The last surviving American World War I veteran (or at least, his daughter is on his behalf) has called for the creation of a memorial to veterans of the Great War. With the upcoming anniversary of World War I coming soon (2014 for Europe, 2017 for America) such a memorial is necessary. Honestly, I can’t believe it’s taken this long for such a thing to gain attention.
For those of us who missed out on the war, it was the most devastating in world history. It often gets short shrift in U.S. textbooks because America did not get involved until the very end of the war, where it played the crucial war in snapping the back of the German war machine. In virtually every way World War I changed the way the world saw itself. A generation of young men were murdered and gone, it triggered the rise of Communism and Socialism, sowed the seeds for Naziism, and brought American full throttle into world affairs. The decades following the war saw America become deeply involved in world leadership, from the League of Nations to nation building in the Caribbean. The destruction was so terrible that it would take nearly twenty years for many nations to rebound completely. Germany only paid off her war debts completely this last November (in 2010!). Literature took a much darker tone, idealism was all but slaughtered on the battlefields of the Low Countries and France. Nearly 17 million people lost their lives from 1914-1918.
Despite having such a late part to play in the conflict, America should recognize the sacrifice her men and women made for that year. They traveled far to participate in a war that was not theirs, a war that President Woodrow Wilson had turned into a crusade for democracy. They faced the deadly weapons of modern warfare on a scale never before seen. They bravely fought at Bellau Wood, Cantigny, and the Marne.
Congress, while you’re ignoring the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, at least do the honor of building a memorial for the millions of Americans who served during World War I. The last American World War I veteran won’t be alive forever, preserve their memory before it truly does become a “Forgotten War.”