Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

Bethman Hollweg in 1914 Theobald Theodor Friedrich Alfred von Bethmann Hollweg (29 November 1856 – 1 January 1921) was a German politician who was Chancellor of the German Empire from 1909 to 1917. He oversaw the German entry into World War I and played a key role during its first three years. He was replaced as chancellor in July of 1917 due in large part to opposition to his moderate policies by leaders in the military.

Between 1884 and 1899 Bethmann Hollweg rose rapidly through positions in the Prussian government, becoming the provincial governor of Brandenburg in 1899, Prussian minister of the interior in 1905 and Reich secretary of the interior in 1907. He also served briefly as a member of the Reichstag in 1890, an experience that left him unsympathetic to the party system and an independent for the remainder of his political life. He sought a "diagonal course" between left and right, opposing democratic egalitarianism but also breaking precedent as a Reich state secretary by meeting with trade unions.

Emperor Wilhelm II appointed Bethmann Hollweg Reich Chancellor in 1909, in part because he approved of his conciliatory political style. His eight years as Chancellor showed him to be cautiously supportive of some liberalization, such as reform of Prussia's three-class franchise, but also a firm believer that a parliamentary monarchy was the best form of government for Germany. Bethmann Hollweg angered conservatives when he granted a constitution to Alsace–Lorraine in 1911 and then was censured by the Reichstag's liberal parties in 1913 because of his support for the military during the Zabern Affair that agitated Alsace–Lorraine. Because he felt himself inexperienced in foreign affairs, he gave free rein to his foreign secretary, notably during the Second Morocco Crisis. He sought but was unable to reach accommodation with Great Britain over the naval arms race between the two empires.

During World War I, Bethmann Hollweg supported many of Germany's harsher policies, believing that Germany was so threatened that it needed to take all necessary measures to survive. His support of many of the policies was nevertheless reluctant and given only under pressure or because he saw that the majority was against him.

Immediately after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the outbreak of the war, he hoped that it could be limited to the Balkans but assured Austria-Hungary of Germany's full backing and supported its aggressive demands against Serbia. He held back on German mobilization until after Russia's so that Germany would not appear to be the aggressor. Although he supported the invasion of Belgium as necessary given Germany's threatened position, he saw it from the first as an injustice that would need to be righted. He also backed the September Program that outlined German war aims, including territorial expansion that would have been primarily at the expense of Russia. Later in the war, however, he took a stance against annexations. In domestic politics, Bethmann Hollweg was the main force behind the ''Burgfriedenspolitik'' in the Reichstag, a political truce under which the parties agreed not to criticize the government and to approve war loans.

Bethmann Hollweg fought against the implementation of unrestricted submarine warfare but in the end bowed to pressure from the military and the conservatives in the Reichstag and approved its use. As the war progressed he initiated several peace proposals, none of which was considered acceptable by the Triple Entente. In early 1917 he spoke out in favor of a constitutional monarchy that would be a progressive, social "people's empire" and again pushed for electoral reform in Prussia. His words alienated many conservatives and supplied Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff with an opening to oust Bethmann Hollweg. Many who had hitherto supported him in parliament also felt that he had been in his position too long to be able to negotiate an acceptable peace. When both Ludendorff and Chief of the General Staff Paul von Hindenburg threatened to resign, Bethmann Hollweg submitted his own resignation to the Emperor.

In his ''Reflections on the World War'' that remained unfinished when he died in 1921, Bethmann Hollweg stressed Germany's difficult geographical position, admitted that the government and the Emperor had made mistakes leading up to the war and that Germany bore some of the guilt for it but that only a "common guilt" could have led to such a great catastrophe. Provided by Wikipedia
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