Gen. Mark A. Milley on America in WWI

US Army Chief of Staff on Impact of the First World War

On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson’s request to Congress for a declaration of war against imperial Germany was approved by the Senate.

Address at 100th Commemoration Ceremony at Pentagon

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke at a commemoration ceremony at the Pentagon, Thursday, about the importance of the war and its impact:

It’s appropriate on the 100th anniversary of the United States’ commitment into World War I for us to reflect. Are we better at decision making today? Are there similarities in the structure or rising powers? Are there similarities and interconnectedness where nobody can fathom or imagine or believe conflicts of this size and scope and levels of violence could ever happen? Are we that much smarter than those who came before us 100 years ago today?

According to Charles R. Bowery Jr., executive director of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, 4.8 million Americans served in uniform during the war, and 4 million of them were in the Army.

“We need to take time and reflect,” Milley said. “We owe it to those 5 million Americans who wore the uniform of our nation. We owe it to the 99 [Army] divisions that were mobilized in World War I. We owe it to the almost 117,000 soldiers killed in action in the fields of Europe. We owe it to every one of them. Even though none of them are alive today, we owe it to all of them to clearly and unambiguously understand what World War I was about, how it started and vow upon their graves that we never let it happen again.”

Obligated to Remember Their Sacrifice

Milley said World War I was a national war that mobilized the entire nation. “It takes the entire commitment of the entire nation to fight a war, requiring the effort and the sacrifice of all government leaders throughout the nation, by business executives and innovators, teachers, builders and bankers,” he added. “It was felt beyond the continent of Europe. It was called a world war for a reason. It affected all of our families throughout the world. I have two grand uncles who served with the Canadian army. There are many in this room whose grand something served in World War I. We are obligated to remember their service and sacrifice and all those who came before us.”

He said the United States had 375,000 casualties, many from the flu in the camps. Milley also stressed that any historian would tell you World War I was a “global blood shedding that cost 38 million lives”. It destroyed the British, French, German, Russian, Hungarian and Ottoman empires, he added, and it set the conditions for the global Great Depression. It also gave rise for the Russian revolution and the brutality of Soviet communism, which Milley noted only ended in 1991.

Two World Wars Changed the World Forever

The war also set the course for Nazism and militarism in Japan and the course for World War II, he said. Between World War I and World War II, 100 million to 200 million people were killed in warfare.

“The first half of the century was incredibly bloody. Soldiers and civilians were butchered and murdered in all corners of the globe. We should never, ever forget that,” Milley said. “It changed the very character of the world, and it changed it forever. It was brutally violent in scope and scale, and we still see the impacts today.”

Milley said the lines between Iraq and Syria, along with lines throughout most of the countries in the Middle East and many of the borders in Europe, were drawn as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty after World War I.

Terrorism Cause of World War

Milley said skirmishes such as the Crimean War and conflict in the Balkans took place, but those were local, limited conflicts. The world had experienced 100 years of relative peace since the Napoleonic Wars of 1815, and was enjoying industrial progress such as communications and transportation. Underneath the quality-of-life improvements such as the automobile and showers, was structural tension and ethnic tension, especially in the Balkans with Austria, the Hungarians and the Serbians.

Terrorist attacks occurred throughout Europe before World War I. In one attack, 70 senior officials were murdered by the Black Hand, a Serbian terrorist group. But the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914, set off a chain reaction, and armies were mobilized. Most believed it would be a short war, but it wasn’t. All of the leaders were cousins; they were all nieces and nephews of Britain’s Queen Victoria.

“The economies were all interconnected,” Milley said. “Everybody said that if there was a war, it wouldn’t last long, because it would lead to economic disaster, so there couldn’t be a war because no one would willingly go into economic disaster. There was absolutely no logical reason, most thought, to have a war, and yet each of the decision makers in those respective countries mobilized and launched their nations into an incredible cataclysm of war.”

Source: US Department of Defense

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