A clash of “tennials”

Posted on September 2, 2010 by


As we are all aware, we are now in the midst of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Things have been underway for a while, and, as Kevin points out… while it might not be as big a deal as some might hope, there is still… something, somewhere going on. Oftentimes, there is more going on than may be obvious to us… and maybe that’s only because our scope of what is going on is so limited.

Now, if someone wants to complain, perhaps they should complain about the fact that 1) while we ponder over things related to the Civil War, we are also entering a Centennial, and 2) that Centennial is likely not going to have an equal amount of splash as that of the CW Sesquicentennial (or even a comparative splash). In fact, while the 100th anniversary of the First World War begins in 2014, we’ll be focused (well, a lot of us) on 1864 and not 1914. In fact, we might not gain an awareness of the fact that we are in the midst of the other “tennial” until… 2017, and even then, I think the majority won’t become aware until 2018.

The truth hurts, but it is a reflection of how a lot of folks take their history… American-centered. No, I’m not talking about American exceptionalism, but our perspective of history in the big scheme of things. We focus so hard on ourselves, and lose sight of the larger story, in which we played a part. Instead of starting to look at things as they developed in the eyes of America in 1914, when the war was set afire, we’re probably not going to start looking at events until we jumped into the fire. We have a weird backwards look at history sometimes… and in this case, with the First World War, the benchmark for centennial will likely begin with the anniversary of the point in time where U.S. military involvement actually began… and then we’ll catch-up on all that went on to lead up to that time.  This is a bigger tragedy than that which Guelzo seems to see with the Civil War Sesquicentennial. In the scope of American history, both events are huge, and the events leading up to each are no less huge… yet our reflections on the two periods of time is not balanced.

Maybe I’m being Guelzo’ian in my view of the Centennial of the First World War… as we, as Americans, are going to see it… but I don’t think my concern is unfounded. The reality is that despite how significant the First World War was in our national history, we won’t give it due credit… sad for that reason, and the reason that so many Americans sacrificed in that war… on the battlefront, and yes, even at home, here an ocean away from the battlefields (if you understand the emphasis then for sacrifices that needed to be made on the homefront to win the war “over there”, you get what I’m talking about… for a taste, take a look at the posters to the left and right). Even more, there is a teaching moment here… where we can actually show the significance of the First World War in relation to the American Civil War… but will there be an effort made?

*These poster images and more can be found at First World War.com