In my course on the 20th century I teach that World War 1 was the most important event of all. I argue that the generation killed in that war was the most talented the world had yet seen, skilled in arts and in crafts, supported by the fantastic sums of wealth generated by the second industrial revolution. By the winter of 1915 they were gone, millions of them, gone, and the door was open to the second rate minds and ambitions of Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler. Americans in service then, including the great Pat Delaney, were told that their efforts would ensure the rise of democracies in place of the decrepit dictatorships that brought on the war. After training with broomsticks and being in sent into the field with French rifles the American Expeditionary Force was the fulcrum used to leverage both sides into a truce. Today marks the 92nd anniversary of that truce. Below are two links to songs that prompt reflection for my students each year. Finally, there is a poem from Carl Sandburg.
John McCutcheon – Christmas in the Trenches
Liam Clancy – And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work–
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
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