The world we live in
Since 2014, a centennial has been slowly elapsing with little notice. Here’s a hint: In Sarajevo, there is a sign that wraps around the corner of Muzej Museum: “THE STREET CORNER THAT STARTED THE 20TH CENTURY 2014-2018.”
We bring this up because, in proofing the pages for our This Week calendar section, we read a notice of a lecture to be given the evening of the day this edition comes out, Sept. 20 at 6:30 at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. According to a press release, Prof. Jennifer Keene of Chapman University will speak on “America During the Great War.” Dr. Keene, the author of Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of America, will speak on “home-front mobilization and the experiences of soldiers on the battlefield, while also considering how the war affected women, immigrants and African Americans. In the inter-war period, Americans tried to ‘learn lessons’ from the Great War, revealing unexpected ways that the war continued to impact American society.”
During the first half of the 1960s, the centennial of the U.S. Civil War was substantive and widespread. There were new books, magazines, movies, television specials. Publications like Life magazine threw themselves into the commemoration and local communities recalled their participation. There can be debate over how much of a learning experience those years were—many Civil War myths survived—but it was not for lack of effort.
World War I’s centennial, however, has been a failure as a learning experience. There was a burst of attention in 1914, a few publications and other media efforts. The Atlantic is the only publication we know of that released a special issue, compiling its articles by figures like Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells and H.L. Mencken, plus new material by more modern authors like Christopher Hitchens, Arnold Toynbee and Barbara Tuchman.
This is very unfortunate. The world we live in, and many of the troubles we now experience on the world scene, were created in the years of the war and its immediate aftermath. The dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and the invention by Britain of new nations in the region; the division of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia; Russia’s renunciation of claims to Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and the territory of Congress Poland, leaving to Germany and Austria-Hungary “the future status of these territories,” are decisions that created hostilities and conflicts that still haunt our world—and lessons that are still unlearned.
This centennial could have been, should have been a learning experience for us all. A few weeks still remain until the centennial of Armistice Day, November 11, 2018, the day the war ended. We encourage our readers to use those weeks well. We’ll even suggest a place to start: www.si.edu/spotlight/wwi100.