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Views from the Embassy: Diplomacy and World War One

For many, the guns of August 1914 seem like a story from long ago. Sepia-toned images of dusty, musty relics, mustached gentlemen in pinstripe pants, and ladies in near floor-length skirts dominate images in popular culture. Yet, surprisingly, those who witnessed civilization unraveling at the seams were very 'modern' and through their memoirs, letters home, and correspondence with Washington, they convey similar attitudes and concerns that we would recognize today. For the men and women in the U.S. diplomatic community in France, as elsewhere in war-torn Europe, their unique, front row seats to events ensured that they had a rendezvous with history.

What was it like to experience war on the front lines while representing a neutral nation? How did the actions of the U.S. diplomatic community impact foreign public opinion of the United States? What role did African Americans and women play in the United States' neutral response prior to 1917? What were the tensions between diplomacy and neutrality, and how did the 1914-1918 experience change the U.S. diplomatic corps and the conduct of U.S. diplomacy—and how does it inform our actions today?

Watch the recording of the event here

How did the media coverage of the war change European opinion of the United States—and Americans—and how did U.S. reporters' accounts of war-torn Europe alter the way American culture viewed the larger world? In what ways did the war experience change the world in which we know it? What were the elements that we'd still recognize today?

The centennial of the First World War offers us the opportunity to reexamine events and better understand how the world was irrecoverably altered over the course of four years. Watch the recording of the discussion that took place on Wednesday, April 15 in the video window above to hear the findings of the Office of the Historian's recent "Views From the Embassy" project and contextualize it into the larger picture of the era—and its impacts today. For more information on the World War One project, please visit the project page.

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Pershing Park site for Memorial approved by Congress, President

The World War One Centennial Commission announces that, with the President’s signature on December 20th, 2014 of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 4435, the United States government has officially approved redevelopment of Pershing Park in Washington, D.C., designating it as the National World War One Memorial. The U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate approved the legislation last week, and sent it to the White House on December 12th.

Pershing Park, located on Pennsylvania Avenue one block from the White House in front of the Willard Hotel, currently contains a statue of General John J. Pershing, leader of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War One.

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Monuments and memorials
to be registered, revitalized

WASHINGTON, DC -- Across the nation, thousands of monuments and memorials to America's World War One efforts stand in city squares, cemeteries, parks, and public buildings.
The World War One Centennial Commission will partner with Saving Hallowed Ground, the American Battle Monuments Commission, the World War One Memorial Inventory Project, and other organizations to identify and record all these monuments.

The Commission will encourage local communities and organizations to perform conservation and preservation services to the monuments themselves, and engage school students, Scouts, and communities in researching and learning about the history of their monuments and about the stories behind the names inscribed on these Living History Memorials, to remind citizens of their meaning and the great deeds they memorialize.

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World War One graffiti illuminates soldiers' experience

Chalk etchingBy GREG KELLER
Associated Press

NAOURS, France (AP) -- A headlamp cuts through the darkness of a rough-hewn passage 100 feet underground to reveal an inscription: "James Cockburn 8th Durham L.I."

It's cut so clean it could have been left yesterday. Only the date next to it - April 1, 1917 - roots it in the horrors of World War I.

The piece of graffiti by a soldier in a British infantry unit is just one of nearly 2,000 century-old inscriptions that have recently come to light in Naours, a two-hour drive north of Paris. Many marked a note for posterity in the face of the doom that trench warfare a few dozen miles away would bring to many.

"It shows how soldiers form a sense of place and an understanding of their role in a harsh and hostile environment," said historian Ross Wilson of Chichester University in Britain.

Etchings, even scratched bas-reliefs, were left by many soldiers during the war. But those in Naours "would be one of the highest concentrations of inscriptions on the Western Front" that stretches from Switzerland to the North Sea, said Wilson.

The site's proximity to the Somme battlefields, where more than a million men were killed or wounded, adds to the discovery's importance. "It provides insight into how they found a sense of meaning in the conflict," said Wilson.

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Over There, and Overlooked

The centennial of the First World War is slipping past unnoticed in the United States, despite its persistent legacy

reinforcementsDavid Frum
Defense One

In a couple of months, we'll mark the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania, a history-bending event that will probably engage Americans not very much more than any of the other commemorations of the First World War over the past seven months. The United States lost some 115,000 soldiers in the First World War, more than in Vietnam, Korea, and all other post-1945 conflicts combined. Yet the war's impress on the American mind—once seemingly so deep and indelible—has faded. The war men once called "the Great" has receded almost beyond memory in this country that did so much to win it.

It's not so elsewhere, of course. I was in a business meeting in a Toronto office building on November 11. At 11 a.m., a buzzer sounded and the intercom announced the two-minute silence that still marks the hour of the armistice in the countries of the former British empire. The participants looked uncertainly at each other. Wasn't it kind of...hokey to stop and stand? And yet, pause and stand they did, until the intercom buzzed again.

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Effort takes off to restore crumbling Lafayette Escadrille Memorial

Lafayette Escadrille1By Paul Glenshaw and Dan Patterson
Air and Space Magazine (Smithsonian Institution)

Former Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley calls them "the founding fathers of American combat aviation," yet few Americans know their names. The 38 pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, who flew for France beginning in 1916, before the United States entered World War I, created a culture that influences combat pilots today, Moseley says. They helped shape the U.S. Army Air Service when it was formed in 1918. "All the way up to the Army Air Forces and the U.S. Air Force," says Moseley. "Having thought about this a lot and having lived inside that world for 40 years, I would say [Air Force culture] goes right back to those guys who decided in the spring of '16 that this would be a good idea."

Moseley is helping to lead a fundraising effort to restore the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial outside Paris. Built in 1928 with private donations, the monument commemorates not only the original 38 but the 200 or so who succeeded them as volunteers in various French squadrons, together known as the Lafayette Flying Corps. Forty-nine who died in the war are buried in the memorial crypt.

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Commission project will feature African American experience in Great War

369th experience snipWASHINGTON, December 21, 2014 – The World War One Centennial Commission announces that it has undertaken a memorandum of understanding with S&D Consulting Services to produce The 369th Experience, a series of public performances and education programs depicting the American, African American, and French experience in World War I through the eyes of the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as the "Harlem Hellfighters."

The production is an official project of the Commission in line with its charge to educate the people of the United States about the history of World War One, the United States' involvement in that war, and the war's effects on the remainder of the 20th century, and to commemorate and honor the participation of the United States and its citizens in the war.

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