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Dr. Lamay-Licursi Emphasizes American Oblivion Regarding WWI Ahead of The Great War’s Centennial

On Monday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Sarazen Student Union, historians and students alike gathered to listen to Dr. Kimberly Lamay-Licursi, the Siena College History Department’s  2018 Distinguished Speaker, communicate her findings through research on World War I and its remembrance in America. Lamay-Licursi stated, “People are not aware of how relevant this war was,” and beginning her lecture, listed the aggressions between countries that are rooted in this war including the first stages of the Cold War, World War II, the Vietnam War and American conflicts with Al-Qaeda.

Kimberly Lamay-Licursi’s research on this topic led her to complete her recently published book, “Remembering World War I in America” this past March. When exploring the library’s archives on WWI, she focused her studies on four components of memory about the war including war histories, memoirs, fiction and film. Lamay-Licursi, through her lecture and in her recently published book proves that no consistent image about the war caught on among the American population which explains the lack of collective memory that exists surrounding this point in American history.

Describing the lack of pardon America has paid to the veterans of the Great War, Lamay-Licursi pointed out that WWI is the only war that the United States had been involved in that is not commemorated by a monument on the national mall. Although there is a park in Washington D.C. that is dedicated to the veterans of the Great War, Lamay-Licursi acknowledged that it is located “in a far corner of the nation’s capital, which further proves that the memory of WWI is placed in a far corner of American history.”

Since the war took place on the European front, most WWI soldiers, including those from America, are buried in European graveyards. Lamay-Licursi poses the question: if Europeans have these spaces to contemplate and shed light on the effects of the war, then why is there no such location in America?

Another factor that plays into the American ignorance surrounding this topic that Lamay-Licursi shed light on is the fact that media censorship was very strong at this point in time. Due to this, there was not much literature or advertisement that had the possibility of weakening the sense of American morale on the homefront. Therefore, books written about the war during this time are not credible as an effect of the heavy government censorship they had to pass through in order to be published. Lamay-Licursi noted that the main reason we have such a faint memory of WWI in America is due to the fact that there is little to no collective memory about the events of “The Great War”.

In her lecture, Dr. Lamay-Licursi explored films released that include the mention of  World War I and dissected the tendency of these films to further muddle the collective memory of the Great War in America. She identified that many movies set during the time that the war was taking place use WWI as a mere plot device, and rarely focus on the prominence of the war in society. Lamay-Licursi interpreted the popularity of movies regarding the war that inaccurately display images of death, male bonding on the battlefield and romance was due to the fact that Americans were willing to enter a false reality about the war. These movies continued to glorify war in the eyes of the American people, which contributed to false conclusions being drawn from the conflicts that created what we know as “The Great War.”

This lecture offered those in attendance a very interesting and realistic lens on the first world war that is often repressed in American discussion of the war. By touching on the four components of war histories, memoirs, fiction and film surrounding the war, Dr. Lamay-Licursi accurately depicted how difficult it is to find a popular summary of WWI that is credible and appealing to the American audience. The ongoing theme of this lecture was to prove to each individual in attendance that an accurate remembrance of this war gives the entire world and specifically the American population more perspective on the horrors of war.

Dr. Kimberly Lamay-Licursi took the stage as the history department’s 2018 distinguished speaker that night and used her new platform to give a compelling insight into American prestige and the bubbling aggressions between countries throughout the war.