VFW Magazine — April 2017
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The Great War 100 Years Later
Dr. Matthew Naylor

A deeper look at the National World War I Museum and Memorial as we approach April 2017, which marks the centennial of American entry into the Great War.

From the vantage point of history — 100 years later — there is consensus: the “Great War” changed everything. More than 37 million men, women and children were killed or injured and suffered from its aftereffects. Empires were lost. National boundaries were reshaped. Economies were devastated.

From June 1914 to November 1918, history’s first global conflict set the stage for the peace and hostility, and the poverty and prosperity, of the 20th century. Not only neighboring nations, but countries from every inhabited continent were drawn into battle.

Smoldering regional resentments, accusations of imperialism, rising nationalism and militarism, along with territorial disputes, amassed for decades until a spark of outrage — the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke and his wife by a Bosnian Serb nationalist — set the world on fire.

The Great War changed America: broader freedoms and a new era in women’s and civil rights. America was thrust onto the global stage and transformed into a military and industrial power. The war ushered in a century of profound social and economic change that continues to influence the lives of men and women worldwide. This is the story told uniquely at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.

Why Kansas City?

To borrow from President Abraham Lincoln, the National World War I Museum and Memorial is an organization of the people, by the people and for the people. Its origin is an early 20th century case study of a 21st century concept: crowd sourcing.

Soon after World War I ended, Kansas City, Mo., leaders formed an organization to create a lasting monument to the men and women who served in the war. In 1919, the organization and citizens of Kansas City raised more than $2.5 million in just 10 days. The equivalent of roughly $34 million today, this accomplishment reflected the passion of public sentiment for the Great War that dramatically changed the world.

In 1921, more than 100,000 people gathered to see the supreme Allied com-manders dedicate the site. Construction on the classical Egyptian Revival-style monument was completed in 1926 and was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in front of more than 150,000 people — the largest crowd a U.S. president had ever addressed. The facility — then called the Liberty Memorial — stood as one of the largest war memorials in the world, featuring a 217-foot tower, two exhibition halls and symbolic architectural features, including a pair of large Assyrian sphinxes and a 148-foot by 18-foot stone-carved frieze that represents the progression of mankind from war to peace.

Beginning in 1998, Kansas Citians raised more than $102 million for restoration and expansion of the museum to better showcase the WWI-related objects and documents the organization had been collecting since 1920.

In 2004, the museum was designated by Congress as the nation’s official World War I museum, and construction started on a new 80,000-square-foot, stateof- the-art museum and research center. The expanded National World War I Museum and Memorial opened in 2006 to national acclaim. In 2014, the museum and memorial received a second designation from Congress, effectively recognizing the museum and Liberty Memorial as the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

Today, the museum maintains the most comprehensive collection of World War I objects and documents in the world and operates as a non-profit organization dedicated to remembering and interpreting the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.

Named one of the top 25 museums in the United States by Yelp and TripAdvisor, the museum’s galleries include artifacts such as a battle-scarred Renault FT-17 tank and the largest remaining section of the Panthéon de la Guerre — at one time the largest painting in the world, measuring 402 feet long by 45 feet tall. The museum features massive artillery pieces, weapons and personal objects, as interactive displays for people of all ages; reflection rooms where guests can listen to music, poetry and speeches from the era; and recreations of trenches from the battle lines of the war.

CommemoratinG the WorLd War I CentenniaL

With a diverse collection featuring objects and documents from dozens of countries, the museum shares the global story of the Great War. Since 2013, the museum has curated its own special exhibitions highlighting what transpired in the war 100 years prior, while also hosting other exhibitions from countries, including Australia, France and Italy.

The U.S. joined World War I by declaring war on Germany on April 6, 1917. To commemorate this event, the museum will host a special ceremony on April 6 in partnership with the United States World War One Centennial Commission.

Additionally, the museum features several special exhibitions in 2017. Posters as Munitions, 1917, highlights posters with representation from France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the United States and more, providing a sense of the global nature of this form of communication.

French school children’s drawings and essays created after U.S. troops landed in France in 1917 are the basis for the exhibition Vive L’amerique!: French Children Welcome Their American Ally. On loan from Le Vieux Montmartre in Paris, the drawings show the war through the eyes of children.

Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: The Doughboys 1917-1918 (opened March 31) is an outdoor exhibition of Michael St Maur Sheil’s contemporary photographs, curated with the museum. The images trace the journey of the American Expeditionary Forces and depict how battlefields of the Western Front look in the modern era.

Revolutions! 1917 (opening April 6) showcases the events that occurred worldwide from America’s official entry into the war and Russia’s upheavals from an Imperial state to Bolshevik rule. The battles that resulted in stalemates on the Western Front and in other theaters, and troubles on the home fronts, also led to societal changes, mutinies and revolts.

In addition to special exhibitions, the museum hosts an array of programs on a regular basis for people of all ages and interests. Programs include family friendly story time, “Hands-on History” programs, panel discussions and lectures featuring acclaimed historians. The special series “Operation,” which relates topics such as tattoos, whiskey, chocolate and fashion to World War I, also occurs regularly.

For more information about the museum, visit theworldwar.org.

EMAIL magazine@vfw.org

Dr. Matthew Naylor is president and CEO of the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.
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