The History Place - World War I

Kaiser Wilhelm II, ruler of Imperial Germany beginning in 1888. Oldest grandson of England's Queen Victoria, the Kaiser was a cousin to both King George V of England and Czar Nicholas II of Russia. As Germany's leader, Kaiser Wilhelm was obsessed with maintaining his popularity, and was therefore somewhat erratic in his decision making--torn between the advice of his ministers, his desire to be popular, and his fear of appearing weak-willed. "I alone decide," he once boasted in the manner of an autocrat, but at the same time he was susceptible to manipulation by his advisors. Below: The Kaiser reviews his troops as Commander-in-Chief of the German Army. A close look at the Kaiser reveals the withered left arm he was born with. The Kaiser overcame the psychological impact of this obvious physical infirmity by embracing all things military, and always wore a military uniform. He envisioned a Germany that would someday possess an empire to rival Great Britain--an outlook that spurred an intensive arms race between Germany and Britain in the early 1900's--and then led to war in 1914 when the Kaiser gave his unconditional backing to Austria following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, mainly as a means of preserving Germany's rising status and his own prestige.

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