Will 2014 be another 1914? Stefan Zweig’s view of the origins of World War I

by Chris Zappone

Lots of talk these days about parallels between 1914 and 2014. The fear is that Asia may be drifting into the kind of war Europe slid into World War I; massive, dangerous, destablizing and deadly. Most historians agree about the causes of WWII, but even today, historians still debate why exactly WWI began.  I ran across Austrian writer Stefan Zweig’s description of how the First World War began and it rang a bell:

[From The World of Yesterday]

The storm of pride and confidence which rushed over Europe was followed by clouds; perhaps the rise had come too quickly, the States and cities had become too powerful too hastily. The sense of power always leads men as well as States to use or to abuse it…If one asks why Europe went to war in 1914, neither reasonable ground nor even provocation can be found. It had nothing to do with ideas and hardly even with petty frontiers. I cannot explain it otherwise than by this surplus of force, a tragic consequence of the internal dynamism that had accumulated in those forty years of peace and now sought violent release. Every State suddenly had the feeling of being strong and forgot that every other State had the same feeling, each wanted more and wanted something from the other. And the worst was that just the sentiment which we most highly valued – our common optimism – betrayed us. For each one thought that in the last moment the other would draw back affrightedly; and so the diplomats began their game of bluff.