What The World Would Look Like If World War I Never Happened

World War I was the product of Europe's principal powers forging webs of alliances, pledging to defend one another in the event any were invaded. These competing networks, combined with long-standing ethnic and border rivalries, exploded with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The war claimed the lives of 20 million people and lead to national, social, and technological changes that fundamentally defined the 20th and 21st centuries. What then, would the world be like if this massive conflict had never happened? Assuming a comparable war does not occur in its place, a world where World War I never happened would come with many positives and negatives. 

Without the war, the more infamous genocides of the 20th century would not occur. In this scenario, Germany never sends Vladimir Lenin back from his Swiss exile to destabilize Russia, leading to the Soviet Union's many purges and liquidations. Nor would the Nazi Party form (at least as it did) since its genocidal goals were shaped by anger toward Germany's surrender and subsequent anti-Semitic explanations for why they lost (via Britannica). Even Italian fascism likely wouldn't materialize, as the war is what led Mussolini to formulate his own dictatorial ambitions (via History). The Middle East would likely not see the chaos it has in our world either, since the 20th century Armenian Genocide and Franco-British carving of the region's current borders were the result of the Ottoman Empire's decline and defeat, respectively (via Smithsonian Magazine).

American identity would be different

World War I shaped the United States' identity and paved the way for debates that still rage on today — most notably interventionism versus isolationism. President Woodrow Wilson supported the latter during his 1916 campaign and popularized the phrase "America First," which has become a slogan for an isolationist U.S. policy stance. Understandably, his change of heart and decision to enter the country into WWI — a war not directly tied to American interests or on American soil — was controversial. It was opposed by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who, like many today, believed that America should not be tied to or influenced by international bodies (like NATO) and be free to make decisions based on its own interests. The "America First" movement has seen multiple resurgences throughout the years, including in the 1930s amid tensions in Europe and in the 21st century thanks to former President Donald Trump.

Per the National Endowment for the Humanities, historian and writer A. Scott Berg said "modern America's very identity was forged" during the Great War.

Israel might not exist

In "Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! A World Without World War I," author and political scientist Richard Ned Lebow argues that Israel — which was established as a state in 1948 — might not have existed without the driving force of World War I. He suggests multiple possible fates for Israel without the Great War, but the throughline in his argument is that Jewish and Palestinian nationalism would be blunted. Notably by significantly less Jewish immigration to the Yishuv (where Jewish people existed in historical Palestine long before the State of Israel was established) and fewer tensions with Arabs. Without such "clashing nationalisms," he writes, the "Israel-Palestinian problem would not have become connected to oil the way it did, opening the prospect of a different configuration of political and economic forces in the Middle East."

Others argue that the Holocaust was a driving force in the establishment of Israel — and with no World War I and II, the state would not exist today. Israel historian Evyatar Frieselhe doesn't agree. In a piece for the country's official Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, he argues for distinguishing between "the influence of the Holocaust as a historical occurrence" and "the Holocaust as a molding factor in later Jewish consciousness." In the case of the second, he writes, "There seems little reason to believe that the Holocaust influenced the creation of the Jewish state. ... The emergence of the State of Israel in 1948 occurred long before then."

While mortality rates would go down without WWI, so would quality of life

While World War I led to many atrocities across the globe, it did have its silver linings in terms of medical and social advancement. According to the BBC, often fatal conditions such as broken thigh bones, open wounds, and viral infection were rendered survivable by advancements in treatment that came about because of the war. Without the global conflict, procedures we take for granted would have likely taken far longer to materialize, if at all. In general, the technology gap would become even more apparent with the absence of World War II, when helicopters, rockets, jets, and computers began to take familiar shapes.

The Great War also led to an unprecedented rise in women assuming male occupations in factories and farming. While many left these fields after the war, this experience with egalitarianism led to many women's rights groups pushing for greater equality in government and society. Gender equality likely would have been heavily sidelined by a lack of pressure on governments to allow women into such professions. That is if women's suffrage even remains a guarantee in this scenario, as Europe's less-than-democratic monarchies would likely have lasted far longer without World War I to tear them apart.