A World Without World War I, Featuring Health-Nut Hitler

This is part of an All Things Considered series that imagines a counterfactual history of World War I.

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.

Vladimir Lenin in 1900. In our counterfactual history, his career as the producer of the musical Pins and Needles is only a few years away. i i

Vladimir Lenin in 1900. In our counterfactual history, his career as the producer of the musical Pins and Needles is only a few years away. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Vladimir Lenin in 1900. In our counterfactual history, his career as the producer of the musical Pins and Needles is only a few years away.

Vladimir Lenin in 1900. In our counterfactual history, his career as the producer of the musical Pins and Needles is only a few years away.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some highlights from their counterfactual history:

  • A multi-national successor to Austria-Hungary would have developed in Central Europe.
  • 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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