One hundred years ago, on
But America's late arrival, with some 2 million doughboys who landed in
On this centennial of America's entry into the war, debate still rages over the cause and results of World War in a way not true of the far more lethal World War II (an estimated 60 million dead) just two decades later.
Until World War II, the conflict was initially known as the Great War, on the naive premise that the "war to end all wars" would never have to be repeated. But World War I did not solve problems as much as it led to even greater ones.
Unfortunately, World War I ended with an armistice -- at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 -- and not with an unconditional surrender of the defeated. Although
The 1919 Treaty of Versailles that was supposed to bring peace is often blamed for being too harsh on the losers. But it was more complicated than that. The settlement of
The victorious Allies soon hosted conferences outlawing deadly weapons, declaring war obsolete and calling for collective security through the new
In response, the losing Germans often blamed back stabbers for their defeat and first interpreted such utopianism as Allied guilt -- and later as weakness. Under
Yet that very disengagement weakened the European democracies' common front. Both European appeasement and American isolationism only encouraged the new Axis Powers to become even more determined to reverse the outcome of World War I.
World War I broke out in 1914 at an age when new offensive technology -- machine guns, airplanes, poison gas, mass-produced artillery shrapnel shells, submarines -- had vastly outpaced the arts of defense and medical care. It proved far easier to kill than to protect soldiers. And it was the first major war that was truly global, spreading beyond
Mass deaths -- especially during the great flu outbreak of 1918 -- in the trenches from the Swiss border to the
In time, savage new ideologies -- fascism, Nazism, communism -- filled the void and promised to restore national pride and prosperity.
What can Americans learn 100 years later from the belated entry of
Seemingly isolated incidents -- such as the assassination of
Isolationism and disarmament only encourage aggressors to do something stupid. Military power and deterrence persuade them not to try.
Wars -- easy to start, hard to end -- usually last far beyond what the original belligerents imagined.
Stalemate at the front ensures horrendous casualties. The Allies had no strategic plans -- or ability -- to attack German industries or invade German cities. And
Defeat and occupation force an enemy to cease its aggression. Armistices without a definite result only lead to postponements -- and eventually more war.
World War I's terrible irony is that today its horrible carnage seems even more senseless than the far greater death toll of World War II, which ended quite differently and did not lead to another world war -- at least so far.