Some of you may be scratching your heads: Armistice Day? Isn't it Veteran's Day?
Well, yes, but before it was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that the Armistice was signed that brought World War I, one of the bloodiest wars in human history, to a close. In so many ways, this event was the one that catapulted us all into the twentieth century. We got to see first-hand the ways that technology could be used for evil, as well as for good. We got to see damaged war veterans return, and we got reports that made many people question the idea that war builds character. And in a more positive spin, as so many men went off to war (and so many didn't come back), it opened up interesting doors for women into the world of work.
The entrance of women into the world of work would have far reaching ramifications far into the 20th century and our own time. The most obvious, of course, is that many women could earn their own money. Some you might see as more minor: for example, many women began wearing pants. You may not see that development as a big deal, but I could argue that it was. Wearing pants gave women freedom in a way that few other clothing developments have.
During World War I, many women began driving for the first time, because so many men were gone. Would this development, and many others, have happened without World War I? Probably. But World War I accelerated the emancipation of women.
I don't want to underestimate the terrible price, especially for Europeans. I've been to the World War I cemeteries in France, and it's sobering, those fields of white crosses and the knowledge that it's a small percentage of the dead. Today would be a good day to read (or re-read) the works of Wilfred Owen, one of the finest poets to write about the war. Unfortunately, he didn't survive it.
Today would also be a good day to read (or re-read) chapter 7 of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's No Man's Land: Volume 2: Sex Changes. Their analytical work was the first to alert me of how World War I impacted women. That chapter also includes wonderful photos from the time period. I love the one on page 297 of a grinning woman on a motorcycle:
Those of us who are Virginia Woolf fans could read (or re-read) her book Mrs. Dalloway, which features a war-damaged veteran as one of the major characters. Once we've done that, we could read (or re-read) Michael Cunningham's The Hours and marvel at what he's done. If we're fiction writers, we can find much inspiration from those works. We can spend some time today thinking about the interior monologue and the stream of consciousness techniques that so many of those post-World War I writers used in the 1920's. Can we attribute any of that experimentation to World War I? I've read more than one literary critic who would say yes.
I will be at work today; my new job doesn't celebrate many federal holidays, although our students won't have classes today. I will be working hard to get assessment documents done--not the writing that is my favorite, but I am surprised to find out that I have certain talents in that direction.
However you choose to celebrate this Armistice Day, I hope it gives you some restored peace.