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.