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100 Years from the Great War

“The blow that hurled the modern world on its course of self-destruction was the Great War of 1914-18. It was called great on account of its size rather than for any notable merit. When its sequel broke out in 1940, the earlier conflict was renamed First World War in deference to the second. This was an error, since the European wars of 18C were also world wars, promiscously fought in India and North America and on the five seas. But these, not being wars of peoples, did not threaten civilization or close an era.”

Jacques Barzun
From Dawn To Decadence

WWI, The Great War, has always been a shadow in which I’ve lived my life. Americans are generally content to live in a world where most of the military conflicts are “over there.” It can lead to a sense of detachment. But the shadow of The Great War is always there, for all of us.

WWI was hard to film and hard to record. Numbers lose their meaning after you hit millions. From one to two million doesn’t feel like a jump any bigger than from 100,000 to 200,000. It’s impossible to grasp that each million is ten of those 100,000’s and that each of them consists of one hundred thousand men (boys?).

But it “changed the world” as we like to say.

It began 100 years ago this June and it seems to me that we need to remember it. I don’t know who should be honored or dishonored, who was valiant and who cowardly, or what wisdom we can take from it. But when something brings a world to an end and brings in a new one, it seems like we should attend to it.

I’ve resolved to do what I can over the next four years to learn about it. Perhaps I’ll blog some thoughts on it from time to time, though it isn’t really the purpose of this blog unless I can decipher things educational in it.

But I’m interested to know whether any of you have any sources of information you have found particularly valuable. I know there are a few good novels about or located in the war, and I’d like to hear more about them. I’m also wondering about good movies. War Horse was a little charming, but didn’t reveal much about the war that any kid’s book wouldn’t have said (I’m open to correction on that). All Quiet on the Western Front is still worth watching and discussing (and reading, no doubt).

Any other idears? I’m all ears.

Some things should be remembered because they embody virtue and nobility. Some because they mattered. I’d like to find some of the former in WWI, but the latter is certainly true.

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