There’s an old adage that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
From the vantage point of history — 100 years later — there is consensus: “The Great War” changed everything. From 1914-1918, more than 65 million served. Nearly 30 million became casualties. Empires were lost. National boundaries were reshaped. Economies were devastated. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which affected 500 million people and killed tens of millions, was spread largely through movements of soldiers across the world.
At home in the U.S., World War I changed America. Going from isolationist to global leader, the U.S. fought to secure liberty abroad in order to sustain freedom at home. Among the results: broader freedoms, a new era in women’s and civil rights, the dawn of the “American Century” and much more.
In a world of increased globalization, radicalization and national tensions, it’s clear that the lessons of the Great War endure to this day. The world today is more like the world of 1914 than it has been for the past 104 years. As we mark the 100 years since the Armistice, it is essential that we not sleepwalk into catastrophe.
It is our collective responsibility to have these conversations, to reflect and learn. And we have a sacred responsibility to remember those who served in defending our liberty and freedom. The enduring impact of the Great War continues to be felt today, continues to influence the lives of men and women through the world. This is the story told uniquely at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. And, it’s as important now as it’s ever been.
Matthew Naylor is president and CEO of the National WWI Museum and Memorial.