The Last Doughboy

I meant to note this at the time of publication but America now has only one surviving veteran of the First World War, Frank  Buckles, age 107:

Now there is only one. When Harry Richard Lucas died recently, Frank Buckles was left as the only American soldier who can recount his personal experience in World War I. He is the last surviving American World War I veteran. The Great War, as it was once known, is receding into ancient history, an era as distant from us today as the Civil War or the American Revolution.But every war lingers, long after the last soldier has died. Generations hence, the ghosts still speak to us, even if we no longer acknowledge the voices. Look no further than our current travails in the Middle East, in large measure a result of the political consequences of World War I, which created the political boundaries of those tribal regions. And in an echo of the current presidential debate, Americans in 1917 were passionately divided about being drawn into a European conflict we had little direct stake in, arguably less than we have in Iraq today.

When Mr. Buckles went ” Over There” the nation was still more agrarian than urban and both the Civil War and Slavery remained within living memory, neither the electric light nor running water were taken for granted and motion pictures were silent. The changes that Frank Buckles has seen in his lifetime surpass that of most 500 year periods in history.

WWI had been overshadowed for decades by the sheer enormity of it’s larger and more lethal sequel, the Second World War but historians are coming to see the Great War as a watershed in modern history, the tipping point at which the twentieth century went unpredictably, horribly, wrong.  John Keegan elegantly writes of the war, despite having been “curiously civilized”, cutting down a generation like stalks of wheat and twisting the survivors, turning them against the liberal and rational civilization of the Enlightenment. The war’s unprecedented slaughter desensitized Europeans to violence and cultivated widespread disillusionment with the traditional order, leaving a spiritual and political vacumn that would be filled by the malevolent dynamism of Fascism and Communism.

For practical purposes, that “Lost Generation” is now gone and the “Greatest Generation” that had to fight WWII and “finish the job” is going fast. Let’s hope the hard lessons they learned do not pass from memory along with them.

8 comments on this post.
  1. historyguy99:

    The most telling part of that article is:

    "My son’s high school American History textbook covers American involvement in the war in less than two pages, roughly the same amount of coverage it gives to the Reagan Iran-contra affair. Dismissed in a single sentence are 50,000 combat deaths the United States suffered in less than a year and a half, more than 10 times the number of Iraq War casualties to date."

    Sadly, if the trend in national self-loathing continues the only mention of World War II will be that we were the first to use the atomic bomb on a civilian population. The seeds of this arguement has already been touted from the unlikly place of a church pulpit and into the ears of a possible future commander in chief.

  2. PurpleSlog:

    Interesting…Buckles also spent three years as a POW of the Japanese in WW2.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Buckles

  3. historyguy99:

    This maybe somewhat anecdotal, but here is an article from USA Today about who today’s high school students consider the most important Americans.
    Here’s the list chosen by 2000 juniors and seniors, no Presidents allowed:

    1. Martin Luther King Jr.: 67%
    2. Rosa Parks: 60% 3. Harriet Tubman: 44% 4. Susan B. Anthony: 34% 5.Benjamin Franklin: 29% 6. Amelia Earhart: 25% 7. Oprah Winfrey: 22% 8. Marilyn Monroe: 19% 9. Thomas Edison: 18%
    10. Albert Einstein: 16%

  4. zen:

    The Gramiscian/New Left critique of America probably has very little to do with Rev. Wright, who has other intellectual traditions, religious and secular, to draw upon to vent his bitterness. An angry dude who managed to cock up his friend’s commanding lead in the polls and reinvigorate the fading, despairing, Hillaryites.

  5. historyguy99:

     
    An angry dude who managed to cock up his friend’s commanding lead in the polls and reinvigorate the fading, despairing, Hillaryites.

    There may be more to the story.

    The Reverend Wright’s Sabotage

  6. Lexington Greenl:

    "The war’s unprecedented slaughter desensitized Europeans to violence and cultivated widespread disillusionment with the traditional order, leaving a spiritual and political vacumn that would be filled by the malevolent dynamism of Fascism and Communism."

    Nicely put in one sentence.  Another aspect of it we still have not overcome:  The lie that the war was about nothing and for nothing.  That is not what the people of France and Britain and the USA thought at the time. They thought, with much good reason, that German militarism had become detached from any civilized mooring, and had to be stopped.  The more read, the more I think they were right.  The people who fought and died on the Allied side did not do so "for nothing" and their deaths were not futile.  They were on the right side.   Their great-great-children will never be taught that, however.  The Left has a huge investment in maintaining the very disillusion you mention.  All the values that shaped our civilization down to 1914 have been under attack since at least 1918.  The lie at the heart of that baseless attack is that World War I was a pointless and callous discarding of millions of lives.  It took more than ten years of relentless propaganda after World War I to get that lie accepted as the "master narrative".  We have been saddled with it ever since.

  7. zen:

    Hi Lex,
    .
    Thanks! I’m sure that with your heavy readings of history, you have come across the Nye Committee hearings that placed the blame on the corporate " The Merchants of Death" for starting WWI. Basically, this was also the Soviet/Comintern line at the time. 
    .
    Like all such committee reports by Congress the Nye report was written by staffers – in this case by a young attorney (and secret CPUSA member) named Alger Hiss, who was the committee’s general counsel.

  8. Lexington Green:

    I had not known that detail about Hiss. How NOT surprising. It fits my model of the whole postwar “disillusion” happened, including the Soviet propaganda element..