When Woodrow Wilson brought America into World War 1 back in 1917, he assured everyone it was “the war to end all wars.”
“The legacy about World War I is that it left so much unresolved,” said Aaron Nobel, curator of a new exhibit, “A Spirit of Sacrifice: New York State in the First World War,” on display at the New York State Museum. “It wasn’t the war to end all wars, as it was portrayed, We’re still grappling with the issues and questions from that time, we’re still suffering the consequences of the decisions we made, and many of the tensions in Europe and the rest of the world today can be traced back to the immediate post World War 1 era.”
Of all of America’s wars, World War I doesn’t rank up there with the Civil War, World War II or the American Revolution in terms of public interest. It hasn’t produced the same number of books or amount of research as those three other conflicts, but since this year marks the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the conflict, World War I is taking center stage.
“The war had a lasting impact on America and throughout the world, but it didn’t have that definitive moment of some other wars,” said Noble. “There wasn’t a Fort Sumter, a Pearl Harbor or the Maine wasn’t sunk. There was no defining moment that brough us into the conflict.”
The museum exhibit includes about 70 posters from the New York State Library collection from that time, and several interpreetive panels and images about New York’s contribution to the war effort.
“Because the war was so controversial, in terms of us entering into it, the U.S. government undertook a propaganda campaign to sway public opinion,” said Noble. “Many prominent artists were used to create these colorful posters, and we also have some three dimensional artifacts that tell other stories about the war and what was going on.”
One of those things going on was the harsh treatment of German-Americans.
“Some of the artifacts speak to the thornier issues swirling around at the time, in terms of relations with German-Americans,” said Noble. “Some people suspected that some of these recent immigrants had torn loyalties between their homeland and their adopted country. There was suspicion and paranoia, but most German-Americans served just as favorably as the native-born citizens.”
Physically dominating the exhibit gallery is a re-created trench where an American soldier seeks shelter from the onslaught of German artillery.
“We want to address the every-day life of the American soldier on the Western Front, and this re-created trench allows visitors to imagine what it might be like as you walk out of your dugout into the firing line,” said Noble. “There’s a plexiglass barrier right before you head into the trench, and our soldier is there standing guard, awaiting any possible enemy attack. There are various pieces of equipment the soldier might have carried into the trench with him.”
‘The Spirit of Sacrifice: New York State in the First World War’
WHERE: New York State Museum, 222 Madison Ave., Albany
WHEN: Tuesday through Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., through November
HOW MUCH: Free admission
MORE INFO: 474-0575, www.nysm.nysed.gov