Almost 37.5 million mobilized forces were killed, wounded, became prisoners, or went missing in World War I (1914-1918). That comes to 57.5% of the total number of participants worldwide.
For most people today, the first war considered a global conflict is almost ancient history. Armistice Day is no longer celebrated on November 11 but has been replaced by Veterans Day to honor all those who served in the military.
The root causes (military alliances, nationalism, militarism, and imperialism) are still taught in history books, and the immediate cause—the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie—makes a good (bloody!) story.
Of those who were not casualties of war, two lived to an especially ripe old age. American Frank Buckles died at the age of 110 in 2011, During World War II he spent 3 years as a civilian prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines. Though not a combat veteran, his family received special permission for his burial in Arlington Memorial Cemetery. Florence Green, who joined the Women’s Royal Air Force at the age of 17. She died in 2012 just two weeks short of her 111th birthday! You can view a list of the last living WW I vets by country here.More familiar to those who dwell in the 21st century may be the wealth of literature, music, and poetry which came out of these four years of death and destruction. The novel All Quiet on the Western Front by German author Erich Maria Remarque (later made into a movie staring Lew Ayers) is still popular in literary circles today. Follow these links for a list of well-known books
In a recent blog I discussed how music reflected a particular era and harked back to it long after the years were only memories. Probably the most popular song of World War I was “Over There” written by song-and-dance man George M.Cohan. (He—or at least his statue—still keeps an eye on Broadway where he found enormous fame and fortune.) You can hear him sing it here and watch a video of the song sung by Jimmy Cagney who portrayed Cohan in the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. A bit of trivia—singing with him is Frances Langford who made innumerable trips overseas to entertain troops during World War II.For more popular songs of the times, see this list from which you can link to the history/lyrics of a particular song.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked art forms to come out of those years (at least today) is poetry.
RupertBrooke (“The Soldier”), a British poet, died of wounds in 1915.
WilfredOwen (“Dulce et Decorum est”) died just seven days before the November 11 armistice.
JohnMcCrae (“In Flanders Field”, a member of the medical corps, died of pneumonia in a field hospital in 1918.
American poet Alan Seeger (“Rendezvous” or “I Have a Rendezvous with Death”) joined the French Foreign Legion and died in 1916.
Siegfried Sassoon (“The General”) survived the war and died of cancer in 1967.
Here’s a more in-depth look at the poets and poetry of World War I.
I used World War I to set up events surrounding the characters in Where Is Papa's Shining Star? Alan Ashley lost his eyesight. Lenore Seldon lost the boy next door whom she intended to marry. Albert Rycovsky lost nothing but a few months of his life but came home to circumstances which would cost him everything. You can learn more about their story here.
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