David Frum, recently returned from a trip to France, has written a sobering and thought-provoking editorial about the lessons he believes Americans should take when commemorating the Great War. I am not the type to wring my hands but Frum offers much to dwell on. I agree with him that the world of 2015 looks much more like the world of 1920 than of 1945. That said, the years after the Japanese surrender on the Missouri were much darker and more violent than we tend to remember. This was true in Europe and truer still in other parts of the world.
This evening when I got home the latest copy of Civil War Monitor was waiting for me in the mailbox. It is the special “War is Over” issue. The past four years have added much to our understanding of the causes and consequences of the War of the Rebellion. The myth of the Lost Cause is held on to now only by the most bitter of bitter enders. They’re still there, but have pretty much lost the war of ideas. In that sense the sesquicentennial served its function. The Great War never had a romantic mythology of its own because the ideas for which Americans went to war, such as Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the League of Nations, came to nothing so quickly. It might be, as Margaret McMillan argues in Paris 1919, that the leaders in Versailles did the best they could given the circumstances. And the circumstances were indeed complicated. I hope Americans, Europeans, and people around the world think soberly about the events of 1914-1919 and what they can teach us in our own difficult times.
(image/”Big four” by Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) – U.S. Signal Corps photo. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Big_four.jpg#/media/File:Big_four.jpg)