Four Questions for Matthew Naylor
"It’s essential that we understand and educate the public about the Great War"
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission is preparing for a major national event on April 6th, 2017, to mark the 100th anniversary of America's entry into the war. The event will take place at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Dr. Matthew Naylor, President and CEO of the Museum, is a Commissioner on the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission. He talks with us about the event, the significance of WW1, and why the Museum and Memorial is the right location for this commemorative event.
The National World War I Museum and Memorial will be hosting a major event on April 6th, to mark the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I. What is the overall event?
First, the National World War I Museum and Memorial is honored to host America’s national ceremony commemorating the centennial of the United States’ entry into the Great War. The ceremony will serve as America’s official event commemorating the day the U.S. entered World War I in 1917 by issuing a declaration of war against Germany. For those who haven’t visited the Museum before, it’s truly one of the world’s great museums featuring the most comprehensive collection of World War I objects and documents in the world as well as one of the largest and most symbolic memorials in the world. Ultimately, we believe it’s quite fitting that we commemorate the entry of the U.S. into the Great War in the very same place where millions of visitors from every continent that participated in the conflict have paid tribute for nearly a century.
In some ways, what happened on April 6th 1917 changed the entire world, and the entire century that followed. Tell us about the context, and significance, of what happened when the U.S. entered World War I.You could make the argument that the world was at a crossroads. This global conflict was in somewhat of a stalemate after more than two years and in that relatively short amount of time, the destruction, devastation and staggering loss of life was unlike anything humankind had previously seen. Like many aspects of World War I, there may not be consensus on the overall magnitude of the impact of the United States on World War I, but it’s fair to say it was quite significant. In a matter of months, the Allies were supplied with an infusion of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and if we’re to put ourselves in the place of those serving on behalf of the Central Powers, that must have been demoralizing to a degree. For the United States, the foundation for the forthcoming American Century was laid by virtue of entering the war and demonstrating that the country belonged in the conversation as one of the world’s global powers.
This event will be open the public, and will also be viewable on the web. What can your audiences expect to see & experience? Tell us about your vision for the event.
I think it’s prudent to note that the planning for the event has truly been a collaborative effort between the Commission staff, the Commission, the Museum, Edward Bilous from The Julliard School and many others. The reaction from organizations seeking to assist in the interest of goodwill and providing support has been tremendous. The national ceremony – “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace: Centennial Commemoration of the U.S. Entry in World War I” – will feature readings from American writings of a century ago about the country’s decision to enter the Great War. The selections will be broad and pulled from speeches, journalism, literature, poetry, and performance of important music of the time. The ceremony will include flyovers by the U.S. and French Air Force, as well as participation from military bands, color guards, ceremonial units, veteran’s organizations, and other historical groups. We anticipate people will find the event to be deeply moving and enriching.
Why is it important to host this event? Why is it important to remember the people who served in World War I?When the site of the National World War I Museum and Memorial was dedicated in 1921, more than 100,000 people attended. Included in that total were the five supreme Allied Commanders: Gen. Baron Jacques of Belgium, Gen. Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, Gen. John J. Pershing of the United States, and Sir Admiral Earl David Beatty of Great Britain. This marked the first time those individuals were in the same place at the same time and it occurred halfway across the world in a time when traveling wasn’t particularly simple. Then, in 1926, more than 150,000 people gathered for the opening ceremony, including U.S. President Calvin Coolidge. This was the largest crowd a U.S. president had ever addressed to that time. The reason for sharing these details is to provide people with an understanding of the monumental effects of this war. For crowds of that magnitude to gather, it clearly demonstrates the importance of remembrance and commemoration for the people who endured and sacrificed during the course of this war. Now, 100 years later, it’s essential that we understand and educate the public about the Great War, how it changed the world forever and how it continues to affect us to this very day.