Effects of World War I can still be seen 100 years later, experts say at KC museum event

07/27/2014 4:32 PM

07/28/2014 12:21 AM

Soldiers during World War I entered the European battlefield on horseback, but they left in airplanes.

Improvements in technology and military strategies and advancements in civil and women’s rights were all part of the lasting legacies and continued influences of World War I, a panel of historians and military experts said Sunday at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.

The session, one of the museum’s war centennial events, focused on ways the Great War has affected modern culture.

“The important lesson to learn from World War I and how to prevent wars and what steps need to be taken is to create robust, sustaining governmental bodies,” said Chad Williams of Brandeis University.

“So hopefully we can look back on World War I and see some of the failures that came out of the war, and hopefully we can take some lessons in how we can prevent some of these large scale global conflicts from escalating into something more sinister.”

The United States was not prepared for military intervention. The number of troops was substantially inadequate, and a military draft was needed.

However, World War I was truly the first modern war because of the use of advanced military strategies, chemical weapons, improvements in communications, aviation and other forms of technology.

In addition, many borders were redrawn after the war, and the results can be seen in the ongoing conflicts in the Gaza Strip as well as those between Russia and Ukraine, Williams said.

Culturally, women played a significant role overseas and in the United States. Prior to the war, women’s groups had marched to the White House and demanded equality and the right to vote.

During the war, women worked as nurses, telephone operators and in other key jobs. Women took over factory jobs while men fought overseas and volunteered with the Salvation Army and the Young Men’s Christian Association.

“Coming back after the war, the world had changed and opened up from this experience for women to be more empowered,” said Mitch Yockelson of the National Archives.

The roots of American jazz as well as the African-American cultural and arts movement emerged from World War I.

“You have a number of African-Americans who become key participants in the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural and arts movement of the 1920s: artists, musicians, poets, novelists who used the war as a source of inspiration to fuel their artistry,” Williams said.

The war also had a significant impact on the lives of African-Americans, in particular soldiers who struggled to have their military roles expanded beyond being used as labor troops.

An African-American military division was assigned to and fought alongside French troops. Several African-American soldiers received the French Croix de Guerre, or the Cross of War, for their valiant service.

“The idea of a sharecropper from rural Alabama going to France was something that was revolutionary, so the war expanded the horizons of many American soldiers, and in particular black troopers who used those experiences to transformed their lives for the better after the war,” Williams said.

Many African-American soldiers returned home and became key leaders in their communities, he said.

Locally, Carl R. Johnson returned to Kansas City after the war and later became the first African-American elected to the Kansas City Municipal Court.

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

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