There are several schools of thought, none of which regard the onset of WWI as 'inevitable.' The pressures of economic nationalism and national imperialism contributed much less to a European war than did the incipient militarism of the day, which infected governments, not populations nor business. Suffice to say that all countries failed to properly subordinate the military to civilian leadership. The armies all thought in terms of speed in mobilization, deployment and attack. Only the offensive would lead to victory and timing remained critical: which rail networks, how long to mobilize, how long a war and so forth. Quite to the contrary were thoughts of civilian intellectuals such as Ivan Bloch and critics of the Prussian system such as Hans Delbrueck. Bloch's The Future of War in Its Technical, Economic, and Political Relations (1898) so shocked the Tsar that he called the Hague I conference to forgo expensive rearmament.
As much as we highlight the events of 1900-14 in most of our courses, this was no road to ruin. The real mood in Europe was optimistic, anticipating an even more progressive century than the preceding one, viz. automobile, airplane, wireless, Planck and Einstein & quantum theory. However as dynamic sci/techn progress was, they also posed a set of internal and external challenges to the great and small powers of the 20th C.
Russia and land reform and the 1905 Revolution, The wane of liberalism and rise of Labour and socialism, Home Rule for Ireland was a hurricane since Gladstone, and so forth.
That the assassination of the very unpopular [in court] Franz Ferdinand could lead to a global conflict would have made a very poor novel at the time, but for the general mediocrity and insufficiency for crisis of the leading men of the great powers. The events of the Austrian Council, Russian intervention, general failure of diplomacy and the British crisis were all avoidable in the main.
"The great illusion was that humanitarian belief that a general European War among Europeans was unthinkable," were the words of Oren J. Hale (1971), and they ring true to this day. Fateful human decisions by 2d rate political leaders fueled by jump-for-glory militarists and navalists could have been avoided had the men been endowed with foresight and prudence.
Edited by Ken Estes, 14 March 2015 - 1633 PM.