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World War I Centennial News


 

How did American artists respond to the horror of WWI?

By Yaëlle Azagury
via the Washington Post

Grand Illusions cover 300With its use of modern warfare from trenches to submarines, World War I claimed millions of lives and drastically changed the geopolitical structure. But the war also rocked Western culture, from altering the status of women to sparking new artistic movements such as Dada and surrealism. America, which suffered relatively fewer casualties than Europe, was regarded as somewhat impervious to these seismic shifts in the artistic realm. The beginning of a distinctive American art severed from Europe is usually dated to or around World War II, roughly with the rise of Abstraction.

avid M. Lubin, a professor of art history at Wake Forest University and a curator of a forthcoming exhibition on World War I and American art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, seeks to upend this narrative. “Grand Illusions” comes in the wake of a reappraisal of the Great War’s effect on American culture.

Lubin’s book is an ambitious albeit unequal undertaking that investigates the variety of American art — pacifist and bellicose alike — from the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 to the rise of the Third Reich in 1933. An eloquent writer who came of age during the Vietnam conflict, Lubin juggles a formidable array of visual media in this knowledgeable study.

He rescues photographs, posters, paintings, sculptures and films from oblivion to reenergize the debate and offer a new, if revisionist, perspective perhaps more fashionable in cultural studies departments than among museum curators. Delving deeply into popular and highbrow culture, he often draws inspired connections, situating artworks in a crucible of fresh references, and his readings, which may be irritating to the political conservative or the more classic-minded, are intellectually provocative.

Read more: How did American artists respond to the horror of WWI?

WW1 Commission carries commemoration message to American Legion convention

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission

By American Legion invitation, the WWICC will be actively participating in the American Legion’s 98th Annual Convention, Aug. 25-Sept. 2, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Pershing at Legion ConventionWWICC is sharing a booth with American Legion staff in the main exhibit hall (Th-Mon).

Representatives from from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library and the WWICC will be staffing the booth during the convention. We will have 100 Cities/100 Memorials information available, along with info on our national World War I Memorials for Washington DC.

On Saturday, August 27th, WW1CC’s Executive Director, Dan Dayton, will be addressing 3 American Legion subcommittees, and on Monday 29 August, our new VSO Liaison Theresa Sims will be presenting 100 Cities/100 Memorials at 2 sessions of American Legion centennial working groups.

WW1CC Commissioner Tom Moe, retired USAF Colonel & former POW in Vietnam, will be at our booth on August 30th-31st, shaking hands, and talking about the Commission.

This will represent the third year in a row that the American Legion has generously hosted the WW1CC at their great convention!

Texas holds statewide Centennial Commemoration Conference

“A truly remarkable attendance & information producing event. I am so proud of my Texas colleagues for all the support.”  -- MG Freddie Valenzuela, USWW1CC Commissioner

By Mike Visconage

The Texas World War I Centennial held a statewide World War I Centennial planning conference was held on August 12. The meeting had over 60 participants in person and more attending via live webinar.

Texas meetingIt was a full house for state-wide Texas World War I Centennial planning conference held on August 12 at the Bullock Texas History Museum in AustinRepresentatives from Texas from museums, county historical commissions, universities, libraries, military bases, and state agencies provided a broad look at plans for Commemoration projects and activities across the Lone Star State over the next few years.

The program included a series of subject matter experts on community organizing, fundraising, and media outreach. More importantly, the format of the conference was designed to facilitate collaboration among the participants and plenty of question and answer sessions.

Lunchtime keynote speakers included Commissioner Tom Hatfield off the Texas Historical Commission and Daniel Dayton, Executive Director of the USWWICC. 

The conference was held at The Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. The planning, presentations, and logistics were the result of the effort of volunteers from the TXWWICC. Members of the Texas Historical Commission staff were also critical to the success of the day. 

The United States World War 1 Centennial Commission supported the conference with the Commission's GoToWebinar capability, taking the event to individuals who could not travel to Austin for the meeting.  The Commission will make this capability available to other states holding similar meetings, to enable remote participation.

Texas has had three previous regional planning conference, but this was our first state-wide event and our focus was to move beyond earlier brainstorming and begin to firm up specific commemorative events for the centennial period. Part of the presentation included a menu of “off-the-shelf” commemoration ideas that could be implemented by any organization or community in the state.

Read more: Texas holds statewide Centennial Commemoration Conference

The Restoration of a Legend: Rebuilding the M1917

By Adam Bieniek
Staff Writer

As the last hooves of mighty warhorses fell silent on the Western Front, the roar of treads quickly replaced them. Landships stormed across the fields of France, striking fear into the hearts of all who opposed them. These behemoths were the terror of the Western Front, and their explosive entrance onto the world stage during World War I would change the nature of warfare for a century. However, these original vanguards of armored warfare have not been treated with the respect that they deserve. Many of them fell into disrepair or were scrapped, making tanks from World War I a rarity. However, thanks to the efforts of three incredible historians, one of these fantastic feats of engineering will run again in all its former glory.Patton With FT17Captain George S. Patton stands in front of an FT-17, the original inspiration for the M1917.

Main Body With Camo 400The tank is being painted to be completely historically accurate, including Patton’s famous Ace of Spades insignia. Judge Jim Osborne, Mr. Randall Becht, and Mr. Brian Bartholome have worked diligently since mid-2015 to reproduce an incredibly rare piece of history: a working, newly minted, 1:1 scale M1917 Light Tank. An American copy of the popular French FT-17, these two-man tanks marked America’s first attempt at mechanized warfare, even if the M1917 was never actually used in combat. While nowhere near as efficient as modern tanks like the M1 Abrams, without the M1917, contemporary American mechanized warfare would not have been possible without the lessons learned from the M1917. Most of these tanks were scrapped after the end of World War I, so this reproduction will be one of the few known functional M1917 Light Tanks in the world.

While World War I tanks as a whole are uncommon today, seeing an M1917 is like seeing a unicorn. Based closely on the French FT-17 light tank, M1917s were planned to be the primary armored units of the American Expeditionary Force. After the entry of the United States into World War I in April of 1917, American industry had to practically build a new kind of army from scratch. Since tanks were such a new invention, American forces turned to their new allies for help. Working off of French designs, American factories planned to complete four thousand four hundred tanks for the American Expeditionary Force. However, racked with coordination issues and logistical challenges, only nine hundred and fifty M1917s were completed by the end of hostilities in November 1918. The first M1917 tanks would not reach France until November 20th, 1918, a full nine days after the guns fell silent along the Western Front. As a result, no M1917 ever saw combat during World War I. The American tanks that did see combat as part of the US Light Tank Brigade were FT-17s obtained from French forces. Most M1917s were either scrapped or placed in storage. Today, only twelve of these machines are in the United States, and two more are currently in Canada.

Read more: The Restoration of a Legend: Rebuilding the M1917

Minnesota Football: Fighting 1916 Gophers and WWI

By Ryan Barland
AKA 'HipsterGopher" on thedailygopher.com

Gophers front pageI have been blogging about sports history for almost 2 years now. As a graduate of the University of Minnesota I tend to focus on my alma mater. The Golden Gophers have a storied past that I usually try to connect to some current events.

I wanted this year's 4th of July post to reflect something related to the centenary of WWI but hadn't yet heard this amazing story of the entire 1916 U of M football team enlisting.

My day job is working in the Collections Department for the Minnesota Historical Society which makes these blog posts both fun and part of my weekly duties. I originally found out about the 1916 Gophers from a contemporary newspaper article.

Along with the teams football success that year they also ended up serving with distinction at the front. 24 individuals from the 1916 University of Minnesota football team went on to participate in World War I.

Read more: Minnesota Football: Fighting 1916 Gophers and WWI

Library of Congress to open major exhibition on World War I in 2017

The Library of Congress—which holds the largest multi-format collection of materials on the American experience in World War I—will present a major exhibition in 2017 to commemorate the centennial of The Great War.

LOC exhibit graphicThe United States’ involvement in the “war to end all wars” began on April 6, 1917, when the U.S. Congress formally declared war on the German Empire, and concluded Nov. 11, 1918, with the armistice agreement. The exhibition will examine the upheaval of world war, as Americans experienced it—domestically and overseas.

In the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, the exhibition will open in early April 2017 and close in January 2019. Initially, it will feature 200 items, but during its 18-month run, numerous other artifacts will be rotated into the display.

World War I, at the time, was the greatest conflict the world had ever known. It created seismic changes in American society and reshaped the global community in profound ways.

In the United States, a national army was conscripted for the first time; more than a million women entered the workforce, contributing to the war effort in countless ways; and African-Americans challenged racial inequality. The first widespread use of airplanes, tanks and poisonous gas revolutionized warfare and technologies; the wristwatch was popularized by the demands of modern battle; and jazz spread around the world with the American soldiers going abroad.

The exhibition will feature correspondence, music, film, recorded sound, diaries, posters, photographs, scrapbooks, medals, maps and various other artifacts from the war.

The collections of the Veterans History Project will be interwoven throughout the exhibition to give voice to the wartime experiences of those who served.

Read more: Library of Congress to open major exhibition on World War I in 2017

$200,000 giveaway to rescue ailing WW1 Memorials

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission

In a program launched in July, 2016, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library have announced a $200,000 matching grant challenge offering awards for up to 100 local projects around the country.

100C 100M Logo smallKenneth Clarke, President and CEO of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library stated, "The words 'Lest We Forget' appear on World War I memorials across the nation. Sadly, however, many of these Memorials are in need of conservation and restoration, in this, their centennial year."

To get one of the matching grants, applicants need to A) identify local World War I memorials; B) put together a proposal for their memorial in distress; C) submit their project for consideration; D) raise local funds for a match of up to $2,000 per project.

The details of the program are found on the project website at ww1cc.org/100Memorials

The "100 CITIES / 100 MEMORIALS" program is particularly well-­suited for community-­service projects hosted by veteran group posts, historical/cultural/community organizations, faith groups, school programs, scout troops, local sports teams, and motivated citizens.

Dan Dayton, Executive Director of the US WWI Centennial Commission, commented: "The program is designed to foster a sense of heritage in local communities and to recognize local stories & people who were involved in the war. This $200,000 initiative also creates a way for community members to participate in the national World War I Centennial that begins in 2017".

To qualify for a matching grant, a project proposal needs to be submitted by November 11, 2016. Memorials need to be located in the 50 states or US territories, and the preservation work must be completed (or have been completed) between January 1, 2014 and November 11, 2018.

This veteran-honoring program has been endorsed and adopted via a national executive resolution of the American Legion, which itself was formed right after WWI.

World War I: When Wurst Came to Worst

By Gayle Jennifer Gavin
Senior Public Affairs Specialist, Library of Congress

Destroy this Mad Brute posterIn the United States, a century ago, there were more than 8 million citizens of German origin or with German ancestry – the largest single group among those of foreign birth or ancestry, but still less than 10 percent of the total U.S. population of over 102 million. Like other immigrant groups, they were scattered all over the country, with concentrations in many big cities, and like other immigrant groups, they “had their ups and downs” as they interacted with neighbors of different backgrounds.

One of the bigger “downs” followed the opening of World War I (the art of that war is the subject of a current Library of Congress exhibition). It was a German war of aggression, and much U.S. public sentiment turned against Germany and Germans, even as then-President Woodrow Wilson tried to keep the U.S. out of the war.

This reached a fever pitch with the German U-boat sinking of the British luxury liner “Lusitania,” causing the loss of 1,198 lives including those of 123 Americans. The public – both in England and the U.S. – was shocked that the German war machine would torpedo a passenger ship rather than sticking to warships or merchant-marine vessels.

When that sentiment turned, and particularly after the U.S. got into WWI, it suddenly became difficult to be German. Schools stopped offering classes in the language, once common. Music by German composers such as Mendelssohn and Wagner ceased to be performed. Many Americans with German surnames anglicized them. There were even efforts to rename foods of German origin – sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage,” for example.

Read more: World War I: When Wurst Came to Worst

Four Questions for author Patrick Gregory

• Tell us briefly about your book, and about the story of Arthur Kimber. Who was he?

An American on the Western Front is a narrative history written around the letters of a young US serviceman in WWI who carried the first official US Government flag to the Western Front in 1917.

An American on the Western Front coverThe letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber, a student at Stanford University, allow us a unique glimpse of the war from an American perspective, chronicling the war as a young man lived it – and died in it – spanning the year and a half of America’s involvement from spring 1917 until autumn 1918.

The narrative anchors Kimber’s personal story within the overall political and military context of the war, the two running in parallel. But it is the first-hand account of his experiences of war in all its myriad forms – bravery and boredom, horror and fun, selflessness and everyday personal frictions – which form the driving force. A 21 and 22-year old growing up in the most unusual of theatres.

• What did the government flag mean to people of that time, and especially for that time juncture during the war?

The various ceremonies which Kimber took part in with the flag – where the flag was handed over in the San Francisco Civic Auditorium, paraded down Fifth Avenue in New York and then presented in front of cameras on the front in France – bear testimony to how significantly people regarded the event at the time.

Especially given President Wilson’s efforts up to this point in attempting to retain America’s neutrality, this symbol of the United States’ new readiness to engage in the war in France was a momentous event: a country stepping onto the global stage for the first real time as a political, diplomatic and military power.

• How did you find out about this remarkable story?

This is actually a family archive. My co-author in this, Elizabeth Nurser, is originally from California and Kimber was her uncle. Elizabeth – my mother-in-law – came to Britain as a Fulbright scholar in the 1950s and has remained here in the UK since. (I am a journalist, former managing editor of BBC Political Programmes).

Read more: Four Questions for author Patrick Gregory

Former U.S. Ambassador Tod Sedgwick sworn in as Commissioner

By Adam Bieniek and Kate Lyons
Staff Writers

Vineyard Haven, Mass. - Last month, Ambassador (Ret.) Tod Sedgwick was sworn-in as Commissioner to the United States World War One Centennial Commission. The event took place in Martha’s Vineyard, and he was sworn-in by Federal Judge Mark Wolf from Boston. He was appointed by President Obama, who announced his decision to post Ambassador Sedgwick as Commissioner on June 3rd, 2016.

Swearing in croppedAmbassador (Ret.) Sedgwick is sworn-in at Martha’s Vineyard as Commissioner to the U.S. World War One Centennial CommissionCommissioner Sedgwick expressed enthusiasm for his new role. “It's a great honor for me to be named to the World War I Commission. The "forgotten war" has numerous lessons for today's world - the failure of diplomacy which could have avoided a pointless war, the valor of the Americans who came into the war in 1917 and put the Allies over the top to victory, the terrible flaws of the post-war settlements which led to World War II and have left a trail of conflicts that continue to haunt us today, and the folly of American isolationism between the two world wars. It's vital that Americans commemorate this seminal conflict and absorb its lessons."

Theodore Sedgwick 220The new Commissioner previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic from 2010 to 2015.Commissioner Sedgwick previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic from 2010 to 2015. He is currently a Fellow at the Transatlantic Center at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Study and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, positions he has held since 2015. Prior to this he worked in the publishing, energy, and timber industries. He received his degree from Harvard College.

Commissioner Sedgwick comes from a family with a long history of service. His great-great-great-grandfather fought in the American Revolution, was a member of the Continental Congress, and served in the U.S. House and Senate. His ancestor, John Sedgwick, was the highest-ranking soldier killed in the Union Army during the Civil War. His uncle, William Ross Bond, was the only general killed in combat during the Vietnam War. His father, Ellery Sedgwick, Jr., was a naval intelligence officer during the infamous D-Day invasion of World War II.

The Commission is excited to welcome him as a new addition to our efforts, and looks forward to our future endeavors together during the centennial period.


Adam Bieniek and Kate Lyons are 2016 Summer Interns at the World War One Centennial Commission.


this is an opportunity for us to right a historical wrong

Mentor to the Stars: The WW1 officer who molded America's top WW2 generals

By David Zabecki
World War II Magazine

Major General Fox Conner, USAMajor General Fox Conner, USADecember 16, 1944, was a dangerous day for Allied forces in Europe. The Wehrmacht sprung one of the war’s largest strategic surprises when it launched two Panzer armies and an infantry army into the thin American defenses in the Ardennes Forest. The next day the U.S. Third Army commander, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, sat in his headquarters writing a letter to a retired major general living in New York’s Adirondack Mountains: “Yesterday morning the Germans attacked to my north in front of the VIII Corps of the First Army,” Patton told Fox Conner. “It reminds me much of [the German attack on] March 25, 1918, and I think it will have the same results.”

Though Patton misremembered the date—it was actually March 21, 1918—his prediction proved accurate. Like Operation Michael 26 years earlier, the Ardennes offensive was Germany’s desperate attempt to end the war with a single knockout punch. And like its predecessor, the offensive failed to reach its objective. On December 19, 1944, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered Patton to turn his Third Army 90 degrees on the battlefield and counterattack north, into the southern shoulder of the German penetration known as “The Bulge.” Seven days later, Patton’s troops pushed into Bastogne to relieve the encircled 101st Airborne Division.

Why did Patton spend time writing to an obscure old soldier, given the crisis? The answer is that more than anyone else, Conner was responsible for placing Patton and Eisenhower at that point in history. He was also influential to another important wartime figure: U.S. Army chief of staff General George C. Marshall. Although Conner retired from the army a year before World War II began, his mentorship of these senior American generals when they were young officers left an imprint on the battlefield—and made Major General Fox Conner a significant contributor to the Allied victory.

Today, the officer whom Eisenhower called “the ablest man I ever knew” remains a historical enigma. Conner wrote no memoirs and ordered all his papers and journals burned after his death. Only 28 letters survive. Most of what can be determined about Conner derives from the writings of his three famous World War II protégés and of his old boss, General of the Armies John J. Pershing, under whom Conner served in World War I in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). “I could have spared any man in the AEF better than you,” Pershing told Conner.

Read more: Mentor to the Stars: The Man Behind Eisenhower and Patton

Four Questions with Dr. Mark Levitch on World War 1 Memorial Restoration

By Kate Lyons
Staff Writer

Dr. Mark Levitch, an art historian at the National Gallery of Art, is the founder and president of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project. The Project's mission is to identify, document, preserve, and interpret the World War I memorials in the United States. He is partnering with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission on 100 Cities/100 Memorials.

Q: What is the best way for people to ID and find WWI memorials in their community?

levitch 300Dr. Mark Levitch, an art historian at the National Gallery of Art, is the founder and president of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project. He has partnered with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission on 100 Cities/100 Memorials.Some memorials can be found online, but many can’t – and hunting them down is half the fun. Community memorials are frequently situated in central locations, such as town greens or squares, or along a main street or major intersection. They are often found, too, at courthouses and town or city halls. Other popular locations include parks (especially memorial or veterans parks), American Legion or VFW posts, cemeteries, and schools and colleges. Churches and synagogues also frequently erected honor rolls, as did many large businesses and institutions. World War I also ushered in “living,” or functional, memorials—memorial stadiums, libraries, bridges, etc.—virtually all of which contain memorial plaques. I’m in the process of putting online (at ww1mproject.org) information about 3,000 or so memorials that I’ve located to date; if someone wants to check whether I’ve found one in their community, he/she/they can email me at wwi.inventory@gmail.com.

Q: If a group wants to do a simple cleanup or update, what are the top "do" and "don't do" things they should be aware of?

The most important thing to do is to leave any hands-on work to a professional conservator. Any attempt at “cleaning” a memorial—even a simple bronze plaque—can cause permanent damage. (The American Institute for Conservation maintains a list of qualified object conservators.) Non-professionals can focus on documenting a memorial photographically (with special attention to problem areas, such as cracks in stone, graffiti, or discolored plaques) and on cleaning up or beautifying the area around the memorial.

Read more: Four Questions with Dr. Mark Levitch on World War 1 Memorial Restoration

After 100 years some World War I battlefields are poisoned and uninhabitable

By Shelby Elphick
WeAreTheMighty.com

No war in recent memory can compare to the meat grinder of World War I. Europe still bears the scars of the war, even almost a century later. The gruesome and terrifying type of warfare typical of the Great War had a lasting impact on those who witnessed and experienced it. Danger Sign in French BattlefieldIt also created such carnage on the land where it was fought that some of those areas are still uninhabitable to this day.

The uninhabitable areas are known as the Zone Rouge (French for “Red Zone”). They remain pock-marked and scarred by the intense fighting at places like Verdun and the Somme, the two bloodiest battles of the conflict.

During the Battle of Verdun, which lasted over 300 days in 1916, more than 60 million artillery shells were fired by both sides – many containing poisonous gases. These massive bombardments and the brutal fighting inflicted horrifying casualties, over 600,000 at Verdun and over 1 million at the Somme. But the most dangerous remnants of these battles are the unexploded ordnance littering the battlefield.

Read more: After 100 years some World War I battlefields are poisoned and uninhabitable

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