Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

War IndexGlossaryEducational ResourcesAbout the Show
The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
Historians OverviewRobert K. Massie

Kaiser Wilhelm II - A Crippled Bombast
Robert K. Massie
"I think that the Kaiser's personality, the aggressive, bombastic, thrusting nature of his personality, had to do with the arm.

"He was compensating. You didn't laugh at a German emperor with a crippled arm who had the most powerful army in the world and who could remove you from the throne by snapping his fingers if he wanted to.

"Kaiser Wilhelm II was the eldest of Queen Victoria's grandchildren.

"His mother, Vicky, was the eldest of Victoria's daughters. She married Frederick and became the German Empress. After Wilhelm was born, she often went back to England in the summer, because she loved England. And she took her son – the future Kaiser --with her. He went to Osbourne, on the Isle of Wight. He saw the British navy and he saw his cousin, the future King George V. When Wilhelm went back to Britain, he was very proud to be the grandson of the great Queen Victoria, later the Queen Empress.

"He was always half an Englishman.

"And he would become two-thirds of a tweed-wearing Englishman when he was in England. Then he'd go back to Berlin and he'd become a Prussian prince dressing up in German uniforms – eventually a German emperor, with even more uniforms. He had this really split personality. But the interesting and most important thing for European diplomacy and the future of the continent – which was going to lead up to the First World War – was Wilhelm's admiration and envy of the British navy. He was from an almost landlocked country, which didn't have and didn't need a navy and yet he was taught to love the sea and ships.

"He began by yachting these great racing sailboats.

"He would race in England in the Isle of Wight. He then developed yachting at Kiel on the Baltic, and he had to win. He had to build boats that were faster than any other boat. He had to beat his opponent, particularly his uncle the Prince of Wales, who later became Edward the VII. And this evolved from sailboats, into war ships – and he didn't have any warships.

"So he tried very hard to get a navy minister who would give him a navy. The German Reichstag was not interested. They would rather spend money on more artillery because that's what Germany needed to confront France and Russia. But Wilhelm finally got Admiral von Torpitz to pass a navy bill that would program a high seas fleet.

"The fleet was not to be aimed at England, but was simply to earn German respect at sea.

"When the British, however, saw this fleet of very powerful battleships being built in German shipyards, they saw a threat to British naval supremacy. The British navy was essential to the existence of the British Island and the British Empire. So in response, Britain very gradually came into the continental alliance system on the side of France and Russia. Now the irony and precipitating factor here was the growth of the German navy. And the precipitating factor of the growth of the German navy was Wilhelm's envy of the British fleet – his desire to be respected by his British cousins – because the British didn't care about the German army. They could have 8,000 pieces of artillery instead of 800 and Britain didn't care, because you couldn't drag the artillery across the Channel. What the British cared about was the battle fleet."

 
Back to Top     

Home Prologue Explosion/Stalemate Total War/Slaughter Mutiny/Collapse Hatred & Hunger/War Without End

Timeline Maps & Battles Shaping of the 21st Century Historians War Index Resources About the Show
 
Copyright © 1996 - 2004 Community Television of Southern California. All rights reserved.