The Great War July 13-18, 2014
World War I destroyed and maimed a large percentage of an entire generation of Europeans, killing 20 million soldiers and civilians. Roughly an equal number were wounded, widowed, and orphaned. The 10-month slaughter at the Battle of Verdun alone left an incredible 700,000 French and German casualties. While such modern weapons of warfare as the machine gun, long-range artillery, and airplane enabled such carnage, they also assured the widespread disillusionment that was the war's consequence.
The Great War, as contemporaries called it, also shattered dynasties and empires, calling forth new nations and new "isms." It reshaped Europe's cultural, political, and moral identity. Indeed, taproots of future conflicts (ethnic, ideological, and geopolitical) can be traced to the seismic upheavals of 1914- 1918. Pacifism, fascism, Nazism (Hitler's worldview was shaped while a corporal on the Western Front), and Bolshevism all emerged from the ossuaries and ashes of the war to end all wars. And it bequeathed as well a failed peace in the Versailles Treaty.
The Great War ended on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918. During its final 19 months the United States was an active belligerent, ultimately sending to Europe 2,000,000 doughboys in 43 divisions of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under Gen. John J. Pershing. Although no national World War I memorial exists in the nation's capital, monuments, memorials, and cemeteries in France still honor the AEF's sacrifices and the 116,000 Americans who fell in battle.
The centenary of the outbreak of World War I is an especially fitting occasion to examine its profound historical importance. Because it changed how many Americans thought about the world and their role in it, we will explore not only the war's origins, conduct and ramifications, but also why America got involved. We will weigh particularly the significance of Woodrow Wilson as a war president. Wilson elevated himself when the fighting ended to a world leader with a vision for a new world order. The essence of "Wilsonian Idealism," its rejection by the Senate, and its contemporary relevance for American foreign policy will also be discussed.
Our faculty will include Barry Machado, emeritus professor of history at W&L; Lamar Cecil, former Kenan professor of history; Wayne Thompson, formerly of W&L's politics department; and Jennifer Siegel, distinguished visiting professor from The Ohio State University.