The 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I is upon us. Well we should mourn this cataclysmic event and continue to draw lessons from it.

As a former soldier and military historian, I’ve always felt that WWI was the most tragic conflict in modern history:  a totally avoidable madness that wrecked Europe’s glittering civilization and led directly to World War II, Hitler and Stalin.

This mournful anniversary has reopened fierce debate over who was responsible for the Great War.

On one side of the debate is historian Margaret MacMillan, whose new book “The War That Ended Peace,” lays primary blame on
Germany’s military and commercial ambitions. MacMillan is a nice lady – I’ve debated her on TV – but her tedious new book is so steeped in traditional  British/Anglo-Saxon bias against Germany as to be of limited  value.

On the other is “The Sleepwalkers – How Europe Went to War in 1914” by Cambridge professor Christopher Clark. This brilliant book is the finest, most instructive, best balanced book ever written on the origins of the Great War.

I say this as holder of a degree in the diplomatic history of World War I, and as one who has walked most of the battlefields of the Western Front.

Prof. Clark deftly and elegantly weaves a tapestry of events that conclusively shows that Germany’s role in the conflict was no greater than the other belligerents, and perhaps less than commonly believed.  Starved into submission by Britain’s naval blockade, Germany was unfairly and foolishly saddled with total war guilt, and saw 10% of its territory and 7 million of its people torn away at Versailles by
the war’s rapacious victors.

Adolf Hitler rose to power on his vow to return Germany’s lost lands and peoples who had been given to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.  Stalin was determined to regain Russian territory lost at the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

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