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The Great War
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Kaiser Wilhelm - A Mystery
Jay Winter
"The Kaiser is a mystery.

"It is dangerous to treat him as a buffoon, and yet so much of his behavior has elements of clownishness about it. He was a man who was hypersensitive, extremely mercurial in temperament, and who took it upon himself to make judgments about very serious political issues, in hysterical terms.

"If you read the Kaiser's correspondence you think you're dealing with someone who is mentally disturbed some of the time (maybe more than some of the time). But there's more to him than that. What he was able to do was to establish a figurehead position within German society in a way to allow the conservative forces to withstand the pressure from below, which was building up over thirty years.

"His prestige and his authority was substantial.

"How he could manage this system, where he had ultimate authority but very little power, is very difficult to see. In fact, it's probably the case that too much attention has been given to the Kaiser as an architect of the demise and the disaster of 1914.

"He was a symbol of a political system that was out of control. There was no one authority that actually could operate, even though the law said that he was it. So, when the time came for major decisions to make, you both have a vision that the Kaiser's hysterical, and that he makes the decisions.

"The answer is probably both, and neither, because the real core of the German Empire is the army and the navy. They run the show before the First World War behind the scenes. They run it during the war from the Front."

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