"At the sound of the first droning . . .
...of the shells we rush back, in one part of our being, a thousand years. By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected. It is not conscious; it is far quicker, much more sure, less fallible, than consciousness. . . . It is this other, this second sight in us, that has thrown us to the ground and saved us, without our knowing how. . . . We march up, moody or good-tempered soldiers—we reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals."
— Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
World War I
— from the series America in the 20th Century
One could argue that many issues of American foreign policy in the twentieth century had their origins in the emergence of the United States as a major world power at the end of the 19th century. The Spanish-American war was the great conflict of the era, Teddy Roosevelt its great warrior. For nationalist Americans, empire building was intoxicating. The Washington Post editorialized:
“A new consciousness seems to have come upon us—the consciousness of strength—and with it a new appetite, the yearning to show our strength. . . . Ambition, interest, land hunger, pride, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be, we are animated by a new sensation. We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle. It means an Imperial policy, the Republic, renascent, taking her place with the armed nations.”
Of course, not everyone was infected with the blood fever. Sober citizens, Mark Twain among them, vehemently opposed American imperialism in general and the Spanish-American War in particular. With the benefit of more than a century of hindsight, we know the consequences of that "splendid little war" were monumental. Indeed, its lesson endures today: "'Tis much easier to win the war than to secure the peace."
World War I is the third installment in the award-winning video series America in the 20th Century. It examines the causes, conduct, and collateral effects of the Great War, including advances in battlefield technology, the American role in the conflict, and efforts to secure a peace settlement. The program also explores the wartime repercussions on the American home front: efforts to garner public support, changing roles of women and African-Americans, and the war’s impact on civil rights and civil liberties.
Join the Streaming Room™
Get instant access to our entire collection of award-winning video programs—more than fifteen hours of standards-based content—plus creative sound galleries, interactive timelines, primary source media, comprehensive ancillaries, and more.
No bells. No whistles. Just remarkable history and social studies content at the very best price.