World War 1 Forum Remembers Troops
Josh LaBella – News Writer
Parked outside the John Lyman center was a World War I era American military ambulance. Inside, experts had come together to give talks on the war, Connecticut’s involvement and its fallout – 100 years since the U.S. entered it.
The first speaker, Christine Pittsley, project manager for the Connecticut State Library’s “Remembering World War One: Sharing History/Preserving Memories”, said Connecticut was awesome during the war.
“We played a role that was really outsized compared to the rest of the states in our country,” said Pittsley.
According to Pittsley, while the rest of the country was in recession, Connecticut’s economy was humming along. She said more than 50 percent of the small arms munitions made for the United States during the war was made in Connecticut.
“In Bridgeport alone, 1.5 billion shells of various sizes and 2 billion .30-06 shells were manufactured in 1918,” said Pittsley. “That tells you a little bit about how important that aspect of Connecticut was during the war.”
George King, Executive Director of the Ambulance 255 Project, said the ambulance in the front of the building was a 1916 Model T Ford which represented 1,200 ambulances donated by Americans and driven by American volunteers during the first three years of the war.
“These drivers paid their own way over to France, paid for their own uniforms, and succeeded in evacuating 500,000 French wounded in those three years,” said King.
Michael Neiberg, a military author and historian and the keynote speaker of the forum, said the end of the First World War is an interesting case study.
“It’s an interesting case study in the way that people set up expectations for peace, and how those expectations fall apart,” said Neiberg. “It’s also an interesting case study of how it can move a society from a general attitude of being on the outside of international affairs to being fully engaged on the inside of international affairs.”
Neiberg said the U.S. got involved in the war for three reasons. He said the first is because of power the European countries had lost in the war. The second, he said, was to guarantee people freedom, security and self-determination. Finally, the third was President Woodrow Wilson’s desire to undercut the Soviet Union’s vision for the world.
“Therefore, the United States, whether it wanted to or not, found itself deeply involved in the crisis that the First World War had exposed,” said Neiberg.
According to Neiberg, the current situation in the Middle East has a direct link to actions taken during the war. He said the British and French powers split up the Ottoman Empire on a map with crayon.
“The boarders that we get from the Middle East, the structure of government we have in the Middle East,” said Neiberg, “comes directly out of all this conflict we have in the First World War.”
Neiberg said Americans were disillusioned after the war, not by the conflict itself, but by the mess of the peace that followed.
“Most Americans, believe even if the United States hadn’t had a role in breaking the pot, had nevertheless declared war,” said Neiberg. “The United States had nevertheless sent an army overseas. The United States had nevertheless had a president who issued a statement like the 14 Points, claiming that the United States would fight for people everywhere. Therefore, the United States, whether it broke it or not, had in fact bought it.”
Photo Credit: Josh LaBella