"A masterplanner who pursued the goal of a united Germany."

"An opportunist who simply utilised circumstances to create a united Germany."

Which of these assessments of Bismarck do you find the more convincing ? Give reasons for your choice. ( Textbook P.94 , Q.3 )

Undoubtedly, Bismarck contributed to a great extent in the unification of Germany, however, his amazing diplomatic skill wasn't in having perfect planning to achieve the aim of unifying Germen states. Instead, Bismarck was skilful in utilising favourite circumstances to create a united Germany. A.J.P. Taylor commented that  "Bismarck's greatness lay not in mastering events, but in going with events so as to seem to master them. He had no rigidly defined programme when he became Prime Minister in 1862."

Since 1848, there were several favourable international situations facilitated Bismarck in completing unification. The decline of Austria after Metternich resigned in 1848 helped a lot as Austria was an obstacle to unification. Unification originated from nationalism, Austria used to suppress this because itself was a multi-racial country, if nationalism prevailed, it would be disintegrated. Also, Austria and Prussia were rivals in being the leader of the Germen states. Taking advantages in the weakening of Austria after the Crimean War and the Italian Unification, Bismarck intensified the unification of Germany under Prussian will.

In making friendship with other powers, Bismarck well-utilised the international situations to kill two birds with one stone : developed good relationship with powers so that they would assist Prussia in time as well as helped Bismarck in isolating the enemies of Prussia, to speed up the unification process.

Prussia's position with regard to her major European neighbour, Russia was improved by the Polish Revolt of January 1863. Russian were allowed to pass through Prussian territory in pursuit of Polish rebels. Bismarck made use of the incident to guarantee the future goodwill of Russia. To Italy, Bismarck made alliance with Italy, promising to resist Austria together and help Italy to complete unification. The benefit was shown in 1870 when Italy refused to help France in the Franco-Prussian War. Therefore, Bismarck understood what other powers needed and acted as a friend in order to gain benefit from the "friendship".

In the Schleswig-Holstein Affair, Bismarck made use of the aggressive attitude of Austria, pretending to be friendly with Austria and get the two duchies. In fact, Prussia was ambitious and finally expelled Austria. Joint action with Austria just intended to reduce Austrian jealousy and create a sense of Germen nationalism. Bismarck succeeded in gaining support from the Germen in these 2 duchies and prevent foreign intervention.

Lastly, Bismarck tricked Napoleon III at the meeting in Biarritz in 1865. He made vague promises about possible territorial compensation along the Rhine or in Belgium or Luxemburg. In return, Napoleon III promised not to help Austria in any future war with Prussia. The terms were favourable to Prussia. The result was that Bismarck didn't keep his word and the Franco-Prussian relation deteriorated. In 1870, France and Prussia quarlleled over the Spanish throne candidature, Bismarck urged Hohenzollern to accept the throne but under French pressure to Spain, Hohenzollern withdrew the candidature. Later, Bismarck re-wrote the text of the Ems Telegram which was sent by the King in Ems, which appeared as if the King and the Ambassador had insulted each other. This triggered the significant war in the history of Germany unification - the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. The victory brought the unification to the end in 1871. Bismarck didn't plan for the occurrence of such events, his fantastic diplomatic skill was magical handling the circumstances to pave way for a united Germany. Bismarck owed his success to the faults and lack of will of his opponents instead of his  "master planning".

** Let's discuss the motive of Bismarck in unifying Germany. Bismarck's real goal was preserving and extending the power of Prussia rather than unifying the Germen states. Bismarck was a Prussian and not a German nationalist, what he did was just to avoid Prussia being swallowed and terminated by the unification of Germany. He took over the leadership of the German unification movement and manage it in such a way that Prussia emerged intact and more powerful than before. It was important therefore that the new Germany should be the little one ( Kleindeutsch ). Hence, the Junkers could continue their control over the Reich. As the presence of Austria would overwhelm the Prussians, in order to reduce to a minimum the sacrifice of Prussian resources for a non-Prussian cause, he carried through a partial unification, which Austria was excluded.  He had no intention to unify Germany, how could he be a masterplanner who pursued the goal of a unified Germany ?

In conclusion, Bismarck was an opportunist rather than a masterplanner in completing the unification of Germany. He intended to strengthen the power of Prussia among the Germen states. Facing the threat of Austria, unless Prussia took the leading role in unification process, otherwise, Prussia would never have chance to come up. Bismarck achieved the goal by taking advantages in circumstances, to build up friendship with powers, to isolate his enemies and to extend Prussian power in the name of German nationalism. His diplomatic skill made himself as a famous political figure in the world history.

Written by Wendy Lai Pui Yau  ( 7A )

Comment from CTK :

A good attempt. The best answer I got from you.

But the ** part can be further elaborated.