2 – He Was a Warmonger
Bismarck has forged a reputation for being a diplomatic genius but he certainly wasn’t afraid of sending Prussia to war. Wilhelm I became emperor in 1861 and within a year, he named Bismarck as his chief minister. The duo was to forge a great partnership as the Kaiser was content to sit back and allow Bismarck to have things his way; which is all the Iron Chancellor ever wanted.
Throughout his life, Bismarck tried to cultivate the image of belonging to the Prussian Junker class; wearing military outfits was one way of doing this. However, he only served in the army for a brief period of time before returning home and establishing a career as a diplomat. Yet for all the negotiating skills he showed later in his career, he began by initiating a series of wars to expand the Prussian Empire.
The three short wars he waged from 1864-1870 is where the term ‘blitzkrieg’ comes from. By 1871, Prussia had established the Second Reich which lasted until 1918. The Second Schleswig war between Prussia and Denmark began on February 1, 1864. It was part of Bismarck’s grand plan for German reunification. He knew Austria was the greatest obstacle so he engineered the conflict as a means of weakening Austrian power in Europe.
Bismarck formed an alliance with Russia after refusing to get involved in its fight with Poland. He promised to help France in its invasion of Belgium and struck a deal with Italy whereby the Italians would help Prussia if it was invaded by Austria in return for possession of Venezia. In 1863, the King of Denmark declared Schleswig and Holstein to be part of his country. Despite being rivals, Bismarck forged an uneasy alliance with Austria and defeated Denmark easily.
He then crafted the Treaty of Gastein with Austria; Prussia would take Schleswig while Austria would control Holstein. Bismarck knew it was an unworkable treaty as Austrians needed to travel through hostile Prussian territory just to reach Holstein. Austria appealed to the German Bund and it backed the Austrians in the dispute. Bismarck announced that the Bund was invalid and declared war on Austria in 1866.
The Austro-Prussian War, also known as the Seven Weeks’ War, began in June and ended in August 1866. It was an easy Prussian victory as the previous alliance with Italy came in handy. At the end of the war, Prussia kept all the territory it has captured, it set up a North German Confederation with a federal parliament (called a Diet), received compensation from Austria and received a guarantee that Austria would stay out of German affairs.
Bismarck wasn’t done with his warmongering just yet. France was the last major hurdle to German unification so the Iron Chancellor began the process of weakening his enemy before starting a war. He used diplomatic skill to keep Russia, Italy and Britain neutral and received his excuse for conflict when a relative of Wilhelm I was offered the vacant crown of Spain. The French demanded that the relative reject the offer, but Wilhelm refused on his behalf. Bismarck published The Ems Telegram to provoke the French who subsequently declared war on Prussia.
Once again, Prussia easily won the war and France lost its territory in Alsace-Lorraine. It also had to pay compensation of £200 million to Prussia. The French never forget this humiliation and it was one of the many factors surrounding the outbreak of WWI. Bismarck now had his Prussian empire and his fill of war; the next step was to keep it intact without the need for conflict.