World War I began a hundred years ago this summer, but for many of us it might as well be a thousand. We know it, if we know it at all, as a dimly remembered chapter in high school history, or as scenes from old black-and-white movies of soldiers hunkered in trenches doing battle with Germans in pointy helmets. It was all too real for more than 65 million men from some 30 nations who were plunged into carnage the likes of which the world had never before seen.
Every one of those soldiers is dead, and the causes they fought for are lost on many of us. Yet this “war to end all wars” is not a remote event. In fact, World War I changed the world forever, and its effects are all around us.
To begin with, it rewrote history at the grandest level: Empires fell, and new nations–Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Poland among them– were born in the ashes. Leaders of the still-powerful French and British empires used the conflict to redraw borders in ways that set the stage for future conflicts that stretch on today, in the Middle East, for example.
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