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American political and literary discourses in the Great War era were infused with revolutionary rhetoric. In 1912, the major-party nominees for president as well as the Socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, promised revolutionary change. In 1914, many initial commentators on the war, whether Vachel Lindsay or radicals of The Masses magazine, recognized its class-war implications. Even as President Wilson led an intervention seeking regime change in Central Europe, the antiwar Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) sought industrial-democratic regime change at home. While the February revolution in Russia was widely applauded by Americans, the November revolution led by the Bolsheviks sharply divided US opinion. Ten Days That Shook the World, by American journalist John Reed, not only defended Lenin’s methods but encouraged their application in the United States. But counterrevolution held the upper hand in the country, as IWW leaders were sentenced to long prison terms and other radical groups were suppressed in the postwar Palmer raids. Upton Sinclair’s novel Jimmie Higgins both deplored the ill-conceived 1918-19 US military intervention against the Bolsheviks and grieved the loss of a legal, parliamentary path to social democracy in the United States.
Divided into five sections, the introduction surveys American involvement in the First World War and provides a guide to the collection itself. The first section, “War Guilt, Disillusionment, and Beyond,” charts broadly the way the war was seen during wartime and in the postwar era up to the present. Section two, “Why the First World War Was Fought and the United States Joined,” examines briefly why the war occurred and why the United States, distant from the center of the conflict, became involved. One important aspect contributing to that involvement—the debate among American intellectuals that came largely to embrace the Allies--is the subject of section three, “The Great War and the Intellectuals.” Section four, “How the United States Built an Army, Won the War, and Lost the Peace,” considers how the US fought the war, its role in the outcome, and the ultimate defeat of Wilson’s vision of a US-led postwar world order. The final section, “How to Read This Book,” highlights its three overall aims: canvassing the diverse forms of war literature and culture; analyzing the many settings and perspectives that occasioned responses to the war, and describing the depth and durability of the war’s impact.
In the years of and around the First World War, American poets, fiction writers, and dramatists came to the forefront of the international movement we call Modernism. At the same time a vast amount of non- and anti-Modernist culture was produced, mostly supporting, but also critical of, the US war effort. A History of American Literature and Culture of the First World War explores this fraught cultural moment, teasing out the multiple and intricate relationships between an insurgent Modernism, a still-powerful traditional culture, and a variety of cultural and social forces that interacted with and influenced them. Including genre studies, focused analyses of important wartime movements and groups, and broad historical assessments of the significance of the war as prosecuted by the United States on the world stage, this book presents original essays defining the state of scholarship on the American culture of the First World War.