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LIFE World War I: The Great War and the American Century

LIFE World War I: The Great War and the American Century

Автором The Editors of LIFE

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LIFE World War I: The Great War and the American Century

Автором The Editors of LIFE

114 pages
47 minutes
Mar 17, 2017


In 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand-who was in line for the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire-propelled Europe into a war unlike any the world had ever seen. But it would take yet another remarkable series of events for the United States to decide to enter the fray, a century ago in April of 1917. By the time the armistice arrived the following year, empires had fallen and 15 million combatants lay dead. And for the United States, the consequences of the decision to get involved would reverberate throughout would come to be known as the American Century, and still echo today.

  • How the actions of teenage Bosnian nationalists set the war in motion-and why European leaders could not (or would not) stop it
  • The birth of modern warfare and the brutal results that came with poison gas, airplanes and tanks
  • American leaders facing a future in which isolation is no longer an option
  • How the underprepared U.S. military helped put an end to years of war-and emerged one of the world's great fighting forces
  • Plus: the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations and how they failed to avert an even more cataclysmic war two decades later
Mar 17, 2017

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LIFE World War I - The Editors of LIFE



A Crisis that Redefined Us

By Leon Panetta

Former Secretary of Defense and Special Advisor to the United States World War One Centennial Commission


ON ARMISTICE DAY, 1921, the body of an unidentified American, exhumed in France, was carried from the U.S. Capitol, above, to Arlington, Virginia, where President Warren G. Harding officiated at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns.

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered the world’s stage by declaring war against Germany and joining the Allies in their fight to make the world safe for democracy. In the 19 months that followed, 4.7 million American men and women served in the Great War. Doughboys, as the American men in uniform were called, came from all walks of life: college students, lawyers, store clerks, farmers, and sharecroppers. All served—whites, African Americans, Native Americans, and recent immigrants from across the globe.

The two million troops that deployed overseas during World War I were led by General John J. Pershing, who organized the men into the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Pershing’s untested warriors proved themselves in pitched, grinding battles on the western front, at Cantigny, Belleau Wood, Château-Thierry, and St. Mihiel, and in the 47-day Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which involved more than one million doughboys. Still other Americans fought on battlefields in Italy, northern Russia, and Siberia. By the time the fighting ceased with an armistice at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, more than 115,000 Americans had died for their country, including more than 53,000 as the result of combat. At the time it was said this was the War to End All Wars. No one could imagine that an even costlier world war would break out almost 20 years later.

Not only did World War I change how future conflicts would be fought and introduce technological advances in the treatment of battlefield casualties—such as the use of mobile X-ray machines, motorized ambulances, antiseptics and prosthetics—it also helped to bring the United States into the modern age. Despite these achievements, few people today fully recognize the contribution made by American men and women in 1917 and 1918.

World War I is the only major conflict involving the American military that does not have a national memorial in Washington, D.C. But, for decades after the war, monuments and memorials sprang up in cities and towns across the country. Streets, parks, and other landmarks were named for the great hero General Pershing. In 1981, the American Battle Monuments Commission placed one such memorial to Pershing and the AEF in Washington, just a block from the White House. Known as Pershing Park, the 52-by-75-foot plaza includes an eight-foot statue of Pershing and walls on the east and west sides of the memorial. One wall contains battle maps, while the other bears a transcription of Pershing’s tribute to the officers and men who served under him. And yet, over time, the park became neglected and was rarely visited.

Today, the United States World War One Centennial Commission, for which I proudly serve as a special advisor, has made it a core mission to establish a World War I memorial at Pershing Park to remind average people, just like those who wore a uniform a century ago, to step forward every day to protect and defend our country.


War in Europe and Peace at Home

As the world descends into conflict, the United States struggles with whether to join in


CANADIAN TROOPS leave their trenches and head over the top at the Battle of the Somme. The 141-day offensive in 1916 failed to break through the German line and led to more than one million dead and wounded of all nationalities.

As the Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie Chotek, strolled through a bazaar in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, on June 27, 1914, they passed carpet shops and coppersmiths, singing street clowns and citizens who happily greeted the couple. But as these visiting royals made their way through the market’s winding paths, they were not aware that 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip stalked

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