Sandra Martin of the Globe and Mail asked this question of Margaret MacMillan in Saturday’s newspaper. MacMillan is the author of the widely praised and very successful book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. She will soon release a new book, The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. This writer knows more about WWI than most and her answer is compelling.
Because we still don’t know what to make of it. We’re still horrified by the loss, by the sense that it may have all been a mistake, by the sheer waste, and by what happened afterward. Nothing much was settled, it helped to brutalize European society, to breed ideologies like fascism and Bolshevism, to prepare the way for the horrors that came in the 1920s and 1930s and the Second World War. It’s also a war that created the modern world. It had its greatest impact on Europe, of course, but it shaped Canada and Australia, helped to speed the rise of the United States to superpower status and redrew the map of much of the world. It was a watershed that remains one of the greatest historical puzzles.
No wonder WWI fascinates so many.
I’d encourage you to read the rest of the article where Margaret MacMillan discusses more about WWI, the Cold War and events in Syria from the perspective of someone who is: “interested in the balance between big currents in history – the economies, the ideologies, social structures and so on – and the decisions that people have to make. At the heart of all these great decisions to go to war and human beings who have to say, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’ or ‘No, we won’t do it.’ “