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Whether this is true is irrelevant; they believe it.National humiliation, real or not, is a tremendous catalyst for war.Citizens everywhere now have the tools to raise a cacophony in real time against the sort of folly that, in World War I, produced the deaths of so many unidentifiable young men “known unto God,” in Kipling’s immortal phrasing. It would certainly be nice to believe that, as President Clinton suggested in 1997, great-power territorial politics are a thing of the past.
Then, too, rapid progress in science, technology, and communications had given humanity a sense of shared interests that precluded war, despite the ominous naval competition between Britain and Germany.
Then, too, wealthy individuals devoted their fortunes to conciliation and greater human understanding.
That was the case in Germany after the Treaty of Versailles imposed reparations and territorial concessions; so, too, in Serbia more than 70 years later, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, a country Serbia had always viewed as an extension of itself.
Russia, convinced of its lost greatness, is gripped by a Weimar neurosis resembling Germany’s post–World War I longing for its past stature and power. in dark imaginings, then, in the cause of prudence.
A Republican senator, echoing the bellicose mood in Washington, declares that “Estonia is more than a couple of rocks in the East China Sea” and demands to know whether “the United States has torn up the treaty alliances in Europe and Asia that have been the foundation of global security since 1945.” The president gives China an ultimatum to leave the Japanese islands or face a military response.
He also tells Russia that another act of secessionist violence in Estonia will trigger force against Russian troops massed on the Estonian border. Chinese and Russian leaders accuse the United States of “prolonging Cold War hostilities and alliances in pursuit of global domination.” World War III begins. Peace, if not outright pacifism, is now bred in the bones of Europeans, who contemplate war with revulsion. America, after two wars without victory, is in a period of retrenchment that may last a generation.
The United Nations, for all its cumbersome failings, serves as the guarantor of last resort against another descent into horror.
The specter of nuclear holocaust is the ultimate deterrent for a hyperconnected world.
He could not have known that within weeks, Austria-Hungary would declare war on Serbia, goading Russia (humiliated in war a decade earlier by Japan) to mobilize in defense of its Slavic ally, which caused the kaiser’s ascendant Germany to launch a preemptive attack on Russia’s ally France, in turn prompting Britain to declare war on Germany. It is already clear that the nationalist fervor unleashed by Putin after a quarter century of Russia’s perceived post–Cold War decline is far from exhausted.
Russians are sure that the dignity of their nation has been trampled by an American and European strategic advance to their border dressed up in talk of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.