World War One is the most important event of the 20th century, setting into motion a second world war, the Cold War, and countless political and social revolutions. Most Americans know nothing about it including the fact that Veterans Day, November 11, was Armistice Day. To add insult to injury, there is no national World War One memorial in Washington D.C.
So why has the war been largely forgotten? I have six theories.
- The fact the United States entered the war in 1917 and didn’t fight in full force until the last six months of the war, which makes the war a blip on the radar, instead of a full-scale crisis.
- The number of U.S. men and women who fought in the war is small, relative to the population, when compared to many of the other combatant countries. Unlike those other nations, Americans didn’t automatically know someone who had fought, died, been taken prisoner or become a refugee.
- U.S. citizens weren’t faced with starvation, a strain on national resources, conscription crises, mounting national debt or epidemics caused by the war. They did, however, face the Spanish Flu pandemic that started in 1918.
- The 1920s were a prosperous time, remembered fondly, in the U.S. They were not prosperous in many other parts of the world, burdened by war debts.
- For many British colonies and dominions, the war was the event that turned them into full fledged nations.
- The U.S. education system doesn’t focus on modern history. In grades 1-12, I can only recall one class teaching modern history, a U.S. history class that made it to the 1960s. I can, however, remember multiple classes teaching us that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066.
Other nations view the war differently. For them, it is still an event to remember and commemorate.
Different nations celebrate in different ways. Here are some examples:
- The date November 11 is used worldwide for the funeral of unknown soldiers.
- In Australia, a moment of silence is observed at 11 am on November 11. Even though modern commemorations also include soldiers who died in other wars, that time coincides with Armistice.
- The “Ode of Remembrance,” a 1914 poem is read in many countries. (See below).
- Poppies are used as a symbol of the dead. They symbolize the graves of the dead as illustrated in John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”.
- Nations are commemorating the war’s centennial with books, articles, movies and television programs as well as ceremonies.
Ode of Remembrance
“Ode of Remembrance” is a section of the poem “For the Fallen” written by Robert Laurence Binyon.
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea. Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres. There is music in the midst of desolation And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; They sit no more at familiar tables of home; They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound, Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, To the innermost heart of their own land they are known As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain, As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.
(Source: The Great War)
What are some other moments in history that you feel have been forgotten? Leave a comment below.
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