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We Recommend Five Ways For Americans To Commemorate The Start of World War I


remember World War 1

One hundred years ago this week the European powers began “The Great War” that we now call World War I. Anti-war sentiment ran strongly in America and the United States would not enter the war until April 6, 1917.
 
Many observers still believe that for Americans, World War I was an avoidable conflict and that American involvement in what was essentially a European dynastic war was unnecessary and led to a host of pernicious results, both domestically and internationally. World War I remade the map of the world, launched America into an interventionist foreign policy that still bedevils our politics today and for many stands as stark proof of the folly of war.
 
Here are five ways we recommend Americans might commemorate the start of World War I.
 
Watch the movie “Sergeant York” starring Gary Cooper, directed by Howard Hawks, and featuring Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, Margaret Wycherly with a compelling soundtrack by Max Steiner. The movie, for which Cooper won an Oscar for Best Actor, tells the story of WWI Medal of Honor recipient Alvin York’s moral struggle with military service and his subsequent heroism in the Meuse-Argonne. The movie was released in 1941 and was intended to be interventionist propaganda to encourage Americans to enter World War II, but its sensitive portrayal of Alvin York’s moral struggle and his subsequent refusal to profit from his status as a hero provide important lessons that still resonate today.
 
Read “The Flower of Battle” by my old friend and tutor Dr. Hugh Cecil. The Flower of Battle may be a little hard to find, but it is well worth digging up. In the book Cecil observes 12 writers, British and Irish, whose lives and careers were defined by their experiences in WWI. Many literature lovers will recognize the names Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as being among the great writers who memorialized World War I in words. However,  Gilbert Frankau, R.H. Mottram, Robert Keable, Richard Aldington, Herbert Read, Richard Blaker and others, although now almost lost to history, were widely read and influential in the interwar period and shaped especially British attitudes in the lead-up to World War II. Cecil combines literary criticism and social history, and shows how the malevolent petals of the "flower of battle" cast an entire literary generation into shadow as the reviewer for Publishers Weekly put it. The Flower of Battle, Hugh Cecil, Author Steerforth Press $32 (0p) ISBN 978-1-883642-05-1
 
Watch the movie “Wings” directed by William A. Wellman, starring Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Richard Arlen, and a young Gary Cooper. Released in 1927 “Wings” won the first Academy Award for Best Picture at the first annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award ceremony in 1929, the only silent film to do so. While the film is noted for its technical achievements in recreating air combat scenes and the battle of Battle of Saint-Mihiel and aviation buffs will be thrilled by the scenes of rare, and real, World War I aircraft (no computer animation here) my takeaway after watching the film with Buddy Rogers was that the film’s real value is its portrayal of the social changes and cultural upheaval created by the circumstances of war.
 
Read the book “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I, and then watch the 1930 movie directed by Lewis Milestone, and starring Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray, Arnold Lucy and Ben Alexander. The film was the first to win the Academy Awards for both Outstanding Production and Best Director. All Quiet on the Western Front tells a universal tale of the soldiers' extreme physical and mental stress during the war, and the detachment from civilian life felt by many of these soldiers upon returning home from the front from the perspective of a young German. What is especially moving is the arc of the protagonist’s views about war starting with his jingoistic enthusiasm in school and ending with his feelings of loss and futility as his comrades and school friends fall one-by-one.
 
All Quiet on the Western Front is a powerful reflection of the pacifistic views of many Americans in the interwar period and shaped opinion against war so compellingly that the Nazis banned it upon coming to power in Germany where it was written and first published.  Author Erich Maria Remarque was forced to flee to Switzerland and eventually came to the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1947.
 
During World War I CHQ Editor George Rasley’s grandfather, Pvt. Joseph M. Stutz, served on the Western Front in France with the American Expeditionary Force.

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