Kudos to the nation’s newspaper editors for making a valiant effort to prepare us for the upcoming (July 28) 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.
Fred Mertz got his “doughboy” uniform out of mothballs on “I Love Lucy,” you may have caught Gary Cooper as Sgt. Alvin C. York on the late show and Snoopy is forever muttering, “Curse you, Red Baron!”; but except for encroaching on the second season of “Downtown Abbey,” World War I has been mostly out of sight, out of mind.
I’m afraid it’s an uphill battle to get proper respect for the conflict. Journalists can examine the causes of the war, print a timeline of major events, vividly describe mustard gas and trench warfare and examine the aftermath; but since the last known World War I veteran passed away in 2012, many citizens are seeking closure. (“It’s over. What practical purpose could be served by rehashing my great-grandfather’s war? Besides, it takes time away from my Fantasy Badminton League.”)
Of course part of the problem is that the United States participated for only a relatively short time. We certainly did our part to turn the tide of battle, but we do have a habit of being late to the party. Recently declassified documents show the following exchange with the inhabitants of Troy: “We can supply 100 men - purely in an advisory role - to help you with the military applications of the gift horse you received. What? Oooo... bummer.”
Perhaps our fascination with fictional worlds makes it hard to appreciate reality. Try to impress people with the fact that the war ended four empires and they’ll probably tell you, “Don’t look so sad. I hear they’re doing a prequel.”
Talk of the mind-boggling number of casualties does little to impress people with the horror and magnitude of World War I. Today’s average citizen takes it for granted that Dr. Oz will pull off some miracle cure. (“Let’s not be premature about giving up on those dead, wounded and missing. You see nine million-plus military corpses. I see a chance for raspberry ketones and garcinia cambogia to strut their stuff!”)
The politically correct crowd doesn’t want to think about the war because they don’t like the term “Allies.” It’s deemed offensive to those who are Clinically Incapable of Playing Well With Others.
Some just don’t want to be bothered by the inevitable resurgence of revisionists and mythbusters. (“Franz Ferdinand was not really an archduke. He was in fact a dwarf planet.”)
Oh, there was patriotism aplenty during the war, but it just never had the same iconic villains and lasting resentments as other conflicts. I mean, we still eat Kaiser rolls. Who eats Hitler Hoagies or Khrushchev Crullers? And how many Dukes of Hazzard wannabes go around with a car horn blaring “Over There”?
Is it possible to get people stirred up over entangling alliances, the redrawing of the world map or how the war paved the way for the Third Reich? Surely we can get folks riled up over the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania? Nope. (“Any sinking that doesn’t inspire a &%$# song by Celine Dion is okay with me.”)
*Sigh* No one remains alive to blame for the war or thank for their service. But let us pause on July 28 and ponder the lessons.
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”.