Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art

After the War


"Once Society drank war, brought them into manhood with a cultivated taste for war; but now Society seemed to have found something else for a beverage."
William Faulkner, Soldiers' Pay (1926)

Certainly World War I was the most significant event of the first part of the century. Also known as The Great War, it thrust the nation into European politics. The United States Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Troops began engaging in battle in the summer of 1918 in Cantigny, Chateau-Thierry, and Belleau Wood, France. More than 4,000,000 American soldiers were mobilized in the war, and at the end of hostilities the casualties numbered near 120,000 (with an estimated 10,000,000 dead on all sides).

American participation was key in the defeat of Germany, and the armistice ending the war was signed on November 11, 1918. The United States became a financial superpower following the war, and military growth and weapons development expanded almost without political control. The structures of democracy came under severe strain. The country had never been totally united in support of the war, and in the years following the ceasefire, many poems, novels, and memoirs centered, often bitterly, on the experience of the individual soldier. In these works, the old civilized world went up in flames and the modern world was born.

Enlist! On Which Side of the Window Are You?
Enlist! On Which Side of the Window Are You?
Laura Brey

World War I military recruiting posters sought to inspire enlistment by bringing the needs of the war effort closer to home.

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