Thursday, April 6, 2017

100 Years Gone

Today marks 100 years since America entered the First World War. PBS is starting a documentary on The Great War next week which I'm sure will be up to it's usual standards of excellence. (I might DVR it, actually.) The Moustache, in one of his dwindling acts as Our Glorious and Eternal Governor declared today World War One Centennial Reflection Day- and with good reason: 114,000 Iowans served in World War I and 3,576 of them died. If you've been in and around Des Moines ever at any point in your life, you've probably seen signs or driven down Merle Hay Road, named after Private Merle Hay, who was one of the first American Soldiers to die in combat during the war. Marion Crandell of Cedar Rapids was the first American woman to die in the combat zone.

I feel like World War I gets overlooked a lot in the history classes here in America. As a nation, our big moment moving onto the international stage was World War II instead of World War I and along with Korea, it makes a fairly strong case for being labelled as one of our 'forgotten wars.' While every Veteran's Day you can probably find someone selling a poppy outside your local grocery store or some such place, we no longer call the day what the rest of the world does, Armistice Day. (That's not to suggest that I don't think vets deserve a day, they do. But changing the name of the day allows us to all too easily forget the original meaning of the day. Every year for 100 years now, Europe has stopped- a whole continent, to mark the moment where the guns fell silent. They remember- we owe it to those that died in this conflict to remember as well.)

World War I and America's role in it is ready for a re-examination, I think. (Plus, I think the fact that Wonder Woman, of all things, is going to be set during World War I and not World War II might help push the conflict back into the cultural zeitgeist somewhat.) It had a more profound impact on this country that I think we give it credit for sometimes. German was almost a second language in many parts of America at the time- there were hundreds of German language publications and newspapers in circulation- but after America entered the war? The number tanked. People didn't want to speak German anymore (sauerkraut, for instance, reportedly became 'liberty cabbage' and the German measles became, 'liberty measles' because well, if you're going to get measles, you might as well feel good about America while you have it.) 

Oh, and if you've ever heard the Marines be referred to as 'Devil Dogs'- well, that got that nickname from the Battle of Belleau Wood.

With the family being from Across The Pond, World War I will always be important to me, personally. One of my great (great and possibly another great) Uncles died during the war. I have his medals and the Dead Man's Coin they used to give to the families of the fallen. (It's not a little coin. I throw up a picture over on the Tumblr if anyone's interested to take a peek at it.) My parents were fortunate enough to see this exhibit commemorating the centenary over in London- and they were even more fortunate to get one of the ceramic poppies which they still have.

Looking to get the 4-1-1 on W-W-I? Start here, with Dan Carlin's Hardcore History series on the conflict, Blueprint for Armageddon. It's a 5-6 part series and while it's on sale as I write this, if it's not when you click on the link, it's worth the $1.99. Every single episode of it- it's beautiful, jam packed full of knowledge and if you're light on knowledge of the subject and want to learn more, it will do the job in an entertaining way.

In the meantime, take a minute today- and remember.

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