The Progressive Legacy of World War 1
Written By: Mark Browning | Posted: Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
Recently, Frank Buckles, the last living veteran of that war died at age 110. When the President decreed that all American flags should fly at half-staff on Tuesday in memory of that veteran, he got something right. Of course, honoring a 110-year-old veteran of a war that ended over 90 years ago does not exactly constitute a political risk. After all, the list of people still angry over World War I is fairly small. In reality, though, that list should probably be a bit longer. As we rightly admire the service given by Mr. Buckles and all of the Doughboys, let's take a moment to recall where that "War to End All Wars" originated and what it gave us.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a 16-year-old magazine changed its name to Christian Century in honor of the idea that this century, the twentieth, would be the century in which Christianity, and specifically liberal Protestantism, asserted itself triumphantly. Poverty and war would end. Peace and prosperity would burst out around the world. By the close of that century, probably the bloodiest and ugliest in all history, no one at the magazine, still publishing well into the twenty-first century, wanted to claim the twentieth as a triumphant time.
The intelligentsia of those early-twentieth-century years felt that they had everything figured out. Francis Galton, drawing on the biology of his cousin Charles Darwin, developed the idea of eugenics. Selective breeding, his followers believed, would put an end to all the weaknesses and defects so prevalent in the human race. Meanwhile, the emerging study of psychology, especially in the work of Sigmund Freud, promised to open up the mysteries of the human mind.
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