A World Without WWI, Featuring Lenin The Lyricist And Health-Nut Hitler

One hundred years after World War I, we're looking back at the history that wasn't. If Archduke Franz Ferdinand hadn't been killed in 1914, how would the world be different?

This week, All Things Considered will be exploring a counterfactual history of World War I and we invite you to participate. Use the form below to imagine how one aspect of the past 100 years would be different if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been killed in 1914. We will share some of the responses in a future segment.

This summer marks 100 years since the start of World War I. Many argue that the conflict was inevitable — but what if it wasn't?

Without the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, there would have been no need for rulers in Vienna to threaten Serbia, no need for Russia to come to Serbia's defense, no need for Germany to come to Austria's defense — and no call for France and Britain to honor their treaties with Russia.

What would be the ripples of this counter-history?

All Things Considered host Robert Siegel put the hypothetical question to three historians: Ned Lebow, author of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!, Margaret MacMillan, author of The War That Ended Peace, and Christopher Clark, author of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War.

Some highlights from their counterfactual history:

  • A multi-national successor to Austria-Hungary would have developed in Central Europe. (Maybe not the happiest country in Europe, but not a fratricidal one, either.)
  • Czarist Russia doesn't become completely undone, so the Bolshevik party's October Revolution fails. Vladimir Lenin moves to the United States where he becomes a professor of Russian history at Columbia University. Having maintained his left-wing connections, he comes in contact with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and helps write the pro-union musical, Pins and Needles.
  • The Germany of the 1920s is not bled by the victorious and vindictive allies so the Nazis never come power. Europe would have been a more German-speaking continent.
  • Adolf Hitler — an aspiring artist and vegetarian — never goes to war and never enters politics. Instead, he becomes the manager of a company that produces alternative medicine.
  • Jews continue to thrive, and there is no Holocaust. The small Jewish settlement in Palestine continues, but without a flood of refuges it remains a minority community there.
  • Without World War I, there is no World War II and no Cold War. Science develops much slower — the U.S. doesn't put a man on the moon, there is no atomic bomb, and penicillin and antibiotics are slower to hit the market.


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