Re­flec­tions on World War I

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - NEWS - David Wil­son

World War I came to an of­fi­cial close on Nov. 11, 1918.

In a solemn ob­ser­va­tion across Arkansas and around the coun­try, bells will ring 11 times at 11 a.m. on that day, on Vet­eran’s Day.

Such a com­mem­o­ra­tion is per­fectly ap­pro­pri­ate— on the 11th day of the 11th month—100 years after it all ended.

But on such an an­niver­sary, it would be tragic in­deed if we had a for­mal cer­e­mony but failed to re­flect upon the im­por­tance of what it all means.

His­tory has a way of teach­ing us many valu­able lessons, and some­times those lessons can be ap­pre­ci­ated dur­ing quiet mo­ments on spe­cial oc­ca­sions.

On Sun­day, Nov. 11, we have an op­por­tu­nity for one of those spe­cial mo­ments of re­flec­tion.

More than 100 years ago, the United States had no de­sire to be en­tan­gled in the af­fairs of Europe.

When World War I broke out in 1914, the feel­ing in Amer­ica was that Europe needed to work out its own dif­fer­ences. (Of course it was called the Great War ini­tially; no one could name it World War I with­out even know­ing there would be a World War II).

Amer­i­cans were con­cerned about the events there, to be sure, but the pre­vail­ing mind­set was that things that took place all the way across the At­lantic Ocean were not mat­ters that re­quired di­rect in­ter­ven­tion on the part of the United States.

And a gen­er­a­tion after that, the feel­ing was much the same.

There was no de­sire to send young Amer­i­can men off to war in 1939 and in 1940, even though Adolf Hitler was try­ing to se­cure all of Europe for him­self, and even though Ja­pan was march­ing against al­most all of south­east­ern Asia and lay­ing claim to the South Pa­cific.

In fact, through­out most of his­tory, Amer­i­cans have not looked for trou­ble. But on more than one oc­ca­sion the fight came to them.

In 1915, when Ger­man sub­marines sank the Bri­tish ship the Lusi­ta­nia and 128 Amer­i­cans per­ished, opin­ion in the U.S. be­gan to turn against Ger­many in the Great War.

In the months that fol­lowed, there were more ca­su­al­ties, and Amer­ica was grad­u­ally drawn into the con­flict that would even­tu­ally be­come known as World War I.

And about 26 years later, in De­cem­ber of 1941, Pearl Har­bor gal­va­nized Amer­i­can re­solve to help lead the way to vic­tory in World War II.

And in an­other era—one that many Amer­i­cans still re­call vividly—the events of Sept. 11, 2001, brought the U.S. into ac­tion against ter­ror­is­tic ac­tiv­i­ties world­wide.

When all is said and done, how­ever, when the coun­try is given a clear-cut choice be­tween iso­la­tion­ism or in­volve­ment, most Amer­i­cans, to this day, pre­fer stay­ing out of a fight.

From Viet­nam in the 1960s un­til now, the pos­ture of fed­eral lead­er­ship in Wash­ing­ton has been to help po­lice the world, but there is still some­thing deep within the cul­ture and the psy­che of Amer­ica that wants to steer clear of trou­ble.

In short, Amer­ica’s de­fault is set for peace.

But his­tory has also taught us that war can be one ma­jor event away and Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, for the most part, un­der­stand that.

That is one ma­jor les­son that we can take away from what hap­pened a hun­dred years ago, but there is much more.

We could learn much about hero­ics and courage from Sergeant Alvin York. We could learn much about lead­er­ship and or­ga­ni­za­tion from Gen­eral John J. Per­sh­ing. We could learn about lit­er­ary work from the writ­ings of Ernest Hem­ing­way, who had much of his early en­deav­ors in­spired by the war and by his ex­pe­ri­ences there. We could learn much of the strug­gles of the war from the Ger­man per­spec­tive in Erich Maria Re­mar­que’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

And we could see how war causes us to con­tem­plate the mean­ing of life and the per­plex­ity of death by ex­am­in­ing the poem from World War I known as “In Flan­ders Fields.”

We could also learn much from the im­pli­ca­tions of the Treaty of Ver­sailles, which brought an of­fi­cial end to the war.

To not look ahead is to march blindly to­wards an un­cer­tain des­ti­na­tion. But to not look back—to not lis­ten to the lessons of his­tory—is to have no un­der­stand­ing of our jour­ney at all.

— David Wil­son, EdD, of Spring­dale, is a for­mer high school prin­ci­pal and is the com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the Tran­sit and Park­ing De­part­ment at the Univer­sity of Arkansas. He has other ar­ti­cles on­line at DWil­ The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

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