We now have at least the third "Did Germany cause WWI"? question that I know of.

  1. Why was Germany held accountable for WW1?
  2. Was Germany responsible for WW1?
  3. Is Germany to blame for WW1?

Its pretty clear that this is a question new users are just aching to ask. However, it tends to be closed as "subjective", I believe on the grounds that absolute blame is such a squishy issue.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, but assuming that's the community's stance, I'd like to do something to (perhaps) prevent this from getting reasked so often. I think the fact that new users come here looking for that answer, and there is no open question on it, encourages it to get re-asked.

This (first) version of the question was very well-received, before it was closed. 9 votes for the question, 4 answers. Accepted answer with 17 votes. Its a rare question on this stack that does so well, frankly.

What I'd like to propose is that I lock that version of the question with the "historical significance" tag. That would prevent modification of it or new answers, and put the following note on it:

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

Then if (when) this particular question gets asked again, we can close the new version as a dup, which both points people to the proper answered form of the question, and informs them not to ask questions like this.

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    Just curious -- this similar question that I asked some time ago was on-topic, right? Right? – taninamdar Dec 8 '15 at 4:18
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    @taninamdar That was an excellent question. – Semaphore Dec 8 '15 at 7:29
  • @taninamdar - And not quite a dup of the ones I'm talking about (although very related). – T.E.D. Dec 8 '15 at 15:53

it's possible to ask a good objective question on this subject, by examining the historiography rather than inviting users to provide their personal opinions. Unfortunately I don't think we have seen that done so far.

This is, I believe, a common problem with complex issues on this site. Many people seem to approach multifaceted controversies expecting there to be one correct answer. They look for black and white when reality contains numerous nuances and interpretations.

To be clear, I do not fault anyone for this. Popular conceptions of history heavily buys into a singular narrative (and usually nationalistic or ideologically motivated one). This is more readily apparent in pre-tertiary education, which no doubt shaped most people's view of history, but is also present in many popular history works. And fundamentally, I think the human simply appreciates a single clear answer better than "its complicated".

However, I do believe that this site should go above and beyond popular junk history and distill academic history into an accessible, useful, format for the average Q&A seeker. To that end, I propose that next time we see this question, and questions of a similar nature, experienced users should:

  1. Proactively edit the question to ask about historiography rather than invite opinions.
  2. Actively downvote and discourage answers that make no attempt to address and reference the broader historiography, i.e. the different theories provided by other historians.
  3. Provide good answers that at least outline the various academic views on the subject.

For example, "Is Germany to blame for WW1?" is a poor question inviting personal opinions. "How do historians explain the outbreak of WW1, and how has academic views evolved over time? Have any consensus been reached?" Sets the stage for a more academically rigorous answer.

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    Good points all. But in the meantime 1) what of my proposal to reopen but lock the old question? 2) Do you further think it would possible to carry out your suggestion 1 (edit the question) on that old question that already got a lot of votes. I wouldn't want it done if it changes it so much that the existing accepted answer becomes inapplicable, but I'd think that would be doable. In the meantime, I could of course open it with the "historical" lock. – T.E.D. Dec 8 '15 at 15:51
  • ...although if a person is hearing Germany essentially blamed for WWI, and comes here wanting to know why or if that's the mainstream consensus, I'm not sure it helps them much to befuddle the question with a lot of weaseling around that issue. Among other things, they are much less likely to find the bowdlerized version on a search. – T.E.D. Dec 8 '15 at 15:54
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    @T.E.D. I wouldn't edit the old question; it would be a drastic change that invalidates the existing answers. I suggest starting with a clean slate by applying these edits to the next question that asks about WW1 responsibility. A historical significance lock on the old question is a good idea in the meantime. As for search, I don't think that's an issue. The title doesn't need to be that convoluted; it is the body of the question that needs to be worded carefully to be asking about historiography. – Semaphore Dec 8 '15 at 16:01
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    I'm very much in favor (even in general) of making titles more pithy and searchable than the question body. The only problem is that a large % of people don't read past the title before answering, but that's not something we can solve here. :-( – T.E.D. Dec 8 '15 at 16:06
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    Also, I don't think it is "weaselling around the issue" to have an answer that explains the fact that different schools of thoughts exist. Life is complicated, it's not always possible to dumb answers down; it is not a reason to resort to partial answers. Re 2nd comment: true, which is why it is important for the community to actively enforce the standards. – Semaphore Dec 8 '15 at 16:07

I personally think it's a reasonable question, if properly worded. Arguably, WWII was an (in)direct result of the conditions imposed on Germany as the "aggressor" in '14 -' 18, so the consequences were far-reaching. I'm not suggesting there is a "one size fits all" answer, just that it is a valid question. I think @T.E.D's suggestion an excellent solution.


All these questions are difficult and controversial. Perhaps the new ones are asked exactly because the first, original one, is closed. So it makes no sense now to label the new questions as "duplicate". One way out of it it to keep one of these questions open, and to close the rest (existing and future ones) as duplicates. But of course the community may decide that we just do not want to discuss this particular question.

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    This is about 80% of my point. I'm just taking the extra leap that we could "unclose" one of them, and thus get rid of that issue. If its still not a proper question for this stack, but clearly was OK for years (lots of upvotes), that's what that "historical" marker is for. – T.E.D. Dec 8 '15 at 15:45

We can try another approach by asking to what extent each country acted against its own long term interests by pariticipating this war?

I would say that Germany is a standout in this respect: (a) the world's leader in both industry, science and technology started previous century war to gain more colonies, just 40 years after that colonial system crumbled down, (b) as historical experience shows us Germany was not overpopulated either: after losing very substantial territories in two world wars + accepting 13 mln of German refugees from Eastern Europe, it was so short on manpower that it had to attract millions of foreign workers.

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    I'm not sure how this addresses the issue raised in the question. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 17 '15 at 9:28
  • @Mark C. For example, we can hardly blame a war on a party that it has to just defend themselves, we can put more blame on a party that refused to seek peaceful resolution when it was possible, even more blame goes to a party that tried to gain something useful by the mean of war, but the ultimate blame is on the parties that acted against its own interests. – zzz777 Dec 17 '15 at 13:34
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    but the question isn't "who is to blame for the war" - the question on meta is "Should we employ (a specific approach) in response to recurrent questions?" - your answer is an interesting thought experiment that may belong on one of the questions on H:SE, but it is not responsive to the question posed by T.E.D above. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 17 '15 at 13:52

I think your proposal sounds like a good solution.

The WWI blame questions are obviously subjective and unanswerable, so as you say, it is a bad question type that violates the principles of the site.

Obviously the majority of users of the site think it is OK to ask and answer subjective questions like this on a selective basis, having no appreciation for the problems it causes to have vague question criteria. They think, oh, it is OK to ask this "interesting" subjective question (often anything involving propaganda areas like Nazis, the KKK, slavery, colonialism etc), whereas "uninteresting" subjective questions get closed.

I don't really see how to solve this larger problem of having lots of members who want to entertain "discussion" style questions.

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