John Lukacs saw it as the great chasm dividing two centuries. George F. Kennan called it “the great seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century.”
The adjective in the title of The Lost History of 1914 refers to the five ways in which the Great War might not have happened—five lost paths leading to peace. Though some critics have described the book as counterfactual, in fact it is more an extended essay on contingency and chance. Jack Beatty denies that World War I was inevitable. The peoples of Europe were not clamoring for war. The alliance system, on which the war has often been blamed, was willed into being, and later scrupulously and suicidally honored, because in every European capital tiny coteries of men regarded foreign war either as the solution to some internal problem or as a necessary demonstration of national resolve. True, most of them did not foresee the slaughterhouse and stalemate that followed, but when these disasters ensued they refused to negotiate or settle for anything less than total victory, and for the same prideful reasons they had started the war: to avoid being perceived as weak or allowing a rival power some tangible gain.
Beatty exonerates Germany from the persistent canard that her aggressive militarism was the chief cause of the conflict:
On the eve...