One problem with the post below is that as is often the case with historical analogies, some people want to argue the history rather than the analogy. So for the record, I agree with those correspondents who disagree with Bob Kuttner’s characterization of the origins of World War One. He seems to be going with something akin to the Barbara Tuchmann view from A March Of Folly that it was basically all one big accident.
My understanding of the situation arguably makes the analogy even closer. The way this goes, the German government knew that it’s Habsburg ally was in rickety shape in an era of growing nationalism. It also feared catch-up economic growth and industrialization in Russia. It thought, in other words, that the balance of power between German/Austria and France/Russia was shifting in a bad direction. Consequently, when the crisis broke out over the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the German government consistently favored pressing in the direction of the war and brinksmanship precisely because they preferred to fight sooner rather than later. One can posit that the GOP is behaving in a somewhat similar manner, feeling that the demographic composition of the country is tilting against conservatism and thus you need to lock entitlement cuts in sooner rather than later.
That said, the point was not so much about the war as it was about Angell’s Fallacy. Norman Angell wrote a very good book explaining that a war between the European great powers would be a negative-sum fiasco. He tacked on to that book the further contention that such a war wouldn’t happen, since it would be a negative-sum fiasco. But then the war came.