You know the look.
Intense. Almost a scowl. With piercing eyes that follow you around the room.
The man’s right index finger points directly at you, leaving no doubt who he is looking at. The long goatee, blue coat and top hat give him away.
He is your uncle, of course, and you know what he wants.
You! In the U.S. Army! NOW!
Artist James Montgomery Flagg’s image of Uncle Sam is probably the most iconic American illustration to come out of the World War I era.
This poster and many other artifacts from the First World War can be seen in the recently opened exhibit Echoes of the Great War at the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress regularly presents exhibitions based on its extensive collections of all types of print and recorded media. Echoes of the Great War is the Library of Congress’s commemorative exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. The impressive assortment of posters, newspapers, letters, diaries, maps, videos and other articles assembled by Library of Congress curators for Echoes of the Great War bring the issues and experiences of the World War I era down to the human level.
The exhibit is neatly organized into four separate sections, corresponding to the period of neutrality, domestic mobilization, operations in Europe, and how the U.S. navigated the challenges of the war’s aftermath. The first section entitled Arguing Over War explores the Wilson Administration’s policy of neutrality and how German unrestricted submarine warfare contributed to its demise.
The section also highlights an important relief operation less well known today, the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). Taking advantage of U.S. neutrality, the CRB procured, transported and distributed 11.4 billion pounds of food to 9.5 million civilians living in German-occupied Belgium and Northern France saving many from starvation. It was chaired by a young mining engineer then living in London named Herbert Hoover.
The second section Over Here examines how the United States effectively prepared for this new, global war and met the associated challenges of mobilizing the economy, expanding the military, and balancing the various demands of the public while trying to maintain public support of the war effort.
Posters vividly tell the story of this section, depicting the need for Americans to enlist in the military, buy war bonds, conserve food and work more efficiently.
The U.S. military in combat is the focus of the third section, Over There. In this section the diaries and letters take on a special poignancy as civilians, Marines and soldiers of all ranks including General Pershing and Lieutenant Colonel George Patton explain their personal experiences in combat as well as their daily routines.
An early test of U.S. forces in World War I was the Battle of Belleau Wood, fought in June 1918 when the U.S. 2nd Division, comprised of both Army and Marine Corps elements engaged the Germans in a forest near Paris.
Lieutenant Joel T. Boone, U.S. Navy, was serving as Medical Officer for the 6th Marine Regiment and operated an aid station during the battle. In his diary on display, he describes the first night of the battle as “a Perfect Inferno”. Dr. Boone would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in caring for the wounded and preparing patients for transport, even when the aid station was hit by enemy fire.
One month later, he earned the Medal of Honor for treating Marines under direct fire and risking his own life to collect medical supplies. Dr. Boone would later win six Silver Stars and become the most decorated medical officer of any branch in U.S. military history.
The artifacts found in the final section, World Overturned, reveal the post-war U.S. as it sought to keep the peace, expand democracy, welcome veterans, and absorb the other societal changes which were hastened by the war. There are maps with hand drawn overlays of new countries in Central Europe and the Middle East, posters extolling employers to hire veterans, and a picture of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt awarding Dr. Boone his Medal of Honor.
There is also an original draft of President Wilson’s “14 Points” address to Congress, where he laid out is ideas for a lasting post-war peace. Wilson believed that democratic values in place of autocratic monarchs, self-determination of peoples and the collective action of a League of Nations would help prevent future global conflicts. He would forcefully argue his 14 Points at the Paris peace negotiations following the war and win the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
You can always learn something by visiting a library and this is especially true when visiting Echoes of the Great War at the Library of Congress. At the end of the exhibit is a video featuring the exhibit’s curators, advisors and consultants discussing their contributions and what they learned while researching this project.
In order to preserve what is on display, some items will be rotated out every seven months so Echoes of the Great War is worth visiting more than once before its scheduled closing in January 2019. The Library of Congress also put details of the exhibit, including photos and information on what is currently on display, teaching aids, curator notes and other resources on their website so you can still view many of the items, even if you cannot travel to Washington.
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Tucked away in a separate room behind Echoes of the Great War is another exhibit worthy of a visit. This exhibit commemorates Thomas Jefferson’s sale of his personal library to Congress in 1815. Jefferson made the offer after the original holdings of the Library of Congress were destroyed by fire in 1814, when British forces attacking Washington, D.C. burned the U.S. Capitol. In 2015, the Library of Congress marked the bicentennial of the purchase of Jefferson’s collection by putting many of the original volumes on display.
Throughout his life, Jefferson had accumulated more than 6,000 books on a wide variety of subjects. Jefferson believed members of Congress would benefit from access to such a broad collection. Through the years, his idea of the Library of Congress possessing the widest collection of materials for Congressional reference has taken hold. Today the Library of Congress holds more than 160 million items, making it what many consider to be the largest library in the world.
The Library of Congress’s main building is named in honor of Thomas Jefferson and is a worthy destination for anyone visiting Washington. The building was built in the late 1880’s and the interior is filled with beautiful carvings, mosaics and stonework. The Library of Congress offers tours on the half hour. Tours originate on the ground floor and last approximately 1 hour. Arrive around 10 minutes early to view a short video on the Library of Congress.
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Echoes of the Great War is found in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, located at 10 First Street, SE, Washington, DC, 20540. The closest Metro stop is Capitol South on the Orange, Blue and Silver Lines. Upon arriving at the station, use the main exit and walk approximately two blocks north on First Street SE. The Jefferson Building will be on your right, opposite the U.S. Capitol on your left. An alternate stop is Union Station on the Red Line. From Union Station exit the main entrance and cross Columbus Circle to First Street SE. Proceed about a half-mile and you will see the Jefferson Building on your left. Union Station’s public parking garage is also a good option if you are driving to the Library of Congress.