Over there

Apr 6, 2017 By Steven R. Peck

One hundred years ago today, America joined a global fight

One hundred years ago today -- April 6, 1917 -- the following document was ratified by the United States Congress:

"WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the people of the United States of America; therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared; and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States."

America was at war -- officially and formally, by request from the President of the United States and through majority vote of the United States Congress.

We had joined The First World War. World War I. The Great War. The War to End All Wars.

The United States of America hasn't had all that many official declarations of war. Under the constitutional guidelines (Article 1, Section 8) through which "Congress shall have the power to declare war," it has happened just five times in more than 240 years -- and not at all since 1941.

This one was was fateful. The United States, observing a war 2,000 miles away but not participating in it, decided to join. With that decision, the U.S. as the world's greatest industrial, military, political and diplomatic power was born.

If you like nice, round numbers, World War I has one: 10 million. That is the number of military combatants killed in combat and by related causes. Nearly that many more died from the side effects: Starvation, disease, displacement, accidents and imprisonment. U.S. losses totaled perhaps 115,000 dead, twice that many wounded. And we got off easier than most during what basically amounted to less than two months of concentrated combat activity for the U.S. Expeditionary Force. The great nations of Europe lost millions. Most of an entire generation died on the battlefield.

The Great War brought "advancements" in killing technology that the troops themselves scarcely could comprehend, much less defend against. Machine guns, aerial bombardment, tanks, artillery and chemical weaponry all were unleashed for the first time on a global scale. As the singular WWI historian Jay Winter of Yale University puts it, these new war-making methods made it impossible for most troops to surrender before they were killed, even if they wanted to.

Governments, universities, charities and churches found themselves unable to supply the human requirements of comfort, grief, knowledge and memory. A new type of scholar, writer, painter, sculptor, philosopher and statesman emerged, trying to help a stunned human race comprehend and cope. These efforts have never waned. They are with us still as the monstrous shock of war collides with our better natures.

The day after Congress declared war on this date in 1917, the popular American entertainer George M. Cohan put some words to music, supposedly while riding a train from Poughkeepsie to New York City.

The famous chorus remains familiar to this day:

Over there, over there,

Send the word, send the word over there

That theYanksare coming, the Yanks are coming

The drums rum-tumming everywhere.

So prepare, say a prayer,

Send the word, send the word to beware -

We'll be over, we're coming over,

And we won't come back till it's over, over there.

A hundred years ago, we joined the fight. As the writerArthur Brambleput it in 1974, "It was the last war America entered singing."

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