a war in defense of the nation began to wear off. By the end of 1914, when German troops were everywhere on the soil of other countries, a number of important groups, which included many of the country's industrial leaders, had sketched out visions of massive German annexations in Europe – the country’s reward for its military success (Doc. 2). In this thinking, these leaders had the support of the German government itself, although other, more moderate groups called instead for a compromise settlement, usually on the basis of a return to the status quo of 1914 (Doc. 1, 3). As the military stalemate dragged on, the prospect of a negotiated peace with at least part of the enemy coalition became increasingly attractive, particularly in the Reichstag, among the parties that represented the social groups that bore the heaviest burdens of the war (Docs. 5, 6). In 1917 these parties commanded a parliamentary majority, which defied the army's high command with the so-called "Peace Resolution" in favor of a settlement without annexations or indemnities (Doc. 7). Because such a peace would require the renunciation of large-scale territorial gains abroad (as well, evidently, as constitutional concessions at home), both the military and civilian defenders of the old order resisted it until October 1918, when the army itself concluded that Germany must seek peace through the president of the United States (Docs. 4, 8, 9).

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