What If World War I Never Happened?


This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of an obscure event that changed the world -- the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.  A month later, five of the six great powers of Europe had declared war on each other.

By the end of the conflict four years later, 37 million soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded, empires were reshaped, and society had changed forever. Victorian principles of humankind's orderly progress and the gallantry of war were upended. In its place came the barbarity of trench warfare, gas attacks, starvation and the great "No Man's Land" between armies.

German subs were parked just a few miles from U.S. beaches, hunting merchant ships during World War II.
A side-scan sonar image of U-550. Credit: GK

"The First World War revealed that barbarism lay just beneath the thin veneer of civilization," said Gordon Martel, author of the new book "The Month That Changed The World: July 1914."  "It revealed that if you scratch the surface that we are all killers under the skin. And we all fear death."

Photos: WWII Wreck Reveals Wartime Romance

But what if the Archduke's assassin -- a Serbian nationalist -- missed? What if the "Great War" hadn't occurred? How would the 20th century have evolved differently? Without World War I, there probably wouldn't have been World War II. No Hitler. No Holocaust. No Cold War.

Without tens of millions of deaths, European nations would have likely put more resources into building their economies. Germany would have become an economic, scientific and cultural powerhouse.

The United States would have remained more isolated, less intertwined with the rest of the world, and also less tolerant of the rights of women, blacks, Jews and other minority groups. There wouldn’t have been a President Barack Obama, nor a President John F. Kennedy.

At the same time, there wouldn't have been nuclear weapons, computers and possibly even the Internet. Why? Military spending drove all of these technological advancements.

These are some of the scenarios sketched out by historian Richard Ned Lebow, professor of international political theory at King's College London and author of the 2014 book "Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World Without World War I."

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