For many years I just assumed that as a Baby Boomer born during the Korean Conflict and also within a decade of the end of World War II, maybe the First World War simply faded from prominence and even the school system wasn’t able to devote much time to a strong overview. The Great War just didn’t bubble to the top!
Except for a few random bits of awareness, in particular when I note memorial services observed in Britain and Europe, I’ve wondered why so little is “made of it” in the United States?
I have always loved history. Why haven’t I been interested–before now?
Textbooks noted the war began with the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand. I have no memory of knowing why he was assassinated, or really, who he was. American teenagers don’t know a lot about Archdukes.
I am almost positive I didn’t learn until decades later that the Archduke’s wife was also killed–seems like an odd fact not to include. Maybe my teachers didn’t know much about the war either.
I recall a little spark of enthusiasm when my high school history teacher discussed that King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Tsar Nicholas II were cousins. This was interesting to me. American teenagers don’t have a vast knowledge of “crowned heads.”
The late 1960’s were my “Nicholas and Alexandra” days. Post reading Robert K. Massie’s popular book I couldn’t get enough of the Romanov’s, in particular the romantic conspiracy tales purporting that the Grand Duchess Anastasia, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, had escaped the fate of her family with only a very severe case of amnesia. I really wanted this to be true. I am certain I made no connection between the Russian Revolution, the Tsar’s fate, and the post-war conditions in Russia that contributed to the whole mess.
Poetry introduced me to shell shock, mustard gas, and the psychological trauma and on-going effects of open trench warfare. Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” shook me at the time and it still does.
We are living in a wonderful age with marvelous ways to learn more. I would encourage a reading of Owen’s landmark poem HERE, and I think you’ll also find this site an excellent source of interest if you, like me, want to better understand the context of World War 1.
Well, if ever there was a good time to learn more about this war it is now–maybe especially here in the United States where we reluctantly and without any enthusiasm entered the war in 1917, three years after the war actually began in Europe. American involvement was very, very complicated and this was not a war with widespread public support.
And when it was clear we were going to enter the war, there was a great need for persuasion.
I recently spent a very thoughtful afternoon at an exhibit at the Huntington Library featuring propaganda posters from the First World War. In honor and memory of the Great War’s 100th anniversary, the exhibit, “Your Country Calls! Posters of the First World War” showcased the Huntington’s collection of prints and ephemera.
These powerful images were fascinating and absolutely beautiful with stunning artistic detail.
The collection includes posters from countries other than the United States and also some that focus on humanitarian aid following the war.
I actually have my own “World War 1 ephemera collection” and I am eager to show you–next time.
I wonder if you can guess what might be in that collection? I’ve only recently thought about it–somewhat forgotten! Funny how you can see something quite differently when you have a little better understanding of its importance and meaning.
I’d be curious to know if the images in these amazing posters connect your thoughts in any particular way?
It is exceedingly true that the American experience during the First World War was completely different from the war in Britain and Europe. How great those costs I am just now beginning to understand.
If you haven’t yet been to any exhibits or library collections noting the 100th anniversary of this war, you might want to investigate and see if you have anything of interest in your own locale–the 100 year anniversary ends at the end of this month, but there’s never an endpoint to curiosity.
Let me know if you learn something new. I am really trying to fill my thimble!