Tag Archives: World War I

World War I Event Reminder-Movie Week!

This week is “movie week!”

Dr. Jim Grove and Dr. Joy Ochs of our excellent English program will discuss the legacy of World War I in film Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m. in the Flaherty Community room at MMU.

On Thursday at 3:30, in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall, the movie “All Quiet on the Western Front” will be shown. And there will be popcorn.

It’s all part of ou????????????r ongoing WWI series at Mount Mercy University. Check out more events here.  All of these events are free and open to the public, so I hope to see you there!

The video, by the way, is from local Cable TV and was posted on Twitter by MMU. It feels very odd to see myself speak, but what can you do?

I don’t think Brad Pitt is going to play Joe in the story of my life.



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WWI Series Kicks Off Tuesday

ww1posterReminder, blog pals and those on Facebook or Twitter who will see this post—the World War I series at Mount Mercy starts this Tuesday.

I had the again odd, but pleasing, experience of seeing my face and byline in the paper this morning, along with two other presenters in the series who also wrote guest columns. The Gazette devoted a whole page to the Mount Mercy series, which is great.

If you don’t get the Gazette:


I think I made a slightly embarrassing error in the column—using the word “swatches,” when I probably meant the word “swaths.” The Gazette didn’t catch it, and of course it leaps out to me in print—and I can’t blame them, I’m 100 percent sure I used the wrong word in my draft.

Oh well , swatches or swaths, the column worked out well, I think, and I hope it helps draw more people to our opening event.

The library display, which you can see after the 7 p.m. panel discussion in Betty Cherry, will look wonderful, there will be cookies in the library (and ice cream nearby at the Campus Ministry open house).

Hope to see you on the Hill Tuesday night!

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Signs, Hopeful and Not, at the Dawn of Fall Semester

Headline of the day--100 years ago. WWI poster in MMU library.

Headline of the day–100 years ago. WWI poster in MMU library.

Well, that was an interesting day.

Thursday began with a presentation by Mount Mercy’s President, Laurie Hamen, to faculty and staff, followed by a faculty retreat.

Now, I am not really a meeting fan. But as meetings go, this was surprisingly good. There were two smaller sessions that took up the bulk of the faculty retreat, and I felt I got a lot out of both. For one thing, both involved important staff communicating directly with faculty—and we’ve all long complained that communication is an issue at Mount Mercy. This, I think, was very valuable in bringing us together in a meaningful way.

Not all of the news the president had to deliver was good—still, I think she did very well at delivering it. And the idea of starting the year off with a joint session with all staff and faculty before faculty break off for our retreat—in my opinion, it worked well and is a good tradition to keep going.

Then, I noticed in the library Thursday some really positive signs about death and destruction and a cataclysmic historic mistake. It made me smile.

Not that death and destruction are things that I prefer—but I’ve helped organize a fall series at MMU that reflects on the legacy of World War I at its 100th anniversary, and the library is putting up a poster display on the war.

It creates, partly, a walk-through timeline, with quotes from the era. Nearby is a set of propaganda posters used during the war.

Well, cool.

Books are also part of library display. How quaint. How old school. How appropriate.

Books are also part of library display. How quaint. How old school. How appropriate.

Then the day ended on its most discordant note. A key staff member of the student newspaper quit her post to pursue another opportunity.

Since I don’t have many experienced students on the staff, this puts the paper in a precarious position. The irony is that it has just published what I think is a great Orientation Issue—so right after the good first note, it feels like the band has gone off the cliff.

Well, in any act of destruction there may be opportunity. World War I was indeed a great tragedy—it led to World War II, but it also led to advances in medicine, the arts, entertainment, music, etc.

I don’t think Great Wars are worth it in order to spur human advances, which can take place without war. Even though a Cold War was raging and partly provided the motivation, it’s nonetheless true that getting to the moon in the 1960s didn’t require World War III. As humans, we have to work out ways to motivate ourselves that don’t involve violence against each other.

As ISIS so vividly demonstrated this week, the road of violence is a dark dead end, and we don’t want to go there.

On a much less serious scale, I am desperately seeking ways to cajole MMU students into recognizing the value of their own student news media. I know that too many students these days come from homes that don’t even receive newspapers anymore, so the idea of a campus newspaper may seem quaint.

But it’s the only important student media that there is at MMU. Without it, a key part of campus life, that the university is desperately trying to keep more vibrant, is sorely missed.

MMU students, regardless of your major, I have an important, urgent question for you. And I have to have some hope that you’re mature enough and can be countercultural enough to understand that something vital is happening.

Do you want a student newspaper? Raise your hand now, please.


Lots of events this fall at MMU. Series starts Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. Hope to see you there.

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Mount Mercy WWI Series Kicks Off August 26

If you are in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 26 consider stopping by MMU that evening. We’ll have a big panel discussion to launch the WWI series, which is full of lots of interesting events.

Sorry for the slightly chippy looks, it’s a snapshot from a PDF file, but here is a list of all of the World War I events this fall at Mount Mercy:


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The Odd Feeling Of Seeing Your Face In The Newspaper

British soldiers fire machine gun. during World War I battle.

British soldiers fire machine gun. during World War I battle. Public domain image from WikiCommons.

I was slightly startled to see myself starting back at me in this morning’s Gazette, our newspaper here in Cedar Rapids.

Not too startled, mind you. I had written and submitted a guest column to the newspaper,  and an editor had e-mailed me that they did plan to use my column. But I expected the column to be in a Sunday paper, so this morning’s appearance caught me off guard.

Still’, I’m glad the column appeared. I’ve already received several e-mails as a results—one a pat on the back from a faculty colleague, the others inquiries for more information.

Anyway, since this is my blog, I can present the column as it was written. I like the first paragraph, but taking it off doesn’t hurt much, and The Gazette trimmed a few other parts, mostly with no ill effect.

Click here to see the column that they published. And here is the original:

Our World Today, Shaped By One Assassin’s Bullets

The frenetic, sometimes violent, always interesting world we inhabit was profoundly shaped by a crime 100 years ago that launched a catastrophe.

American military pilot William T Ponder in 1917 in France. Public domain image from Wikimedia commons.

American military pilot William T Ponder in 1917 in France. Public domain image from Wikimedia commons.

On June 28, 1914, as he toured the city of Sarajevo, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had a grenade tossed at his car by members of a Serbian nationalist group. The grenade injured bystanders, but missed its mark. And the Archduke, heir to the throne of a now defunct empire, continued his tour.

After the failed assassination, plotter Gavrilo Princip stopped at a delicatessen for a sandwich. Incredibly, the motorcade carrying the Archduke happened to take the wrong street and wound up in front of the same deli. Recognizing the error, one of the cars stopped, preparing to back up.

That was a fateful pause. Princip stepped up to Ferdinand’s car, raised a revolver, and fired twice, killing Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

You know what happened next. Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia. Russia supported Serbia. Germany backed Austria-Hungary. France and Britain took the side of Russia. At the end of the “July crisis” came combat. The “Great War,” World War I, was underway.

I wonder what it was like, in the summer of 1914 in Cedar Rapids. The events unfolding in Europe would have seemed much farther away than a similar tragedy today. Travel and time were very different, but everything was changing. And the U.S. stayed out of the war until almost three years later.

During the four years of World War I, more than 9 million soldiers, including over 100,000 Americans, would have their lives snuffed out by bullets, shells, poisonous gas, torpedoes, aerial bombs and more mundane causes—disease and accidents, for example.

American World War I dead in a cemetery in France. Image from Wikimedia.commons.

American World War I dead in a cemetery in France. Image from Wikimedia.commons.

It wasn’t America’s bloodiest war, nor the world’s. But World War I had a profound impact. It ended a 19th century sense of optimism, and initiated the era that we live in now. It redrew the world map, often in capricious and ineffective ways, setting up problems that bedevil us today.

It was called the war to end wars. Instead, it disastrously became the peace that almost ended peace.

What does World War I mean to us now? Consider a few impacts:

  • It ended British domination of the world. The slaughter of a British generation was a blow that the empire would never recover from—the era of European imperialism was doomed.
  • It brought about a cascade of social-political revolutions. For just one example, women in most western democracies, including the U.S., were granted the right to vote in the wake of World War I, a change that had a lot to do with the capacity women had shown to run farms and factories while men busily killed each other. Another example? The USSR.
  • It changed the whole culture. Music, art, novels, movies—none would ever the same as artists and writers struggled to make sense of incomprehensible tragedy.

As a Journalism professor, I would add that the war highlighted the need for a free press. One calamity of the war is that the German public, “informed” by a slanted, state-controlled media, had no idea until November 1918 that the German army was overwhelmed. Defeat was a bitter surprise, and led to a generation convinced that there had to have been a betrayal and a conspiracy.

That led to Adolph Hitler.

The assassin’s bullets fired 100 years ago still echo today. I’ve been spearheading a series of events planned this fall at Mount Mercy University called “A Century of Glory and Shame: Mount Mercy Reflects on How World War I Made Today.” The free, public events will provide us all with chances to ponder the many meanings of the Great War. The series kicks off Aug. 28. I hope many of you will join us as we think about how one assassin’s bullets 100 years ago still shapes our world today.

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Planning A Name for the Great War

Well, it appears that my idea of having some series of events at Mount Mercy University to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I may be gaining traction. I had an informal meeting with a small group over lunch here Thursday, and there is great enthusiasm for the Great War to be remembered.

Well, that sounds wrong. World War I was the great tragedy of the early 20th century that, to a large extent, in my opinion, created the modern world. The optimistic spirit of the 19th century was stripped away, the use of anything dashing or glorious in modern, industrial warfare—like a cavalry charge, which I’m sure was much more romantic in theory than in bloody reality anyway—became nothing but a memory and a farce.

Humans conquered the air and used it to rain bombs down on fellow humans. A great flu pandemic—which we in the U.S. have the gall to call the “Spanish flu,” when this virulent strain of flu actually originated in the United States—swept the globe directly as a result of this horrible, four-year bloodbath.

And, as my friend English Professor Jim Grove has pointed out, the great tragedy of The Great War is that it was a mere foreshadowing, only a taste of the horrors to be unleashed in the next generation. It was, in large measure, just Chapter 1 of World War II.

So much of what we deal with today, in geopolitical terms, has so much to do with World War I and the century that was not the century of peace—the war turned out not to be the war that ended war—but the century of pieces. Messed up Middle East? World War I. Rise of new powers in Asia? World War I. A totally new face for Africa—well, more of that happened in the wake of World War II, but even though the world didn’t know it at the time, World War I was the end of European world dominance and colonization. And, after all, it’s true that whatever happened in the wake of World War II happened because of World War I since World War II is a result of World War I.

Heck, the rise and fall of Communism—you guessed it, World War I. Modern media—the rise of broadcasting, the creation of public relations, a modern understanding of marketing. WWI.

And social changes. Women’s rights. Civil rights for minorities. All these strands of the modern world—well, it’s would be untrue to say they started due to World War I, because World War I was the continuation of previous events and it’s not like history began or the modern world sprang forth form the womb in 1914. But, certainly World War I was a huge event, and the point of having remembrance events at Mount Mercy at the launch of school in the fall is not just to recall it, but to think of the reverberations of it that still echo today.

Anyway, I’m pretty excited that the event seems to be coming together. So, the real point of this blog post is to solicit ideas for a name—what shall we call this? When I proposed a WWI series last fall for the first time, I think I suggested something like “Echoes of ‘The Guns of August.’” That’s pretty catchy, but is too much a repeat of a famous book title.

I want a name that’s catchy, that captures a spirit of both remembrance and contemporary reflection. I hope some of you reading this may have some ideas. A few of mine:

  • Living in the Great War World: Mount Mercy reflects on WWI.
  • The First World War and Today: What ‘The Cause’ Caused.
  • WWI and the Birth of Today: Mount Mercy Remembers.
  • A Century of Glory and Shame: Mount Mercy Reflects on How WWI Made Today

Somehow, I’m stuck on colons—I have subtitle disease. Some of these are OK, but none quite sings to me. The event will probably include 3- to 4-week displays, some faculty presentations, maybe a film series and some sort of music/reading/multimedia performance. I’m sure we’ll want to invite the community to participate.

So, blog pals, chime in. If you were going to plan a commemorative series for World War I, what would you call it? Or, do you like any of my ideas, but could you shorten/improve them?

Another version, by the group Dropkick Murphys, of the song that helped start it all:


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The War That Didn’t End


WWI artillery. 5-inch shell--size of a Naval gun ...

The Senate voted yesterday to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” If you ask me, I say it’s about time.

Our armed forces have led the way in civil rights struggles before—such as when President Truman ordered racial integration. A wise man once said: “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.”


Weapon that brought U.S. into the war--a German torpedo

By the way, that wise man was from Arizona. And a Republican. His name was Barry Goldwater. Too bad his libertarian bent didn’t rub off on John McCain.

Anyway, when something historic happens, it puts me in a mood to reflect on the great narrative that we’re part of, and that we sometimes don’t recall as well as we should.

We in America call the conflict in Korea the “forgotten war,” and with some justification. But, in my book, the war that my students never seem to know anything about but that shapes the world that they inhabit very deeply is what used to be called “The Great War,” until it was dwarfed by World War II.

In August of 1914, almost all of the countries of Europe declared war on each other in an international crisis brought on by a Serbian assassin in Sarajevo. Since those shots rang out in the Balkans, nothing has been the same. A period of general peace and rising prosperity (although also rising gap between rich and poor) was punctuated by a war of such horror that it scarred the psyche of the 20th century.


Faces in the crowd in a mural. So many failed to learn the lessons of WWI.

It was the big bang that eventually gave rise to Islamic revolution, among its many reverberations. It ended empires, even the British Empire, even though Britain won that war (but was so weakened it would never again be “the” power that it had previously been).

Audrey and I visited the World War I museum at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City last week.

We both enjoyed it a lot. I’m more of the history buff, so it was easy to understand why I liked all the artifacts and facts displayed. She found the personal stories of the people compelling. To me, personal stories are partly what makes history interesting, so I enjoyed that aspect, too.

What a grim war. So small compared to its sequel, but so big compared to anything before.

Well, the American Civil War ended in the east in trench warfare. Two generations later, millions of men were stuck in killing fields and died in northern France—the machines of war had far out evolved the minds of war planners. The First World War was full of pointless and fruitless campaigns—Italians and Austrians slaughtering each other in the Alps for no gain of territory, ANZAC troops invading but failing to take the Gallipoli peninsula, etc., etc., etc.

If nothing else, the “Great War” illustrates how pointless, tragic and wasteful history can be, especially at times of transition between one world order and another. Today, as America’s sun is setting and China’s is rising, it’s important that we recall how badly such transitions can be mishandled.

May we still hear the guns of August and remember. The British invented the Dreadnought, but could not hold onto their empire anyway. Tides of history shift, and we need to be mindful that things can’t remain the same. May our transition into this new century be less violent and less pointless than the great conflict of the second decade of the 20th Century.

If you can, go visit the Kansas City museum. It’s a great place to recall The Great War, which should not be forgotten.

Liberty memorial

Figures on top of Liberty Memorial.

Looking at memorial column

Looking up through window in new underground World War I museum at the Liberty Memorial. Go there, take your friends.

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