Last week, I spoke with Mrs. Sara Cureton of the New Jersey Historical Commission. One of the projects the commission will be undertaking is working with the World War 1 Centennial Commission. During my interview with Mrs. Cureton, we talked in detail about WW1 and it’s importance to New Jersey. I would like to take this week’s entry to explain a little bit about World War I, New Jersey’s involvement, and what the centennial commission will be doing to honor the war’s 100th anniversary.
While growing up and going through all those fun Social Studies classes, and even history classes at college, I was rarely ever taught about World War I. It’s understandable. World War II is seen as vastly more interesting, with its cast of incredibly evil war criminals, and the romanticism that flourishes in movies and books based on the conflict. After all, we won the war, and everyone always wants a story to end on a good note.
At first glance, World War 1 does not seem to have much going for it. Its conclusion led to World War II, and the conflict was an ugly one thanks to the horrors of trench warfare. However, when you look past the gloom, the period is having sort of a renaissance in modern eyes.
“World War 1 is having kind of a moment, in terms of the art, literature, and music, already I can see people are responding to it,” Mrs. Sara Cureton said in agreement. “The aesthetic looks refreshing in 2016, and that hasn’t happened until recent years.”
During its time, World War I quickly became one of the most devastating conflicts in human history. Starting in 1914, the war premiered the rise of modern warfare, and the untold destruction of modern weaponry completely changed the standard that past wars had set.
Eventually, the United States would get pulled into the conflict. Germany would utilize its submarines to terrorize American and allied ships, and would even attempt to coerce Mexico into invading the US with the Zimmerman telegram. The United States finally declared war on Germany on April 6th, 1917. The war would last one more year, ending in 1918 with about 16 million perishing when all was said and done.
So you may be asking, what was New Jersey’s involvement, and why is this important?
“New Jersey has a great WWI story to tell…not every state does,” explained Mrs. Cureton. “Industries (such as munitions assembly) based in New Jersey by then were perfectly placed and it was fully exploited even before the US entered the war. Then, you have the human side of it…New Jersey sends about 140,000 troops by war’s end. Finally, Hoboken becomes a major port of embarkation and return of troops.”
Below is a video of one of such returns to Hoboken. “Heaven, hell, or Hoboken by Christmas,” was a saying that grew among soldiers longing to return home from the horrors of warfare in Europe.
The centennial is a large celebration of everything World War 1 within New Jersey. Some of the things, such as Hoboken’s story, has a more detailed explanation on New Jersey’s section of the World War I Centennial’s website.
The website also contains an interactive map that details historical sites in New Jersey which feature World War I history. Again, referencing my older post about finding historical sites, this is an amazing tool to getting yourself out there to experience history.
Additionally, it also features a blog and a list of events, which will start picking up next year as we enter the 100th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in the war. The events hosted will be everything from lectures at universities, exhibitions in museums, to a musical performance honoring those who served in the conflict.
Another question you might be asking is why is World War I important to us now?
“I think that the issues of WW1 can resonate with us today because there are so many things from that period we are still grappling with today,” Mrs. Cureton elaborated. “Isolationism versus immigration versus imperialism…and even the issue of national borders. Many of these issues are still here. There are definitely echoes from throughout that period.”
Hopefully, this week’s entry has given you interest in reading more about World War I. I personally have become very interested in this period of history this past year, and I feel there is no better time than the present to get involved! The celebration of the centennial is looking to be a great time to explore New Jersey’s historical offers.
Until next time, see you later!