World War I


With the New York City Ballet winter season starting January 21, I’m using the ballet break to catch up on my reading. At the top of my pile is Max Hasting’s new book on World War I, Catastrophe. I’ve enjoyed his previous books on World War II including Armageddon (the last year of fighting in Germany), Retribution (the war against Japan), Winston’s War, and Inferno (an overall history of the War). With the 100th anniversary of the start of the war in August, I’m using the opportunity to learn something about a war I know very little about. I’m not alone according to a Wall Street Journal article:

“While it is a watershed moment in world history, the Great War has never been well understood by Americans and has been traditionally overshadowed in the public consciousness by WWII.

Even among historians, debate continues about the causes of the war and where to place the blame. Moreover, it lacks the compelling “good vs. evil” narrative that characterizes WWII.

“The American public has very little understanding or knowledge of WWI,” says historian David McCullough, the author of “John Adams” and “1776.” “When I talk at colleges and universities, many of them have no idea when it happened, and know nothing about it, and seem to have very little interest in it.”

Interesting fact from the book: in 1913, Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky, and Tito all lived in Vienna, Austria.

Here are photos of two New York City World War I memorials. The first is a bronze sculpture located in Central Park at 5th Avenue and 67th Street in Manhattan by Karl Illava (1896-1954) depicting seven World War I foot soldiers in battle. The work is one of several war memorials in Central Park and is dedicated to the men who served in the 107th New York Infantry Regiment during World War I. According to Wikipedia, the regiment saw heavy action as 580 men were killed and 1,487 were wounded out of 3,700 men originally in the regiment, with two soldiers awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The statue depicts seven men, with the helmetless leader and another soldier rushing to enemy positions with guns drawn and bayonets fixed. To the side (not shown) soldiers support the wounded.

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Central Park World War I Memorial by Karl Illava. Click photo for more information.

The second is the Saint Thomas Church World War I Memorial by Lee Lawrie. Saint Thomas is an Episcopal church at 53rd and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. At the top is the Archangel Michael, who drives his lance into the dragon. Below is relief of American soldiers going from America (represented by Saint Thomas Church) to France (represented by Rheims Cathedral). The names on the wall are parishioners who served in the war. The names in gold at the top are those who gave their lives. The colored shields on the stone above the door are the branches of the armed services. On the door are the shields of the Allied Nations. Information from “A Walking Tour of Saint Thomas Church.”

Lawrie (1877-1963) was one of the foremost architectural sculptors and a key figure in the American art scene preceding World War II, according to Wikipedia. He produced over 300 commissions in styles ranging from Modern Gothic, Beaux-Arts Classicism and finally Moderne or Art Deco. His most prominent work is the free-standing bronze Atlas (installed 1937) at New York City’s Rockefeller Center.

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Saint Thomas Episcopal Church World War I Memorial by Lee Lawrie. Click photo for more information.