Byron Angel wrote:
What this distills down to for me is that the German General Staff was the most highly respected command and war-planning organization of the era
This is the fundamental point where we differ.
Respected - yes, it undoubtedly was,
But it got matters completely wrong. One feature of the German military, running from Prussia to Hitler, is that the German Army was brilliant at tactics and discipline for winning battles and mobile offensive/defensive actions. But when it came to strategy, particulary grand strategy, its general staff and military leaders were wholly wanting. In fact under Hitler there was no grand strategy; under the Kaiser it was arrogantly assumed that concepts of grand strategy were unnecessary because Germany was superior and would win anyway. It was automatically assumed that the Schlieffen Plan would cater for any military requirements arising out of a European political crisis.
Actually it was two civilians who got the grand strategy right. One was Bismarck, who after the Franco-Prussian War realised the French would want to fight another war, with the probability of being in alliance with Russia. His was the correct political solution to that threat: seek allies to counterbalance the threat, which could only mean court friendship with Britain. And to do that, don't offer a challenge at sea. Logically Germany and Britain should have been natural allies, and would have prevented a world war.
The other civilian to get matters right was Konrad Adenaur, who in his lifetime saw the folly of the arrogance of the German military leadership and sensibly cemented the Federal Republic of Germany into the NATO alliance.
..... I've read that criticism before and, with regard to the Hitler era at least, agree with the assessment - not so much as an indictment of the General Staff as an organization itself, but as a recognition that it was far from its own master in regard to matters of grand strategy. After 1933, German grand strategy and foreign policy was largely driven by Hitler's rashly aggressive ideological aims and was undeniably quite out of synch with Germany's true international position. In earlier days, when the Prussian/German General Staff held more sway with its nation's leadership, it served with great distinction - the Prusso-Danish War, the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, the nationalization of the separate armies of the German states into a unified German military service. All this having been said, it must yet be kept in mind that the General Staff was never the sole arbiter of either German foreign policy or grand strategy. It was responsible only for the activities of the mailed fist when and if called into action. The politicians and diplomats controlled the velvet gloved hand. It was the head of state decided which to wield.
One of the military perceptions of the European nations in August 1914 that probably influenced leadership decisions might have been that almost all post-Napoleonic military conflicts in Europe over the previous 100 years had been SHORT wars, normally counted in months rather than years. I suspect that, had the leadership been granted any foreknowledge of what lay in store between 1914 and 1918, there would have been a mad rush to the negotiating table.
Couldn't agree more re Bismarck - arguably the father of modern Germany. I consider him to have been a gigantically important historical figure who has really not received proper respect in the West.
I hold Konrad Adenauer in great esteem as well. He was not favored with so grand a stage as Bismarck and his range of options as a leader were highly constrained by the particular post-war position of Germany - a defeated and occupied nation squeezed between the West and the East. But, for his accomplishment in so dramatically recasting the political tenor of the German people in essentially a single generation and physically re-building Germany alone, he must be marked down as a great national leader.