COMMENTARY | As the Washington Post reminds us, 100 years ago today a Serbian nationalist shot to death the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie and touched off the first great conflagration of the 20th Century. Could it all have been avoided?
Margaret McMillan’s recent book, “The War that Ended Peace,” suggests that while the event in Sarajevo was the match, the kindling, consisting of decades of resentments and ambitions all over Europe, was dry, piled high, and ready to burn. Add to that the tangled web of alliances, the mendacity of politicians, the incompetence of diplomats and generals, and one could see that the Great War, the War to End All Wars, World War I was inevitable. If not for the assassination, some other thing would have started the war.
If anything can be said to have unmade an old world and created a new one, it is World War I. The relative peace that had prevailed in Europe since Waterloo had been shattered, bringing birth to the world we live in today. The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and the modern Middle East were all born in the great bloodletting that started with those pistol shots 100 years ago.
It also gave America the first taste of what it meant to be a super power. It was the doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force who at last broke the stalemate in France and put an end to Germany’s ambitions for a European hegemony. America recoiled from the opportunity, and the peril, that getting involved in European affairs entailed, thinking it an aberration. Just over 20 years later, it proved not to be. While the great European powers wrecked themselves, it lay with the United States to pick up the pieces and try to set things right. For good or ill America has been doing that ever since.