The chief outcome of the war was to sweep away several reasonably benign if imperfect “ancien regimes” while loosing various totalitarian bacilli. All too naturally, even, seemingly, inevitably, emerged communism, followed by fascism and Nazism. The so-called Great War’s unfinished business was finally settled only in World War II, after consuming as many as 80 million additional lives.
In April 1917 Europe had been at war almost three years. On June 28, 1914 a Serbian terrorist killed Archduke Ferdinand, the heir to the Hapsburg throne of Austro-Hungary. Vienna accused Belgrade of complicity in the crime, which in fact was promoted by Serbian military intelligence. But the Russian Empire came to Serbia’s defense. Imperial Germany sided with its ally, Austro-Hungary. France backed its treaty partner, the Russian Tsar.
Berlin’s troops rolled through Belgium to attack France; Great Britain came in against Germany. Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire joined the latter, known as the Central Powers. Romania and Italy backed the Entente. Rome sold its participation to the highest territorial bidder, winning promises of Austro-Hungarian lands at war’s end. Japan saw an opportunity to grab Germany’s Pacific territories and also joined the conflict.
The resulting horror vindicated America’s decision to remain aloof. The alliance system turned out to be a transmission belt of war. Millions upon millions of people died as a result.
There was little to choose between the two sides. The many failings of the German-led Central Powers were highlighted, and exaggerated, by brilliant British propagandists aided by America’s establishment Eastern press. In fact, however, no one had clean hands.