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Guide A Poetic Time Capsule 1914-1918: World War I Told By Those Who Lived It

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This was really flying. Richard Rubin, Writer: If you see these airplanes today, you wonder how anyone in their right mind went up in them. They were essentially bicycles with wings. Very, very frail. And this was very dangerous work. Narrator: From the outset of the war, both sides raced to turn the airplane to their advantage. Pilots began as observers, and took thousands of photographs of enemy positions.

They tried mounting machine guns on the wings, but had to fly with one hand while shooting with the other. Eventually machine guns were synchronized so they could fire through the propeller, and pilots engaged in vicious duels, known as dogfights.

With each innovation, the death toll kept rising. Chapman joined a small group of American volunteers flying for France. They called themselves the Lafayette Escadrille, and they were the first all-American unit to fight for the Allies. They were very well educated young men who wanted to fly for France.

And so they just went over and did so.

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Even though this officially violated American neutrality in that war there was sort of a winking arrangement with that. Narrator: The danger of their new occupation helped cultivate an air of reckless bravado among the pilots of the Escadrille. Michael Neiberg, Historian: They throw outlandish parties.

They have two lion cubs, Whiskey and Soda, as their mascots. Celebrities from all over Europe want to have dinner with them, want to see them. So they have this devil-may-care attitude.

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The French army needs them more than they need the French army. They fly in their bathrobes. They do more or less whatever they want. Narrator: The Lafayette Escadrille made headlines in the United States and an American film crew arrived in France to chronicle the exploits of Victor Chapman and his fellow aviators. Then one at a time we rushed by him. I must say that he had nerve. You will see it all, I expect, sometime this summer; for it is to be given to some American cinema company in Paris. They were kind of like the early astronauts.

Narrator: For all their fame, and often reckless bravery, the pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille understood that the odds against their survival were daunting. On June 23rd, Victor Chapman dove into a dogfight, trying to rescue some of his comrades. He shot down three German planes, before being overwhelmed, his plane riddled with bullets. He became the first American flier to give his life for France. America has sent us this sublime youth, and our gratitude for him is such that it flows back upon his country.


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And they were flying airplanes which captured the imagination of the entire world. To this day, the image that we think of often when we think of World War I is an aviator with his goggles and his leather cap and his long silk scarf. They were a very tiny minority of any fighting force. But they were, in essence, the face that all the armies wanted to show the enemy and the world. Narrator: As American volunteers were fighting and dying in France, some of their countrymen at home were arguing that the United States must be ready for war.

Championed by people like Theodore Roosevelt and the former chief of staff of the army, what was known as the Preparedness movement, had come into its own in the small town of Plattsburgh, New York in the summer of For five weeks, more than 1, young men played at being in the army. Richard Slotkin, Historian : They were living in barracks, they were living in tents, they were doing physical training. They did a lot of work on the rifle range because Roosevelt believed that marksmanship was the key to everything.

His idea of an officer was someone who combined the skills of a hunter and a scout with the skills of a commander. I mean you got your friends and your football team. And yet at the same time, there was something very American about the whole idea too.

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Michael Kazin, Historian: The main supporters of preparedness believed the United States had to be prepared to fight against Germany. Also they believed that a strong nation had to have a strong military. And young Americans had to have a military mindset. So training, knowing how to use a gun, knowing how to conduct oneself in combat, these were important skills for any advanced, powerful nation to have.

The African-American community had long argued for all-black National Guard units that they felt would prove their patriotism and advance their political power. As the Preparedness movement gained momentum, black leaders in Harlem at last succeeded in commissioning their own regiment, and began to recruit men from New York city to bring it up to full strength. On May 13 th , some , supporters of preparedness turned out to walk up Fifth Avenue. They passed under the largest flag in the country, strung between the St. Regis and Gotham hotels.

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African-American groups petitioned to be included in the procession, but were turned down. Twelve thousand marchers passed the grandstand every hour. Lasting almost the entire day it was the biggest parade in American history. He is now extinct! Christopher Capozzola, Historian: He was a very prolific artist, but he was also a bit of a procrastinator. And he was on a very tight deadline. And so he had no model to use. He had seen some other posters that had been published in Britain and Uncle Sam as an image had existed throughout the 19th Century, dates back even to the revolution by some measures, so [Flagg] had a mirror and his own reflection that he used to develop a new image.

He added some whiskers, some gray hair. Added a top hat and with that the iconic image for Uncle Sam was born.

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Narrator: Looking ahead to the presidential election in the fall of , Woodrow Wilson confronted the fact that his prospects were far from favorable. For more than two years he had kept America out of the Great War. Now, the national mood was restless. German spies seemed to be everywhere, and U-boats still prowled the Atlantic.

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The war continued to be big business, and the economy was booming. But millions of German-Americans actively campaigned against the President, arguing that neutrality was a sham, and that America was blatantly supporting the Allies. Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Wilson is riding along a sort of knife edge and the war becomes one of if not the central issue in the presidential contest. Narrator: The slogan seemed to be working, but it worried the President.

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So even though Hughes says he wants the U. Narrator: Anxious to cultivate the influence of the peace movement, Wilson sent Jane Addams five dozen long stem roses, and asked for her endorsement. Michael Kazin, Historian: Addams is a life-long Republican.


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