Thursday, March 29, 2007


This morning, I read about the passing of one of the last 6 American veterans of the Great War at age 109. A long, hearty life. It is an interesting time, as the last firsthand witnesses to a great historical event leave us, and we are left only with artifacts and records. This is a loss, but may also herald a new era of scholarship on the subject. I, for one, welcome that. In all of my formal education, I was never taught about World War I. I was told that it happened, the approximate dates. Of course, my history classes covered World War II, and World War I would be mentioned as part of the prologue. Name-checked, with the Treaty of Versailles occasionally cited as a cause of the second great conflict.

In my own reading, I've come to recognize this as a terrible oversight. The world was changed so profoundly by World War I. It sounded the death knell of the Victorian Age, sped the decline of the British Empire, gave rise to the Soviet Union. So many changes that shaped the century to come. I've ranted before about how each historical event is informed by those that came before, so there's little point in ranking them or prioritizing them. And I maintain that arguing about the ranking of events is foolish and pointless. That is not to say that some historical eras and events aren't particularly important and demand study. The Great War is one that, in my education at least, fell through the cracks. Perhaps it's passage from Living History to only recorded history will promote study and education.

I don't want to come off as overly didactic, stuffy, or preachy. I've always felt at ease tackling historical topics, absorbing facts and forming opinions, sometimes even learning the historical lessons. And that is not the case for everyone, and you can get along fine without being familiar with the causes of the War of 1812. I know there are topics I want to learn about, but still struggle with. Probably the foremost was also brought home to me today: philosophy. Slate ran a piece on Sartre, so in the spirit of exploration, I decided to tackle existentialism... on my coffee break. It was like clawing at meringue - I simply could not get any purchase on it. Which was frustrating, since I have no difficulty with the closely related moral and ethical theories. It just seemed so pointless, so much ivory tower-building and foam.

But I'm going to stick at it. I was talking with Sarah this morning, with regards to her rowing crew again. It sounds like she is doing quite well, though she said "my muscles doth protesteth." I replied "if it was easy, everyone would do it." The difficulty is what makes it worthwhile. I'm going to follow my own prescription, then - my mind doth protesteth, but I'll keep trying. If it were easy, everyone would do it.


HighFidelityIsAGreatMovie said...

Of all your blog posts, I would rank this one #32!

Also, you are in the top 5 of my favorite siblings. That's quite an honor.

kelly said...

I give you much credit, having the desire to continue to learn about WWI, and doing it. I wish I knew much more about WWI, WWII, the Civil War...and the list goes on. I love history, but horrible at reading about it and comprehending it.

PudriK said...

I had the same thought not long ago, that I knew very little of the Great War, but it passed. Don't forget Dulce et Decorum Est, though. That poem still grabs me.

Good luck with existentialism. I've given up trying to figure out what the hell it is.