Kaiser Wilhelm II

Author: Christopher M. Clark


Kaiser Wilhelm II was a devout Christian with some liberal leanings and some of the racist, social-Darwinism and anti-Semitism of his day. But in Christopher Clark's little book of 260 pages (and 5 by 8 inches) he does not get into much detail about Wilhelm's personal life or core beliefs. This book, clearly written, focuses on Wilhelm's performance as Germany's head of state.

One question Clark asks is "what extent can Wilhelm be held responsible for Germany's drift into deepening isolation" before 1914. He writes of Wilhelm's intentions always being equivocal. Clark describes Wilhelm as not much interested in the crucial events of 1911 but persuaded to accept government policy.

Wilhelm was a man of common intelligence who was the father of his nation simply by accident of birth, and common intelligence, as I see it, was not enough to keep Europe from war. Wilhelm's responsibility for the war was combined with the monarchs Nicholas II of Russia and Franz Joseph of Austria, who also held power by accident of birth. Each of these three monarchs had the power to override the trends the contributed to the Great War -- World War I. They were not puppets of historical forces. They had wills and the political power. But none of them had brains enough to rise above trends and exercise the judgment necessary to do what was best for their kingdoms. If just one of them had, there would not have been an outbreak of war in 1914.

Clark addresses the question of Wilhelm's contribution to the outbreak of World War I. He writes of Wilhelm being "reluctant to entangle Germany in a continental war" but making "some of the decisions that helped to bring it about." Clark mentions that one can gather together sound bites from Wilhelm that together make Wilhelm intent on war – a failure to take in the whole picture.

Clark describes Wilhelm as largely dependent on his generals to run the war and as being something less than the monster made of him by the Allied press. And Clark describes Wilhelm's years in exile, his attitudes toward Hitler, whom he tended to dislike, and toward Germany's victories in 1940, which he enjoyed -- a year before his death.