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The War No One Wants

Before the start of the Great War, the prevailing sentiment in most, if not all, European countries was that victory in any major military conflict was guaranteed only if it was fought with a large, durable, well trained and modern army. The dawn of the 20th century established the environment in which countries entered the race to mobilize the largest part of the qualified population, to create faster motorized transport for troops and logistics, to use state of the art communications and the greatest range of artillery as well as to use various new drugs in medical treatments like morphine and even a cocaine to boost the troops and fuel their fighting mood. Comparing to 19th century wars, new warfare was revolutionized and upped to the next level. By June 1914, the stage was set and only a spark was needed to fire off the conflict.

But was it really inevitable? Was the military race alone enough to cause the conflict in which 20 million died and many more wounded? Or did it need a plot to be played in just a specific order that would lead to the unavoidable horror? Did it need at least one party to actually want the war to happen? To honestly believe that a war on that scale could be won?

When asked if the Great War could have been avoided, Ronald Spector, professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University said that ’if Sir Edward Grey hadn't been the foreign secretary in Britain, then Britain might not have necessarily entered the conflict. Furthermore, if German Kaiser Wilhelm II hadn't been the flaky person he was, then the Germans may have made different decisions, and in the end if Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who at the time was the head of the faction that wanted to avoid war, had not been killed, the outcome might have been different’. According to professor Spector and many others, the real trigger for the first world war was indeed only a combination of these unfortunate coincidences that took place in the summer of 1914 - military preparations, the alliances, the people in power - all of those steps that built one after another created the Great War.

In the aftermath, the war did happen and to many, including me, the question was not who won it four years after, but rather what stage it created in following years. It ended the Austro-Hungarian empire, the German empire lost a lot of territory, the Turkish empire ceased to exist. On the other end new statehoods arose along with new wave of nationalism as many felt they hadn't achieved enough for their sacrifices and loses. History books at the end of the war never really recognized the winner or the looser. It officially ended in the Compiègne railway car on November 11, 1918, and the final document was signed as an armistice.

But, what about today, a century and a change after the war that could have been avoided and the war that allegedly nobody wanted? Is there a new similar danger we could repeat again? The one that according to Ken Follett, could also be one tragic accident, all things considered. Is there a war that no one wants today? The one that could leave a permanent mark on the surface of humanity. The one that will not be fought in trenches and the one that will truly be worldwide this time.

I think we all know the answer to that question. Yet, just like before and even though nobody really wants it to happen, it could happen nevertheless. Just like before, it only needs a plot that if set in motion, step by step, spark by spark, decision by decision, can lead to the point of no return. Are we today, on the first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine conflict already walking that path? We already have everything what Great War had before it starts. Countries are already in the arms race for a long time - the race for ultimate supremacy and the world military domination. Army budgets are filled up to the roof. More than 10 thousand nuclear warheads of various kinds are already in military stockpiles for use by missiles, aircraft, ships and submarines. We also have a questionable leaders like before, even flaky ones like in professor Spector description. Let's just hope we will have better luck this time.

However, in light of today's story, let's get back to the Ken Follett's fiction. I am really a big fаn of his work and his current thriller "Never" is his vision of how the Great War could repeat today. In a chronological order of events that one by one led to the brink of a nuclear war, he amazingly described a fictional story that looks so real and so familiar. And so possible. He begins the book with a quote from a Chinese proverb "Two tigers cannot share the same mountain" and it amazingly describes the entire book premise. I couldn't agree more with Stephen King when he said that "Ken Follett can't write a bad book", and I could only add that "Never" is definitely more than a book. One of his best. One of those that keeps you thinking long after you finish it.


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