Working Together to Enrich Our National Collective Memory

The tomb of Manfried Baron von Richthofen, an all but forgotten grave in Berlin today.

The tomb of Manfried Baron von Richthofen, an all but forgotten grave in Berlin today.

In a recent interview with the Reuters news agency, German historian Herfried Muenkler explained the Germans’ comparative apathy toward the centenary of the First World War.  The all-encompassing collective memory of World War II and its associated guilt, combined with the knowledge that their national recollection of the first war was later distorted by the Nazis, has fostered a conscious desire by many Germans to ignore the 2014-18 centenary despite the undoubted impact of the war for virtually every German living in the first quarter of the 20th Century.  “[T]he collective memory of World War Two…overshadows World War One in every category from the loss of lives to the level of German guilt,” said Muenkler, a professor at Humbolt University whose recent book DER GROSSE KRIEG reexamines the traditional view of Imperial Germany’s role in starting the First World War.

The German government is spending a reported 4.7 million Euros on 2014 commemorations – less than one-tenth of that allocated by either France or Britain, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has no plans to participate in commemorations of the First World War according to Reuters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel.


In the United States, the federal government has already begun planning for the centenary of American participation in the First World War with the creation of the 12-member US World War One Centennial Commission.  This body of civic leaders, retired soldiers and historians has already begun planning for an ambitious program of promotional support for First World War commemorations and projects by various organizations throughout the country.  While the Commission’s existence indicates a commitment on the part of the US Government to honor the memory of American participation in The Great War 1914-1918 (in contrast to the official stance of the German government) funding for the Commission’s activities falls well short of any of the European governments.  The US World War One Centennial Commission is un-funded, without even travel expenses for its Commissioners being covered.

Centennial Commission

Without federal funding, the Centennial Commission will be engaging in its own fundraising, but it will still be relying heavily on organizations and individuals to achieve its goals over the coming years.  In short, we as Americans will need to work together to ensure that the legacy of the Doughboys, and the context of their achievements and sacrifices shines brightly in the centenary years – and beyond.  We will need to work together to kindle in today’s generations an understanding the impact of the war on American society, and the political legacy of the peace which followed.

June 2014 will mark the start of the World War I centenary as we reach the hundredth anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo which touched off the conflict, and around the world commemorative efforts and planning in various nations will begin spooling into high gear.  June will also be significant for centenary planning in the United States when the Centennial Commission holds its World War I Centennial Convention and Trade Fair in Washington DC on the afternoon of June 14.  This event will provide an opportunity for individuals and organizations to network with the Commission and each other as projects and plans are exhibited and outlined.

Bringing Americans together to enrich our national collective memory of the First World War is the chief purpose of the World War I Centennial Network, and we look forward to working with the United States World War One Centennial Commission to do just that.









    This is a facebook page dedicated to sharing First World War images and information internationally and is managed by someone in Germany.