The Bugler

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World War I: The Great War that America Tried to Miss (Part 1)

Veterans Day is a few short weeks away and so now seems an appropriate time to start an examination of World War I. The last surviving American military veteran of World War I died in 2011 so less and less emphasis will be given to this war. Most school history books in the United States give much more emphasis to WWII. Most Americans admit that the wars they tend to think they know the most about are the American Civil War and World War II. Part of this is probably attributable to the large number of movies and books that have been written about these two wars. Vietnam, with Ken Burns's new program, will educate a new generation, and the ones who never learned, about the Vietnam War.

President William Howard Taft. Public domain.

In the early years of the 20th century, America was an isolationist country. It had ended its own civil war fifty plus years earlier and, after Reconstruction and the beginning of better times, it really wasn't very interested in Europe. Although the U.S. had the makings of a world power, it clearly was not the country's top priority. In 1908, William H. Taft, was Theodore Roosevelt's handpicked successor for the Republican nomination and he easily beat the Democrat candidate. It is surprising when you read about the Taft administration, you can see that history continually repeats itself. According to, "His administration was filled with conflict between the conservative wing of the Republican Party, with which Taft often sympathized, and the progressive wing, whose leader was Roosevelt." Conservation was also a big topic of conflict between the two men. So although Taft won the nomination from the Republicans in 1912, it was a slight majority and Roosevelt started a third party, and split the Republican vote, allowing for the election of the Woodrow Wilson. As a short aside, in 1921 President Harding appointed Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the only person to hold both offices. Noticeably absent when talking about Taft is mention of Europe, which is about to become embroiled in the Great War.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Courtesy of Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv Austria. Public domain.

The simple version of why WWI started was because the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and the heir presumptive was assassinated. The longer version even historians disagree about but just as an overview: In 1887 Germany and Russia were aligned by a secret treaty arranged by Otto von Bismarck. However, this lapsed in 1890 and Russia secured the Franco-Russian alliance and Germany continued its alliance with Austria-Hungary which had been secured by the Dual Alliance in 1879 (before the secret agreement that Bismarck forged). At this time, France was in military decline and France and Germany hated each other following Germany's annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. Germany, on the other hand, was a powerful empire. The French went to great lengths to woo Russia and Great Britain to her side and in 1907 France, Russia and Great Britain formed the Triple Entente, which bound each countries' policies to each other BUT it did not require military support of each other. However, as time would show, France and Britain and Russia needed each other against Germany. In the following years, the separate groups continued to be at odds and when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Bosnia on June 28, 1914, it was the excuse or the final straw. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia, of course supported Serbia and by July 28th, World War I had begun. The great statesman Otto von Bismarck, had correctly said, "One day the great European war will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans."

WWI and the Arts

During the next two years many museums across the country will have exhibits depicting artists' interpretation of World War I. Between now and January 7, 2018, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has an exhibit titled, "World War I and the Visual Arts." Check museums close to your community to see how the war was depicted during that time period.

Happy Birthday to the United States Naval Academy

On this day in 1845 the Naval School was opened in Annapolis, Maryland. Fifty students, known as midshipmen, began their studies which included mathematics, navigation, gunnery and steam, chemistry, English, natural philosophy and French. In 1850, the Naval School officially became the U.S. Naval Academy.

Glendale Salutes American Legion Post 217 Honor Guard

Photo courtesy of the American Legion Post 217 Honor Guard.

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