In a century defined by cataclysms, the only event more cataclysmic than World War I was the war that it spawned, World War II. Without an understanding of the first world war, we cannot fully comprehend the second. More important, without knowledge of World War I, the entire century becomes something of a mystery. The frenetic despair of the 1920s, the economic disaster of the 1930s, the great dichotomies of communism versus capitalism and of totalitarianism versus democracy, the simultaneous desire for and fear of a one-world mentality, the progress of science and technology, the emergence of much that characterizes popular culture—all these have roots in the “Great War.” This is the event that launched, forged, and battered our ...

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