It’s January 1917. As a New Year dawns, a global war of unprecedented scope and destruction is at the top of the political agenda in every major country, belligerent or neutral. Great Britain, ruler of a world-wide empire, has a new Prime Minister. Russia, a major Entente power, is in political turmoil following the murder of Grigori Rasputin, a confidant of the royal family, by monarchists who feared his influence. Russia’s offensive against Austria-Hungary has ended in stalemate, as have the German siege of Verdun and the Anglo-French attack on the Somme. Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, whose nephew’s murder two and a half years ago led to the outbreak of the war, has died; the new emperor is his grand-nephew Charles. The United States, the largest and most important of the neutral nations, has just elected Woodrow Wilson to a second term under the slogan “He kept us out of war.” One of his first acts after the election was to asked the warring powers to state their war aims, asserting that the two sides’ stated objectives “are virtually the same.” Germany has proposed a peace conference to be held in a neutral country, but has declined to state its position in advance, leading the Entente nations to denounce its proposal as a “sham.” German military leaders, increasingly in the ascendant, are pressing for a resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare.