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Abstract

This paper focuses on the political and military decisions of the German High Command during the First World War. After first examining the unresolved historiographic discourse over Germany’s fifth Imperial Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, it explores the backgrounds of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg, General Erich von Falkenhayn, and General Erich Ludendorff, and studies the argument within the High Command over whether Germany should focus her war efforts on the western or eastern fronts. Two central theses are argued: (1) Germany had numerous opportunities to end the war diplomatically with favorable terms once it was clear they would not be able to win militarily, but these were all thwarted due to the inability of the war leaders to cooperate and agree in any capacity. (2) Falkenhayn, Ludendorff and Bethmann-Hollweg all vied for the support of the Kaiser in key military and political decisions, but by 1917 the Kaiser was largely supplanted by Ludendorff because the Kaiser failed in his constitutional role as Supreme Warlord and mediator between civilian and military branches.

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