Globalization can have the paradoxical effect of fostering intense localism and nativism, frightening people into taking refuge in small like-minded groups. Globalization also makes possible the widespread transmission of radical ideologies and the bringing together of fanatics who will stop at nothing in their quest for the perfect society. In the period before World War I, anarchists and revolutionary Socialists across Europe and North America read the same works and had the same aim: to overthrow the existing social order. The young Serbs who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria at Sarajevo were inspired by Nietzsche and Bakunin, just as their Russian and French counterparts were.
Terrorists from Calcutta to Buffalo imitated one another as they hurled bombs onto the floors of stock exchanges, blew up railway lines, and stabbed and shot those they saw as oppressors, whether the Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary or the president of the United States, William McKinley. Today, new technologies and social media platforms provide new rallying points for fanatics, enabling them to spread their messages to even wider audiences around the globe.
With our “war on terror,” we run the same risk of overestimating the power of a loose network of extremists, few in number. More dangerous may be our miscalculations about the significance of changes in warfare. A hundred years ago, most military planners and the civilian governments who watched from the sidelines got the nature of the coming war catastrophically wrong.