Source: New Haven Register
By Dr. Sohail Husain — Email: email@example.com
World War I. When was that?
We are so caught up with the problems in the world today that it is hard to believe that the first global war started 100 years ago, in 1914. Put aside present concerns, or better yet, put them in view, and let’s look a century back. I think you’ll be surprised to see major parallels.
There aren’t any WWI veterans alive anymore. But when I was a primary school student — 30 years ago to be exact — I had the privilege of meeting a few. My first interaction was at an evening coffee meeting of the American Legion. The Legion members, some of whom fought in WWI, invited me, a first-generation immigrant and a Muslim-American, to receive the first prize for a youth essay contest on what it means to be an American. My second interaction was when I was learning the ropes — literally — learning to tie knots as a junior naval cadet. It was glamorous for us 4-foot-high city kids to march tall in sailors uniforms alongside the real veterans at the Veterans Day Parade in New York. In both instances, the WWI veterans were the oldest folks in the group, and they were generally kind-hearted men who could recount with fine detail their battle stories and campaigns. For a comprehensive understanding of WWI though, there are letters between soldiers and their loved ones, songs, rare film footage, and a myriad of books, documentaries and movie re-enactments. And at their core, the documents reveal grim realities and major upheaval — similar to what we see unfolding today.
The first striking parallel between WWI and the present is that there was a crossroads of old and new weaponry. On the one hand, the war still witnessed one-on-one combat with bayonets and rifles of the type used in the American Civil War. But the Great War, a term WWI is still known by, debuted heavy artillery, aerial guns and torpedoes. The Allies rolled out the first tanks, but they were still followed up by old-school cavalry brigades. There was also the advent of large-scale trench warfare — thousands of miles of it along the Western front of Europe — delineated by barbed wire and the stench of dead bodies.
On the seas, there were now grand battleships to replace the old armada. The Germans gained naval superiority for a time with their submersible “U-boats,” which were a forerunner to the true submarine. On the electronic front, there were key advances in wireless cryptography and sonar. Many innovations were, however, ghastly and non-conventional, including the use of flame throwers and gas attacks.
Today, we are also at a crossroads in war capabilities.