The Atlantic

The Lesson of the Great War

A century after the guns fell silent, the United States risks replicating the errors of the past.
Source: Alden Bentley / Reuters

There are the wars we remember, and the wars that seem to drift away. Korea is one such, but at least there is a monument in Washington to the startled World War II veterans recalled from the post-1945 American recovery to do battle on those cold and barren hills. The doughboys of World War I do not even have that yet, although commissions and architects are actively bickering about what one might look like.

Worse yet, to the extent Americans remember World War I at all, it is as a futile war, a massive, utterly senseless butchery of a damned generation. That was not the way Americans at the time conceived it. More controversially, it is an excessively simple way of conceiving it even now.

I haveprepared by the American Battle Monuments Commission in 1927, and updated thoroughly a decade later. It has meticulous directions to every American World War I battlefield; it is illustrated with abundant and exquisitely drawn multi-colored maps as well as photographs and exceptional sketches. My copy is 80 years old, and judging by the quality of paper and binding, it could last at least another 80. Itself something of a monument, it was designed to help guide veterans and their families returning to visit the newly peaceful fields of France.

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