World War I Centennial Commemoration

The United States doesn’t make as much fuss about World War I as most European countries, but the “Great War” still had a lasting impact on the United States. April 6th will mark one hundred years since the US entered the war. Some museums and historical societies will be holding events to commemorate the centennial, and my co-author Jeff Bateman and I will be at the Utah State University Museum of Anthropology April 1st at 12:30 to talk about the impact of the war on Utah and Cache Valley specifically.

Though April 1st isn’t the exact centennial of America’s entry into the war, it’s significant in Utah, at least, because it’s also General Conference weekend – when members of the LDS faith gather from across Utah and the world to listen to advice from their church leaders. April 6, 1917 was also the Saturday of General Conference weekend. War was declared while LDS church leaders and members gathered in the historic Tabernacle at Temple Square. Though the speakers did not officially announce the war over the pulpit, they did talk about the conflict that Christian soldiers would face of trying to fight while maintaining charity toward all men.

The President of the LDS Church, Joseph F. Smith, said: “…I exhort my friends, the people of our country, especially of this intermountain region, to maintain above all other things the spirit of humanity, of love, and of peace-making … I want to say to the Latter-Day Saints who may enlist, and whose services the country may require, that when they become soldiers of the State and of the Nation that they will not forget that they are also soldiers of the Cross, that they are minister of life and not of death; and when they go forth, they may go forth in the spirit of defending the liberties of mankind rather than for the purpose of destroying the enemy.”

A lot has changed in the last 100 years, but that challenge – to stand up for causes we believe in without giving in to hate towards those who oppose us or hold a different view – remains a problem that we still struggle with today.

Makeshift music in World War I

The Great War epitomized the dark side of the modern, mechanical age, turning warfare into a grinding machine spitting out broken men and women in unprecedented numbers. A theme that emerges over and over from World War I is the attempt of individual soldiers, nurses, doctors, refugees, and others to keep their humanity intact in the face of such horror. One of the ways they did this was through music.

It’s hard to imagine many traditional instruments made it to the front or survived conditions there very long, but people are endlessly creative. The Museum of the Great War in Meaux, France, has these examples of homemade musical instruments used on the Western Front:

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They used helmets, canteens, and scrap wood – along with an impressive understanding of how to lay out the strings and frets – to make music in the midst of war. I like to think it helped them think of better times, past and future, and hold on to their humanity while the world around them fell apart.

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Whitney Award finalist Born to Treason

I’m excited to share that Born to Treason was selected as a Whitney Award finalist for historical fiction! The Whitney Awards were founded in 2007 to recognize and encourage the best in LDS fiction, and I’m honored to have my book on a list that’s included some of my favorite authors, like Martine Leavitt, Janette Rallison, Anne Perry, and Jamie Ford, and to be recognized this year along with historical fiction authors H.B. Moore, Jennifer Moore, and Amy Harmon, and my publishing house sister Sarah Beard.

Though I know you’re supposed to love all of your “babies” the same, Born to Treason was truly a labor of love – I did my master’s thesis on how Welsh Catholics navigated the Protestant Reformation, and I came to admire the courage and ingenuity of these pioneers of religious tolerance and (usually) passive resistance. It was a pleasure to share their story.

You can see all of this year’s finalists here (for some great book to add to your to-read list), and Born to Treason’s finalist spotlight here.

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