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this month in history: november

Remembering World War I

The 11th of November 2020 will mark 102 years since the formal end of World War I, referred to in its time as the “War to End All Wars.” Though often overlooked for the larger scale tragedy of World War II, it is important to remember World War I for what it was – a hugely devastating conflict, the first of its magnitude to exist, yet also a largely transformative time.

Without the war, life as we know it in 2020 would not exist; the world lost entire generations of men but it boosted humanity’s technological advancement, giving us things such as air traffic control centers, blood banks, submarines, mobile x-ray machines, air craft carriers, zippers, and sanitary napkins.

  • Though it’s quite lengthy, Leonhard’s Pandora’s Box offers a very detailed and definitive research-based history of World War I. Whether you’re a beginner seeking to truly understand the conflict or someone familiar looking to find more specificity, this is a good read to familiarize yourself with the causes, battles, effects, and aftermath of the war.
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  • The Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s comprehensive book, Lest We Forget, presents a general narrative of the war and serves as a wonderful tribute to the contributions of the Armed Forces during the war’s duration. Along with this, it is full of stunning photographs that display the tragic nature of the war and lively propaganda prints that were popular at the time.
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  • The Black perspective on World War I is one that must be examined, as the efforts of African Americans were gallant, to say the least. African Americans signed up to fight in droves, often being assigned to segregated units, aid or support positions, or sent to the most dangerous fronts, hoping that their bravery in battle would win them some social equality back in the States. Both We Return Fighting and The Unknown Soldiers highlight and assess the contributions of African Americans during the war and how it impacted the race as a whole.
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  • The book Poets of World War I features actual poetry by two men, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon, who saw the horrific battlefields of the First World War. Though both had differing opinions on the nature of war and nationalism, with Brooke believing war be a glorious task and Sassoon being opposed to it, especially after living to see the end of it -- which Brooke did not -- it is important to read both and gain a sense of the varying feelings toward the conflict of combatants themselves.
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  • The Great War was brutal and bloody and its effects extended far beyond that of its combat participants; civilians suffered an extreme deal and had to adapt their way of life in the midst of the wreckage. The Beauty and the Sorrow contains twenty perspectives, from ordinary people, on all sides of the conflict; it details the effects of the war on soldiers, mothers, children, nurses, aristocrats, and more. This book allows one to see the expanse of individuals who were affected and highlights just how profoundly the war impacted people around the world.
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  • With the men away at war, women throughout Europe (and the United States, when they joined in 1917) had to take on hard, manual labor jobs and provide for their families. With the extremely high casualties the First World War brought, this way of living would become many women’s new normal, as the traditional lives they lived previously were beyond grasp. Singled Out contains multiple memoirs of women who were directly affected by the way and the ways in which they allowed their experiences to change their lives, for the better.
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  • World War I saw the unprecedented mobilization of women in the war effort, especially in the case of military participation. Cutting a New Pattern examines the enormous contributions of these uniformed women in paramilitary services, various aid and relief services, and civilian welfare organizations.
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