His birth had been traumatic; in the course of a complicated delivery, the doctor permanently damaged Wilhelm’s left arm.
Although there is no evidence that Wilhelm was gay–in addition to his seven children with his first wife, he was rumored to have several illegitimate offspring–the scandal was used by his political opponents to weaken his influence.
Wilhelm’s most important contribution to Germany’s prewar military expansion was his commitment to creating a navy to rival Britain’s.
Although Wilhelm signed the order for German mobilization following pressure from his generals–Germany declared war against Russia and France during the first week of August 1914– he is reported to have said, “You will regret this, gentlemen.” With World War I under way, the kaiser, as commander in chief of the German armed forces, retained the power to make upper-level changes in military command.
Nonetheless, he was largely a shadow monarch during the war, useful to his generals as a public-relations figure who toured the front lines and handed out medals.
The political event that shaped Wilhelm was the formation of the German Empire under the leadership of Prussia in 1871.
Wilhelm was now second in line after his father to become an emperor as well as king of Prussia.
An intelligent young man who possessed a lifelong interest in science and technology, Wilhelm was educated at the University of Bonn.
His quick mind, however, was combined with an even quicker temper and an impulsive, high-strung personality.
The kaiser embarked on his so-called New Course, a period of personal rule in which he appointed chancellors who were upper-level civil servants rather than statesmen.
Bismarck bitterly predicted that Wilhelm would lead Germany to ruin.
There is little doubt that he had been broken psychologically by the criticism that followed the Eulenburg-Harden and Daily Telegraph scandals; he suffered an episode of depression in 1908.