The Great War: Mystery or Error?

While interesting, recent attempts to make sense of World War I ultimately fail to account for the true cause of both the war and its protraction: German militarism.

Issue: Summer 2001

It is almost a century since the countdown to the First World War began, ominously enough, with a series of linked crises in the Balkans. Ten years hence publishers will start planning their first centennial histories. But apart from a gap in the 1940s and 1950s when the Second World War took priority, the flow of studies has barely ceased since 1918. Understandably: For Europeans, the war was uniquely horrifying both in its course and its consequences. In spite of the global title later bestowed on it, this was essentially a European war, and for two generations of Europeans it was simply the "Great War", tout court. Like earlier European wars it involved battles on and beyond the seas, but it was fought out on European territory and--apart from the brief but substantial American intervention in its final weeks--by European armies.

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