Why does the First World War get no respect in America?
After all, it’s been seventy-five years since World War II, and we still praise the “Greatest Generation.” But on this hundredth anniversary of America’s declaration of war on Germany on April 6, 1917, our nation’s participation in World War I is seldom remembered except for a few old statues on town squares.
Perhaps this has to do with time. Many Americans alive today have parents or grandparents who fought in World War II, and as of 2016, there were still 620,000 of these veterans among us. The last American veteran of World War I passed away in 2011 at age 110, but most (including my grandfather) had long since departed by then.
Or, maybe it has to with with why the war was fought. In the First World War, Johnny went marching off to fight the “evil” Kaiser Wilhelm, and returned home to parades and adulation. But then the doubts set in. Had Germany really posed a threat to the United States, or had innocent America been manipulated by greedy arms manufacturers and British propaganda? Some fifty-three thousand Americans had been killed in action, but were they heroes or just victims, pawns in yet another intra-European conflict?
And then there was the general revulsion aroused by the First World War itself. World War II is remembered as a war of motion, of glorious thrusts by tanks and aircraft and ships. The symbol World War II is blitzkrieg: the symbol of World War I is trench warfare, of dutiful sheep sacrificed on the altar of the machine gun and the barbed wire fence.