Civil-Military Relations in Germany During the First World War

  • Martin Kitchen
Part of the Studies in Military and Strategic History book series (SMSH)


When the Austrian Chief of Staff, General Conrad von Hötzendorf, read the telegram that had been sent to him by his Prussian counterpart on 30 July 1914 which announced that Germany was prepared to mobilize in support of Austria, the Foreign Minister, Berchthold, asked the famous rhetorical question: ‘Who rules: Moltke or Bethmann?’1 In terms of the German constitution there was no doubt about the answer. It was not the Chief of the Prussian General Staff nor the Chancellor of the Reich who ruled, only the Kaiser. His powers were exceptional. He exercised ultimate control over the army, the bureaucracy and the conduct of foreign affairs.2 But in spite of Wilhelm II’s early ambition to establish his personal rule, and for all his later frustrated outbursts glorifying his role as Kaiser, his infringements of the constitutional limits to his power, and his exalted view of himself as Supreme Warlord armed with his unlimited extra-constitutional power of command (Kommandogewalt) he was essentially a dilettante, incapable of sustained effort and unwilling to use his executive powers to achieve a satisfactory balance between the various branches of government. By 1914 he had become a ‘shadow Kaiser’, a neurotic, weak and remote figure whose imperial powers were used by others who were able to obtain from him an ‘order of the All-Highest’.3


Diary Entry Military Commander Officer Corps General Staff Peace Negotiation 
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  1. 1.
    Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit 1906–1918, Vol. IV, Vienna 1921, p. 152.Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Wilhelm Deist, Militär und Innenpolitik im Weltkrieg 1914–1918, 2 vols, (Dusseldorf: 1970) is a brilliant study of the domestic policy of the army during the war and gives a trenchant analysis of the law on the state of seige pp. xxxi–li.Google Scholar

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© The Military Studies Institute of Texas A & M University 1990

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  • Martin Kitchen

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