Twenty-seven months ago, around the time of the centenary of the the start of the First World War, I began a reading project, setting myself to read about the twentieth century’s wars, the political and economic and ideological struggles, and the people caught up in them. I knew a fair amount about the subject already, picked up in bits and pieces over the years, but I wanted to get a bigger picture – learn the contexts, draw connections, see the flow, see how one thing made the way for another thing, see if I could gain a better understanding of the world I live in – we live in – and how it got from where it was to where it is.
Today I finished: eighty-three books, innumerable articles, and various films later. I learned various things, made various connections, saw the flows, the causes and effects (in so far as those are discernable). The two major lessons I learned were, 1) The First World War (also known as the Great War) was a catastrophe for Eurpean civilization, a cataclysm from which the pre-war European world had no hope of recovery, and from which the aftershocks are still felt. If you seek to understand the world, you could do well by understanding how it was before the Great War, how quckly and how much was destroyed during that war, and all that arose from the wreckage of that collapse. And 2) if people are given the choice between believing a comforting lie and believing a discomforting truth, they will pick the lie, every time. They will hold onto their belief in that lie until they are crushed – their men slaughtered, their women raped, their children enslaved, their cities burned and razed.