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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Kaiser Wilhelm


PhilB

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I was sure this topic would have been discussed previously, but apparently not. Was there a war crimes case to be made against the Kaiser? Did his kinship with George V get him off? Was it reasonable that he should be treated like Jefferson Davis had been? What exactly was he culpable for? Phil B

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In my opinion, all he was guilty of was having a fairly large chip. ie He possibly thought how unfairly life had treated him and his countrymen. I'm sure he regarded himself as the rightful king, being the son of Victoria's eldest child. He was certainly jealous of the Royal Navy and Britain's huge empire. I guess his disability didn't help either. I can certainly see where he was coming from.

BTW, what actually did happen to him after the war?

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Not a War Criminal as the Hitlerites of the next war. He went into exile in Holland and lived quietly there.

Aye

Malcolm

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Encyclopaedia Britannica:- "There was a demand that he should be handed over to the victorious Allies for trial as a war criminal but the Netherlands Government refused to extradite him." Phil B

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Difficut to say as one must consider the legalities of the day. But to my mind and certainly by Nuremburgs and todays standards Wilhelm as head of state and certainly the German High Command were guilty of starting and waging aggressive war not as an act of defence but of aggression. One should also always remember that it was really Austo Hungary that started the whole mess withis determination to crush Serbia and they also should be in the frame.

There was quite a strong current of feeling to try the Kaiser, "Hang the Kaiser" being a popular call but there was no chance of Holland voluntarily repatriating him and he sure as heck wasnt going back by himself. In a BBC2 documentary of him afew years ago there was film of him, a neat white haired old man playing with his grandchildren and sawing wood with his one good arm, also speaking excellent English with a slight as one would expect, but not over strong, German accent. Strange to think he was Queen Victoris favourite grandson and probably revered his Grandmother more than any other relative. May explain the contradictions of that fascinating but waek man.

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or even weak man!! Typo!!

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Slightly off topic but if you want to see the Kaisers steam bath go to Barton Manor next door to Osbourne House Isle of Wight. Osbourne wasnt big enough for many visitors and the kaiser was often billeted there with retinue when he came to visit especially at Cowes week. He apparently liked a good hot bath and had installed a special pressurised boiler attatchment to the bath that heated water up to boiling like a steam engine until it hissed shuddered and spouted steam from every joint. Apparently evryone else was terrified of this contraption except Wilhelm who loved it and used it every visit. The Kaisers bath is still there!!

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No, I don't think William II was a war criminal. He had many faults, which may have led Germany to War, but the background thinking to German policy was clearly dictated by the military commanders. He was merely taking the advice of those who were specialists when he embarked on the course that was to lead to the Great War( I mean do you think Tony Blair wouldn't talk about Military Intelligence sources, advice from Generals, the threat from the enemy to the country and such like if he was to face such charges re Iraq). In a sense they are at the mercy of specialists, and weak or vain, or contemptous men will always be able to be manoevered due to this.

I don't think William was a strong enough character to say NO to his Generals and Admirals- is that a crime ? Not in this case I think. Regretably I think the Great War was very much a product of it's time and would have happened at some point, early 20th Century.

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Was Wilhelm more of a criminal than Franz Josef or Schlieffen? The only difference is he survived the war. Andy

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The Great War was terminated by an Armistice which made it very difficult to apprehend and charge those accused of war crimes.I do not suppose the Germans would have given up the Kaiser as a war criminal if this had been included in Wilson's "Points"

For this reason, I feel and to snuff forever any re-emergence of Prussian militarism, the Allied Powers declared as early as 1943 that they would only accept the Unconditional Surrender of Hitler's Germany.

Regards

Frank East

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As Malcolm says, he certainly wasn't a war criminal in the modern sense of the expression. However, he undoubtedly played a prominent role in taking Europe to the edge of the abyss.

Regards,

AGWR

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As Malcolm says, he certainly wasn't a war criminal in the modern sense of the expression. However, he undoubtedly played a prominent role in taking Europe to the edge of the abyss.

Regards,

AGWR

I don`t know how modern you mean, but presumably the buck always stopped with him, in theory if not in practice? Phil B

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Still feel quite certain Wilhelm was a war criminal. The causes of the Great War are many and complex and the subject of books and theses rather than a few comments here. But he was the autocratic head of a state that committed aggressive war, in the name of him, his dynasty his country and his people.

Absolutely agree that he was a vain weak and foolish man, but remember he was the one who sacked Bismark to ensure he held more personal power. I admit his situation is very analogous to that of Emperor Hirohito of Japan after WW2. There it was more expedient to keep him in power as a focus for the reconstruction of a demilitarised Japanese society. Perhaps the great failure of Versailles and the Peace after 1918 was not that it failed to indite or Hang The Kaiser and others, Ludendorff and Hindenburg spring to mind, but that it failed to reconstruct Germany being more interested in limiting its future power and squeezing masive reparations out of it. The outcome of such abandonment was inevitable and duly arrived in the form of Corporal Schickelgruber.

The Kaiser by the way had no particular truck with the Nazis and choose to stay and die at his Dutch home even when Holland was overrun and became part of the Greater Eurpean German Empire.

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Would things have been different if the Big Three Heads of State for Europe in1914 had

different occupations?

George of England-an Admiral in the Royal Navy and head of Navy Cadet training

Nicholas of Russia--a private estate landowner in Russia

Wilhelm of Germany-a duke in Bavaria

I don't count the Austrian empire as among the above-however I do feel for AUstria

to have incorated the Balkins was a big mistake-should have had a double empire composed of Austria & HUngary only without any Balkin states at all. :):blink::P

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I think the idea of War criminal has changed over the decades, simply because of the Nazi atrocities ... To blame him on starting the war is equally slippery ... He lost and the Allies and Associated powers won ... and although it bothers our modern democratic senses that the top men should get off free ... it's the way it is ...

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However, that appears not to have been the contemporary attitude:-

A Special Commission was appointed by the Peace Conference to determine the responsibility of the kaiser and other German military and civil authorities for the crimes committed by the Germans in the territory they occupied. A report was handed in by Liautard, Dean of the Faculty of Law, and De la Pradelle, Professor of International Law of the University of Paris, which concludes that the kaiser is answerable both in penal and civil law for these crimes. These crimes are catalogued as follows:

1. Massacre of civilians.

2. Killing of hostages.

3. Torture of civilians.

4. Starvation of civilians.

5. Rape.

6. Abduction of girls and women for purposes of enforced prostitution.

7. Deportation of civilians.

8. Internment of civilians under brutal conditions.

9. Forced labor of civilians in connection with military operations of the enemy.

10. Usurpation of sovereignty under military occupation.

11. Compulsory enlistment among inhabitants of occupied territory.

12. Pillage.

13. Confiscation of property.

14. Exaction of illegitimate or of exorbitant contributions and requisitions.

15. Debasement of currency and issue of spurious currency.

16. Imposition of collective penalties.

17. Wanton devastation and destruction of property.

18. Bombardment of undefended places.

19. Wanton destruction of religious, charitable, educational, and historical buildings and monuments.

20. Destruction of merchant ships and passenger vessels without examination and without warning.

21. Destruction of fishing-boats and of a relief-ship.

22. Bombardment of hospitals.

23. Attack on and destruction of hospital-ships.

24. Breach of other rules relating to the Red Cross.

25. Use of deleterious and asphyxiating gases.

26. Use of explosive and expanding bullets.

27. Orders to give no quarter.

28. Ill-treatment of prisoners of war.

29. Misuses of flags of truce.

30. Poisoning of wells.

A list has also been issued of specific crimes that can be proved against different German generals and officers in Belgium, Northern France, Poland, etc. The feeling of the Conference was unquestionably in favor of making the guilty suffer, not only for the sake of just retribution but because of its effect on the mind of unrepentant Germany and the rest of the world. ---(Adapted from Literary Digest, April 26, 1919.)

Frothingham, Handbook of War Facts and Peace Problems, Chapter VIII at http://www.ukans.edu/~libsite/wwi-www/WarFacts/wfacts4b.ht.

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m13 great post and well researched. Ithink this is one of the reasons why 14-18 is such an interesting period it is the change from the old 19th century way into 20th century thinking. Spike was right at that time the Great War was probably going to happen whetevr because it was a time of major social and economic change. And whenevr change is resisted it enevitably leads to major conflict. It started almost with a Napoloeonic attitude certainly with no concept of war being a legal crime, but by the end the concept of it being an illegal act has come into play that would lead onto the trials at Nuremburg and modern thinking. That is why there has been such a long wrangle over the "legality" of the Iraq war.

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I was sure this topic would have been discussed previously, but apparently not. Was there a war crimes case to be made against the Kaiser? Did his kinship with George V get him off? Was it reasonable that he should be treated like Jefferson Davis had been? What exactly was he culpable for? Phil B

Would I be correct in thinking that to qualify as a war criminal, you have to be on the losing side?

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Would I be correct in thinking that to qualify as a war criminal, you have to be on the losing side?

It would appear to be the only criteria that applies to all. You can "draw" a war and be a war criminal at large(or accused by some), but when you lose one you are then a captured war criminal ( see Saddam(sp?) of Iraq).

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Phil B.

Great post! I wonder how many of those charges might have 'stuck' if they had been brought against the Allies?

Regards,

AGWR

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