Ian Isherwood '00, WWI scholar and assistant director of the College's Civil War Institute, wrote a piece about how Americans remember the First World War, which appeared in the July 11 Philadelphia Inquirer.
World War I's centennial starts this summer and ends in 2018.
Isherwood specializes in twentieth century British history with an emphasis on the 1914-1945 period and has further research interests in war and memory studies. His doctoral dissertation, ‘The Greater War: British Memorial Literature, 1918-1939’, concerned the British publishing industry and First World War veterans' memoirs.
A time to remember U.S. rise as a world power
by Ian Isherwood
This summer marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. In the United States, the war has been long eclipsed by the other great conflicts straddling it - the Civil War and Second World War - and as a result has been unfairly pushed to the margins in our national memory.
My hope is that the First World War's centennial, starting this summer and ending in 2018, will be an opportunity for Americans to break out of our intellectual isolationism and discover again a conflict that not only transformed world history, but also America's place within it.
Americans should remember World War I because it was an important international event with lasting lessons for our present day.
The world in 1914 was globalized in ways familiar to us now. The worldwide economy was linked through complex trade and communications networks sprawling from the imperial financial epicenters of London, New York, Berlin, and Paris. As a leading industrial power, the United States was an important player in the world economy before the war, linked to the great empires of Old Europe by trade.
As such, Americans were not naïvely isolationist to events in Europe in 1914. After its outbreak, the war had significant importance within both the American political and economic spheres - the foundations of U.S. power. The furor over our neutrality versus intervention was a contentious issue. When Americans debated intervention - on the floors of Congress or around household coffee tables - they were debating the role this country would play in the international arena.
The First World War is essential to understanding not only America's place in the world, but also our place within world history. The war was a debutante moment for American power. The nation fought a major, modern war, mobilizing significant resources quickly and applying them to battlefields outside of our own borders. Though the Treaty of Versailles would fail to preserve peace, and the League of Nations would be bitterly contested in the U.S. Senate, in retrospect those facts should not alter what was a historical reality in 1919: In a world political system undone by shattered empires, the United States was a major emergent power.
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