The centennial of the start of World War I has renewed the debate over why the war started and what it meant. Generally speaking, there are two factions in this argument: those who believe the whole thing was largely accident and those who wish to assess blame on specific individuals and nations.
I believe the debate misses the point, which is that regardless of who wanted war, no one on any side anticipated the kind of war they would get.
I do not doubt that given the ability to peer into the future and see what would come, none of those responsible for the decisions of 1914 would have gone ahead with war.
Part of the problem is that humans are very fallible – even the esteemed leaders of distinguished dynasties. Today’s ruling classes are even more fallible than those of a century ago. Even the most inbred monarch understood their deep and inescapable responsibilities to the nation they ruled. The upper classes of 1914 were bound to the lower in ways that may not be obvious, but are completely lacking today.
It is impossible to imagine members of the various legislatures resigning their seats to take positions at the front, or – for those too old – sending their children off to fight and die.
Yet this was what the elites did back then. The concept of personal honor, which we treat as a punch line for a joke, was very much in play.
This is why I am pessimistic about prospects for peace or prosperity. I see a leadership that believes it can lie its way out of anything and sycophantic media that is happy to help out. I also see political partisans who have become so deranged and obsessed with victory that they are incapable of actually understanding what the policies that are fighting to passionately for actually do.
If you haven't seen it, here are photos of the UK's observance of the anniversary.