A couple of months ago, a question, disconnected from anything I was doing or thinking at the time, popped up in my head: “How did we — the U.S., that is — get into World War I?”
We all know how we got into WWII: Pearl Harbor. But I couldn’t recall any similar provocation that took us into the first World War. So I dug into my world history textbook, A History Of The Modern World, and found out.
The short answer: the Germans ignored our neutral status and kept blowing up our merchant ships with their submarines until Woodrow Wilson got fed up. We joined the war “to make the world safe for democracy.”
In the course of wandering through this history, I ran into the far bigger question: how in hell did the 1914 assassination of one royal person riding around Bosnia’s capitol, Sarajevo, in an open carriage lead instantly into a brutal conflict involving so many nations?
Another short answer: treaties.
As my textbook says, somewhat drily, “The mere narration of successive crises does not explain why the chief nations of Europe became locked in combat over the murder of an imperial personage within a few days. Among more obvious general causes, the alliance system may be singled out.”
Oh. Yes. There were too many treaties.
I challenge anyone to read the history of World War I while staying upright, with one’s eyes not glazed over. Having picked my head up and de-glazed my eyes, I give you my recklessly a-historic interpretation:
The Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, Serbia, Russia, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Morocco, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire and then Turkey, Rumania [sic], Italy, Albania, Montenegro…all were involved in a dense tangle of alliances, treaties, maneuvers, and secret treaties.
It was a massive cat’s regurgitated fur ball.
Then I considered NATO. And thought, good job, guys. After two world wars and an estimated 100 million dead, you all seem to have learned how multiple crisscrossing treaties and/or rotten ones can lead to vast devastation, while a clean, clear all-for-one, one-for-all treaty composed in fourteen articles may hold off vast devastation.
Right now we could use an Article 15, addressing what should happen when one despot afflicted with paranoid grandiosity and necrophilia lays waste to a sovereign but not-yet-NATO country.
Yes, an Article 15 would be helpful, sort of immediately.