Victor Davis Hanson shares some of the lessons of World War I:
But the crux is why exactly did Germany believe in late summer 1914 that it could invade neutral Belgium, start a war with France, draw in Britain and Russia (and eventually the U.S.), and expect the Schlieffen Plan to knock out France in a matter of weeks, allowing a redirection to Russia to ensure the same there?
Yet what seems fantastical today was deemed entirely logical in the Germany of 1914 — given prewar British reluctance to support France, American isolation, the utter French collapse in 1871, the Russian humiliation in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05, the ongoing political instability that threatened to unwind the Russian czarist state, the amazing surge in German dreadnought construction that promised to nullify traditional British naval supremacy, and the inability of France, Britain, and Russia — and the United States — to craft a credible deterrent force to convince Germany of the folly of any aggressive act, a viable strategy that had actually worked well enough to deter the Kaiser in the prior so-called Moroccan crises.
One of the lessons of the outbreak of World War I is the importance of perceptions. At some point in 1914 the German military and diplomatic community concluded that the country not only could pull off a successful lightning strike against France, but could do so without starting a world war — given various events over the prior decades.
Such flawed thinking is a good reminder that appearances often matter as much as reality in provoking wars.