Today, in 1917, America broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, who had announced unrestricted submarine warfare. This was the beginning of America’s entrance into the Great War, also known today as WWI.
I recently finished listening to a book I’ve re-read frequently since I was about 11, Rilla of Ingleside, which is all about Anne of Green Gables’ daughter as she experiences the war while being stuck at home, knowing very little of what’s going on, and trying to remain brave and heroic. The book hasn’t aged perfectly. It was written several years after the war, and is quite patriotic and very idealistic about the war, but I try to remember that during the war itself, these sentiments would have been true and dearly held. But, I was surprised by some of the very modern and very true ideas in the story that I would not have noticed as a child. I still love it, and it still makes me cry and breaks my heart. It does what good fiction ought to do– help place us there, make us empathize and make sense of what we are experiencing.
Having grown up since I first read this book, and studied WWI extensively, both in college and on my own, I know just how terrible and meaningless this war was. All war is terrible, but for me, this one was even more tragic because the modern warfare we know today was basically unfamiliar to the young men facing the enemy from mere yards away across no-man’s-land. Machine guns, barbed wire, airplanes, chemical warfare– all of these were new experiences for the armies and they ripped apart the old world, leaving an entire generation to die or figure out how to live again. This war changed the course of human events in ways we are still feeling today. It influenced civil rights movements, the music, poetry and art of the era, language, it changed the political and social climate and set the stage for another terrible war.
Please take a minute to think about that. 99 years ago today, our country took steps that would lead into a war that would impact us even now.