Few Americans today grapple with why the US declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. A hundred years later, maybe it’s time to settle the issue. US troops’ experience on the Western Front was as scarring as it was for the Europeans who’d spent nearly three years in World War I’s meat grinder, and while the war helped make the US a superpower, it was quickly overshadowed by the much clearer-cut world war that followed two decades later. This month, a number of events aim to help us figure out just what we were doing “over there.”
1. “Modern Medicine and the Great War,” “Uniformed Women and the Great War,” and “Gen. John J. Pershing and World War I”
National Museum of American History, April 6–January 2019
The Smithsonian drills into three historical topics on WWI, including advances in battlefield medicine; how women’s participation in the war effort coincided with the fight for suffrage; and General “Black Jack” Pershing, through a re-creation of his office.
2. “The Great Crusade: World War I and the Legacy of the American Revolution”
Society of the Cincinnati, April 7–September 17
An exploration of the connections between America’s war for independence and its first global conflict, via cultural artifacts. Free.
3. “Echoes of the Great War”
Library of Congress, April 4—January 2019
Drawing lessons from wartime music and film, propaganda posters, artifacts from the frontlines, and more, the LOC’s comprehensive exhibit looks at how America waded into the “war to end all wars,” from the debate over fighting it in the first place to how soldiers were welcomed back to an altered homeland.
National Air and Space Museum, April 6–November 11, 2018
The war inspired art by John Singer Sargent and Georgia O’Keeffe, but soldiers on the lines created lasting work as well.
Hell’s Angels, National Air and Space Museum, April 21
Howard Hughes took three years to shoot his 1930 aviation epic about the war, which employed 137 pilots in its climactic battle scene. Free.
“My Fellow Soldiers: Letters From World War I”
National Postal Museum, April 6, 2017–November 29, 2018
Letters from citizens and soldiers, including General Pershing, give first-person perspectives on the astonishing demands of war.
This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Washingtonian.