The Sixteen Causes of the War


“The purpose of this pamphlet is not to make an argument for war or to give an extended account of the reasons for our entrance, but to answer briefly and sharply the question as to what our direct charges against Germany are.”


While I was shuffling through the pamphlet box I was not on the lookout for anything in particular, however I was intrigued when I saw “The University of Chicago War Papers” and proceeded to flip through some of the pages.  I was interested to see what such a prestigious university had to say about the war, and I was not let down.  The author of the pamphlet was Professor and Head of the Department of History at the University of Chicago Andrew C. McLaughlin.  I found it very interesting to see that the Department of History at the University of Chicago supported the claims in the pamphlet made against Germany as it was a very one-sided opinion on the war.  The pamphlet was published in 1918 almost a year after the U.S. joined the war.  The topic of the pamphlet was the “Sixteen Causes of War,” pin pointing exactly sixteen reasons why the war began.  Dr. McLaughlin was able to narrow down the many influences of the start of WWI into precisely sixteen causes.  According to Professor McLaughlin, the only country that began the war was Germany.  This was a very strong claim to make considering there were numerous countries involved.  I found it shocking that this professor had exactly sixteen reasons as to why the war began, each argument structured around Germany’s involvement.  Not only does Professor McLaughlin say that Germany started the war, but it is “perfectly evident from the examination of the public documents” and is made “doubly certain by other evidences” that Germany began the war.

Although I do not necessarily agree with placing the blame solely on Germany for starting the war, McLaughlin gives numerous convincing arguments.  The second cause of the war was on account of ambition.  Germany had “deep-laid plans of world-domination,” a claim rather extreme to have been published by the University of Chicago.  Despite such an outrageous argument, although not completely false, McLaughlin did include footnotes supporting his evidence.  He mentions the idea of Weltpolitik which is the principle that world politics is based on the strongest power, explaining why Germany may have felt the need to start the war.  Germany invading Belgium did not help their case as being accused of starting the war.  The invasion of Belgium by Germany showed that they had no intention of respecting the rights of others in their path, treating treaties like “scraps of paper.”

Professor McLaughlin blatantly ignores events such as Archduke Franz Ferdinand being assassinated and only factors in Germany’s wrongdoings, which were mostly in response to what other countries had also been doing that was causing tensions.  The other causes of the war charged Germany with openly defying the world, filling our lands with spies, espionage, as well as blatantly ignoring international law.  Quickly opening up the pamphlet, one would not assume that these wildly accusatory claims would be present in a pamphlet published by such a well-renowned university, it interests me to see what the other pamphlets published by the university discuss.

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One Response to The Sixteen Causes of the War

  1. Eric Yellin says:

    Yes, I am ashamed to say that history professors can be just as swept up in fervor as other human beings, but I love that you were surprised by it anyway. In analyzing this piece it might make sense to draw out what is propaganda and what is fact, especially since McLaughlin (despite his training as a scholar) apparently merges the two seamlessly. It is true, of course, that Germany made the first significant military move and that its leaders were the most clear in seeing war as advantageous and necessary. But, as you note, these facts don’t lead simply to the “wildly accusatory claims,” as you put it. So it’s fascinating to consider how an “objective” scholar uses his own methods (footnotes and such) to make a case that abandons objectivity!

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