In remembrance of Armistice Day, I went to a concert Sunday night called “The Greatest War: World War One, Wisconsin, and Why it Still Matters. A Live Rock and Roll History Show”.
I didn’t expect to learn about the war from rock and roll, but I did. Straw polls in city after city across the state showed the populace overwhelmingly opposed to entry into the war. Senator Robert M (“Fighting Bob”) LaFollette declared, “The poor, sir, who are the ones called upon to rot in the trenches, have no organized power, [but] they will have their day and they will be heard.”
[Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/fake-news-and-fervent-nationalism-got-senator-robert-la-follette-tarred-traitor-his-anti-war-views-180965317/] Nine of 11 members of the Wisconsin delegation to the US House of Representatives opposed entry into the war. Some were pacifists, opposed to the war on general principal. Some saw it as a war between British imperialism and German militarism. All were vilified as traitors. (Wisconsin also had/has a sizable German-American population and there were calls to treat each and every one “as a potential spy”.)
I learned in history class that the US entered the war due to the sinking of the Lusitania. What I didn’t learn is that the Lusitania was not an innocent ship of civilian tourists, but was carrying armaments to the British. There was a second explosion on the Lusitania after the initial explosion of the torpedo which struck it. Speculation includes that it was the boiler, coal dust, or additional secret armaments in addition to those on the cargo list. None of the theories has been proven.
While it was billed as the “War to End All Wars” the US has been at war constantly since then, except during the years of 1935-1940, according to multiple sources. We are currently embroiled in the longest-lasting war in US history. Ironically, we are also in the period referred to as “The Long Peace”, as there have been no direct wars between major world powers.
The program consisted of a Prologue (Armistice), Act I (Europe’s War, the World’s War), Act II (Over There) and Act III: (The War to End War). Each act was depicted visually via archival photos, musically via historical and original songs, and in the words of people at the time.
What does this have to do with bicycles, you might ask? Glad you asked. Troops used bicycles as transportation, as depicted in the photo below (or to the left, depending on how you’re viewing this), behind The Viper and His Famous Orchestra.
What does this have to do with music? Saxophonist Hanah Jon Taylor played before a backdrop of an African-American US Army Band. Soldiers from Harlem are credited with introducing jazz to Europe.
The penultimate number was performed by The Kissers before a scrolling backdrop listing the names (by city) of all Wisconsin war dead. As the names scrolled on, Sean Michael Dargan performed “Flowers of the Forest” on bagpipes.
All in all, it was a phenomenal night and one I will not soon forget.
PS: Thanks to A Dude Abikes for the inspiration. After reading his post about Das Hugel, I’ve decided to ride the Horribly Hilly Hundreds (“Biking like a Viking”) next spring. It has become so popular that there is a lottery for entry, so I’m not guaranteed a spot. Wish me luck.
One thought on “The Greatest War”
Actually it wasn’t the sinking of the Lusitania at all, although the Germans messed up. Since it was a civilian transport, tradition required them to allow the crew and passengers to abandon ship before the ship was sunk. They didn’t and that is what pissed off most of the world.
The official “causus belli” was the Zimmerman telegram in which was a proposed alliance between Mexico and Germany.
The real reason we joined the war was that Wilson wanted a seat at the table in Europe for peace negotiations. He proposed a much gentler treaty of surrender that the French and British would allow. The resulting Treaty of Versailes was intended to crush the Germans so badly with reparations they would never be capable of aggression again. (We saw how well that worked.) He also wanted to form a League of Nations in the hope that would prevent future wars. Congress rejected it. (Aside from that he was a horrid little autocrat that had no problems trampling the constitution, jailing anyone who disagreed with him, crushing unions and opening fire on nonviolent protestors.)