Thursday, April 6, 2017

Today in History - The United States Enters World War I Exactly One Century Ago


Now, this is an anniversary, right?

The United States was very reluctant to enter the First World War, but was kind of forced to after Germany sank the Lusitania.

And so, the U.S. entered the war just as Russia was basically occupied with it's revolution and preparing to make a separate peace with Germany. It would be a costly peace for the Russians, although not nearly as devastating as the terms that would be laid upon Germany itself after it surrendered on November 11, 1918. Of course, we all know how those harsh terms angered many Germans, and what it ultimately led to, which President Woodrow Wilson, for all of his faults, nevertheless accurately forecast.

In terms of numbers and level of devastation across the board, World War II was far and away the most destructive war in history. 

Yet, it should be remembered that World War I was probably more devastating in terms of it's shock value. Remember, this came at a time when many (at least in the West) felt that we were reaching a point of greatness of civilization that we were essentially beyond the cruelties of the past. And while many understood this war, which was known at the time as "The Great War," was inevitable, many seriously suggested that it would be the "war to end all wars." Both sides thought that the conflict would be decided quickly, and both sides also believed that it would be decided in their favor. Perhaps that was why there were celebrations in each country that initially fought in World War I. Crowds gathered in the capitals of each fighting country upon the outbreak of the war, and many enthusiastically joined up, hoping for their chance to win glory and honor on the battlefield, and to serve their country heroically. 

But instead, the conflict dragged on and on. It was a stalemate, and thousands upon thousands of men were killed in order to take small tracts of land. Each side dug down, quite literally, so that millions of men on each side were effectively living inside of trenches, which were living hell. They were shelled relentlessly, and there was the infamous "No Man's Land" in between the warring sides. There were poison gas attacks launched, with horrific results.

Perhaps even worse, landmines were laid that were designed not to kill the enemy, but to wound them, with the design of bankrupting the other side, which needed to take care of these injured troops. Thus, these troops were taken out of the actual war, although in some sense, they brought the realities of the horrors of the war home with them. Suddenly, people were seeing the effects of war, as men with terrible injuries that, prior to this, would have killed them, instead came home with hard to miss injuries. There were men with false limbs, some men with artificial jaws. So many men were sent home, and many of them quickly fell into poverty, unable to secure jobs or money, and so they were forced onto the streets, where everyone could see them.

All of this obviously had an effect, and it is this that helped to make World War I memorable in all of the worst ways not just for the actual troops fighting the war, but even for those at home, who really saw the true cost of war.

Yet, it is questionable whether the lessons of either of the two world wars has been learned, which perhaps will make a still more devastating war inevitable. That prospect seemed terrifying but remote not long ago, but the horrors and transparent stupidity of much of humanity since, particularly since September 11th, seems to have made the likelihood of a real World War III all the more real.

U.S. enters World War I

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