This year, 2018, marks the final centenary of World War I. Margaret MacMillan’s sober rendition, not of the war itself, but of the numerous small decisions that led to that war, makes chilling reading, especially given today’s political climate and the possibility of nuclear annihilation.
Underneath a picture of Wilhelm II, the German leader under whose reign World War I took place, is McMillan’s description: “Wilhelm II was vain, bombastic, and neurotic. This photograph, taken when he was a young man, shows something of the insecurity which lurked behind the bristling mustache . . . ”
Substitute a flowing yellow hairstyle for the mustache, and I can’t help but think of Donald Trump.
MacMillan writes further of the German leader: “He did not like being contradicted and did his best to avoid those who disagreed with or wanted to give him unwelcome news.”
The War That Ended Peace stuns the reader with the shortcomings of most of the leaders during this period. We marvel at how eager they were to subjugate smaller nations, to spend huge sums on weapons, and to believe that their nation must dominate all others.
The last few sentences of MacMillan’s book are a brilliant summation of the period:
“And if we want to point fingers from the twenty-first century we can accuse those who took Europe into war of two things: First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive such a conflict would be and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go to war. There are always choices.”