Who was Kaiser Wilhelm II, and what role did he play during World War I?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ruling from 1888 to 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II was the last German emperor. Before becoming emperor, he had admired Otto Von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Germany. However, once Wilhelm ascended to the throne, he began to disagree with the chancellor's foreign policy and wanted to plot a more aggressive "New Course" in Germany's foreign affairs. Because of various disagreements with Wilhelm II, Bismarck was forced to resign in 1890. 

While Bismarck had maintained a delicate peace between Germany, France, and Russia, the kaiser's dismissal of Bismarck convinced the Russians to ally themselves with France, thereby isolating Germany. Wilhelm II made a number of other serious blunders in international diplomacy, alienating the British in the process (though Queen Victoria was his grandmother, and he was related to the British royal family).

In the years before World War I, he built up Germany's navy and befriended Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. When the archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II vowed to help Austria-Hungary crush the "Black Hand" organization that had killed Franz Ferdinand and gave them a so-called "blank cheque" to move against Serbia (who was thought to be behind the Black Hand). When Franz Joseph of Austria declared war against Serbia, Russia came to Serbia's defense. As Germany became involved in fighting the war against Russia and England, the country was increasingly led by German military leaders, and the Kaiser shifted to a shadow role. After the war, Woodrow Wilson did not include Wilhelm II in the peace negotiations, and Germany's military and government turned against the kaiser. Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate, and he died in exile in the Netherlands in 1941 during Hitler's reign in Germany. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kaiser Wilhelm II played a large role in causing World War I (WWI) to happen, but he had very little real role in the war once it began.

Kaiser Wilhelm was the monarch of Germany.  The title “Kaiser” comes from the Latin “Caesar.”  Wilhelm II was the emperor of Germany from 1888 until he was forced to abdicate in 1918.  Before the war, Wilhelm was very important, but after the war started he played a very limited role.

In the years after he came to power, Wilhelm pushed hard to make Germany more powerful.  He felt that the country deserved to have its rightful “place in the sun.”  His aggressive actions caused the British and the French to be very worried that Germany might be trying to take power in Europe at their expense.  For these reasons, they made alliances and prepared for war.  This made the war much more likely.

Once the war started, Wilhelm played a very limited role.  He tried to influence military policy, but the military essentially did not allow him to do so.  Germany came to be run by the military and Wilhelm was mainly a figurehead until he was forced out of power.

Thus, Wilhelm II did much to bring the war about, but did not have an important role in the war itself.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kaiser Wilhelm II was the King of Germany from 1888-1918.  He became the King of Germany after his father, Frederick III, died. Kaiser Wilhelm II was 29 years old when he took over for his father.

Kaiser Wilhelm II played a role in the start of World War I. Germany had been increasing its military strength during his reign. Germany wanted to get colonies, and one way to get them was through military action. He built up his army and navy. This frightened Great Britain and France. They also increased their military strength. Militarism was one cause of World War I.

Kaiser Wilhelm II also supported Austria-Hungary when Austria-Hungary was going to declare war on Serbia. Germany told Austria-Hungary that Germany would support them if anybody declared war on them. When Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany declared war on Russia. This led to a series of countries entering World War I.

Kaiser Wilhelm II had a role in the events leading to the start of World War I.