Blurb for "The Lions of July" by William Janner. A "Guns of August" kind of history book.
"In the days before World War I all of the Princes of Europe, all its nobles, all its educated and cultural elites saw a storm on the horizon. A storm that could lay all they had built low. Yet not one of them, not one, could muster the strength or the courage to do anything other than what they had always done before and what had brought them all to the brink of disaster. "
Tom Clancy had a character express similar feelings in "Debt of Honor".
I don't buy it. WWI occurred because the Austrians wanted it to. Austria was a poly-national empire, full of unhappy subjects (like Serbs) who wanted out of the empire. The Austrians, who ran the place, wanted a nice brisk little war to show the imperial subjects that bad things would happen to them if they jumped ship. The Austrians feared breakup of the empire and loss of their privileged position unless they cracked the whip, hard.
What should have happened, is the Austrian's major ally, Germany, should have told the Austrians to cool it. Only Germany was run by an incompetent loser with a withered arm, who told the Austrians he was 1000% behind them. With that kind of support, the Austrians pushed and kept on pushing, and got their war. The other players tried to put a damper on things, but lacked the power to stop the German backed Austrians.
The terrible disaster could have been avoided with a little luck. If the German Kaiser had been a reasonable man, or, had Germany evolved it's government beyond one man rule WWI would not have happened. Germany was a brand new country, just got put together in 1870, so it was only 40 odd years old in 1914. They hadn't had the time to work out systems of government and checks and balances to prevent one highly placed turkey from driving their country over a cliff. Or, if the Germans had won the first Battle of the Marne, France would have sued for peace in the fall of 1914. Would have been rough on France, but the civilization wrecking war would not have happened.