In the middle of last month, Victor Davis Hanson had one of the better articles this year on WWI. It deserved a full read, but especially because he wrote this in the weeks prior to the Crimean Crisis, it should have everyone reaching for the WWI section of their library.
As a matter of fact, the Guns of August just moved from summer re-read to spring re-read.
From his article, Lessons of World War I: Much of what we think we know is false; what really happened matters desperately to us today:
One of the lessons of the outbreak of World War I is the importance of perceptions. At some point in 1914 the German military and diplomatic community concluded that the country not only could pull off a successful lightning strike against France, but could do so without starting a world war — given various events over the prior decades.
Such flawed thinking is a good reminder that appearances often matter as much as reality in provoking wars. Hitler certainly was suicidal in attacking his de facto partner, the Soviet Union, in June 1941. But for all his crazy ranting about his grievances, Untermenschen, and grand strategy, it was the false perception that the Soviet Union would quickly collapse — given its recent dismal performance in Poland and Finland, and the prior purging of its officer corps, contrasted with the recently successful Blitzkrieg in Poland and Western Europe — that persuaded Hitler to try something so fatally dangerous.
More so than almost any other war, World War I was tragic, an inexplicable 9 million killed in four years of legalized murder. But such folly does not mean that concepts of victory and defeat disappeared amid the horror. They remain eternal concepts that transcend the politics and even the carnage of any age.