Why World War One?

The long Failure of Western Arms.

The Zabern Affair


German Opposition to Militarism months before the War.


This opposition comes out clearly in the Zabern affair. Zabern, or Saverne, was a town in Alsace Lorraine with strong Social Democrat and French sympathies. In response to some local military bullying the townspeople protested, and there were two courts martial on soldiers who had behaved badly. Then a Lieutenant von Forstner, a nasty piece of work, had an altercation with a lame shoemaker and cut him down with his sword. It created an outburst of abhorrance throughout Germany and he was court martialled, but then acquitted for supposedly acting in “self defence.” It was an obvious whitewash and there was a further national uproar and a debate in the Reichstag on 4-6th December, 1913 against the Chancellor, with heavy criticism of Emperor Wilhelm as well. A vote of censure was passed by an overwhelming majority of 293 to 54, and an attempt was made to vote down the Chancellor’s salary and thus put him out of office, but it was defeated. To have a vote like this against the military faction and the Kaiser in 1913 just before the outbreak of the Great War shows how strong the democratic opposition to militarism was. It showed the Kaiser and the military party what a rough ride they were likely to face in future normal democratic politics. A war and its appeal to patriotism was much easier. When the arms manufacturers and the military are under attack, then they are at their most dangerous.