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How Do Wars Start? China, America, and the Example of 1914

How do wars start? Today, as tensions build between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, the example of World War I is frequently invoked. Many fear that, as in 1914, the world is “sleepwalking” into war, and that a poorly-managed crisis over a strategically insignificant issue could escalate rapidly into global catastrophe. But what actually happened in the lead up to WWI, and how can such a historical comparison be used to better understand the present? As many as 20 million people died as a result of WWI, while its conclusion merely set the stage for World War II, which incurred a death toll three times as large. A nuclear exchange between China and the United States could easily exceed even those breathtaking figures and, as WWI did for Europe, all but end civilization as we know it. Our class will work to understand how major conflicts begin, and how both our survival and our freedom can be preserved.

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