What If World War I Never Happened? Page 2


Lebow says that one important consequence of both world wars was greatly accelerated science and technology through government support of research and development of weapons. Without the military's need for airplanes, safe airline travel would have been delayed several decades as well, according to Lebow.

"Antibiotics would have been delayed, and we wouldn't have had an information revolution," Lebow said in an interview. "In the United States, maybe the best thing about the second half of the 20th century was development of tolerance. The U.S. before 1945 was a pretty backward and racist place."

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

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Blood transfusions, sanitary napkins and antibiotics all came out of the medical needs of World War I, Lebow said.

World War I also made room for women in the workplace to fill in for soldiers at war. When the fighting stopped, it led to greater political activism, including the right of women to vote. That would have happened much later, Lebow said.

Lebow's book of counterfactual history postulates a world of longer-lasting European empires that are less tolerant of democracy, as the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires remained in power.

Germany would not have been punished at Versailles, and Hitler would not have had grievances that led to his later rise to power. Jews in Europe would have prospered and increased in population; there might not have been a state of Israel, Lebow writes.

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The guessing game of "what-if?" has other outcomes as well. Jack S. Levy, professor of political science at Rutgers University, believes that even if the Ferdinand escaped his death in Sarajevo on the morning of June 28, 1914, something else would have started World War I. For one thing, he says that Germany was fearful of Russia’s increasing power, which it believed threatened its own security.

"We cannot know for certain what would have happened," Levy said. "But my best guess is there probably would have been a war anyway."

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