Why study the Great War? For all practical purposes, this century like the last did not begin at the millennial crossing. Just as the Nineteenth Century really began after Waterloo in 1815, so may we understand that the real history of the twentieth century began in the post war era, after the first of what came to be known as two world wars. Almost every social, political or economic conflict of this century can be traced back to the incredible blood letting on the battlefields of the Great War. Its memory framed the political posturing of several generations of diplomats, politicians and generals. The gross failures of the war making powers generated and fed a ceuntry of rebellion against any rightful authority systems and monarchial systems of government in particular.
Repeatedly the themes of the great conflagration surfaced in political tensions between the socialist and democratic heirs to the kingdoms and empires of antebellum days. Daniel Patrick Moynihan remembered the Great War in his commentary at the beginning of the last decade of the Soviet Socialist sytem in Eastern Europe:
"The Soviet empire is coming under tremendous strain. It could blow up. The world could blow up with it. Following the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, the new regime managed to reconstruct most of the polyglot czarist empire, ranging across Eurasia from the Danube to the Pacific. As the other great colonial empires - English, French, Dutch - were disintegrating under the blows of twentieth-century nationalism, the czarist empire, superficially transformed by the spirit of 'proletarian internationalism,' appeared stronger than ever. ... Then the infrastructure of the Soviet state sickened. ... Vitality at the center of the empire must be low indeed. Something happened. ... Now the nationality strains begin. Whatever Marxism may have meant to the intellectuals, it is ethnic identity that has stirred the masses of the twentieth century, and they are stirring near the Russian borders. ... The problem is that the internal weaknesses of the Soviet Union have begun to appear at the moment when its external strength has never been greater. ... Edward Luttwak has described the present Soviet situation ... The short run looks good, the long run bad. Therefore move. It was the calculation the Austro-Hungarian empire made in 1914."
Moynihan, Daniel Patrick. "Will Russia Blow Up?" Newsweek. (November 79) p. 144
As of this writing, American and European troops are stationed in the Balkans, the very area where the sparks of ethnic competition set off the conflagration that prefigured and prophecied the struggles of a whole century. The very struggles and competitions which have yet to be finalized!