Remembering the First "War on Terror"

In June, NATO's leaders commemorated the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. This August, they passed up the opportunity to mark the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I, which led to calamities that echoed until the twentieth century's end. But the lessons of the Great War are no less important today, particularly for the United States.

The causes of World War I have long baffled the public and historians. Europe was at the peak of its economic power relative to the rest of the world. Peace among the major European countries had reigned more or less continuously for decades. A technology boom was revolutionizing, indeed globalizing, the world economy. For increasingly rich Europeans, the summer of 1914 seemed a peaceful, lazy time. It turned out to be their last real peace for decades.

That July, terrorists in Bosnia assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Habsburg Empire. Austria responded by invading Serbia, Bosnia's neighbor and an "upstart" Slavic power. Russia mobilized to support Serbia, while Germany launched a "pre-emptive" war against France and Russia, invading France via Belgium. Great Britain came to the defense of Belgium and France. By September's end, a general conflagration was underway.

But why did the pieces of the puzzle fall into place as they did? Was it bad luck, miscalculation, or bureaucratic error?