Professor Andrew Huebner joins us to discuss his fascinating new examination of the what World War I meant for Americans. Was it to “make the world safe for democracy” or was it for home and family. Find out!
Andrew J. Huebner, Love and Death in the Great War (2018).
Americans today harbor no strong or consistent collective memory of the First World War. Ask why the country fought or what they accomplished, and “democracy” is the most likely if vague response. The circulation of confusing or lofty rationales for intervention began as soon as President Woodrow Wilson secured a war declaration in April 1917. Yet amid those shifting justifications, Love and Death in the Great War argues, was a more durable and resonant one: Americans would fight for home and family. Officials in the military and government, grasping this crucial reality, invested the war with personal meaning, as did popular culture. “Make your mother proud of you/And the Old Red White and Blue” went George Cohan’s famous tune “Over There.” Federal officials and their allies in public culture, in short, told the war story as a love story.
Intervention came at a moment when arbiters of traditional home and family were regarded as under pressure from all sides: industrial work, women’s employment, immigration, urban vice, woman suffrage, and the imagined threat of black sexual aggression. Alleged German crimes in France and Belgium seemed to further imperil women and children. War promised to restore convention, stabilize gender roles, and sharpen male character.
Love and Death in the Great War tracks such ideas of redemptive war across public and private spaces, policy and implementation, home and front, popular culture and personal correspondence. In beautifully rendered prose, Andrew J. Huebner merges untold stories of ordinary men and women with a history of wartime culture. Studying the radiating impact of war alongside the management of public opinion, he recovers the conflict’s emotional dimensions–its everyday rhythms, heartbreaking losses, soaring possibilities, and broken promises.