Today, an American ceremony of innocence. The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make our civilization
run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
Issues of the 1916 American Review of Reviews reveal
a strange view of war. The last Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War had not brought
horror home to most Americans. The Civil War certainly had, but it was now a recollection
of a previous generation. Most people remembered its heroics far more clearly than its
agony and blood.
By now, WW-I had settled into a trench war of attrition in Europe; but it'd be another
year before we joined that fight. At the moment, the magazine shows as much interest
in our Mexican border scrap with Pancho Villa as the war in Europe.
The British liner Lusitania had already been sunk by a German submarine, killing
1200 civilians -- many of them American. Yet the very first article celebrates the arrival
of the German submarine Deutschland in Baltimore. This civilian merchant submarine
had dodged the Allied blockade. It brought in expensive chemical dyes for sale to the US,
and went back with a load of badly needed nickel and rubber. The article calls it a
wonderboat and says that more like her are coming. But the German Navy took the
Deutschland over after one more merchant trip. No more peace and good will -- she
now set about to sink thirty or so allied ships.
To get here and back, that submarine had slipped through the contested waters of the English
Channel. Another article laments Britain's and France's failure, after a century of talking
about it, to drill a tunnel under the Channel. Seventy-eight years
and another World War would pass before the Chunnel was finished.
The magazine paints war and its technologies as interesting. Several articles are about
military training in different countries. They tell about all the far flung combatants --
Turks, Romanians, Russians, Italians -- about German East Africa and Arabia. We read about
leaders and alliances. Yet we are not shown the worst of it in the ghastly trenches of
Ypres and the Somme.
Instead, echoes of our Civil War punctuate current events. One article seems to sum it up.
It's about sculptor Henry Shrady, just finishing a memorial to General Ulysses S. Grant in
front of the US Capital. Many of us have walked by it: Grant sits on his horse flanked by
two huge bronze scenes of war.
One is a cavalry group charging into battle, the other, an artillery unit careening down a
muddy road. Brilliant action pieces, worthy of Remington -- all the urgency of the moment!
Yet the article points to the key omission. It says, "[Shrady] eliminated all suggestion
of the gruesome incidents of war -- no man or horse is dying; no blood is flowing; no agony
That was 1916. Three years later, our own soldiers came home (if they came home) -- many with
missing limbs, eyes vacant, lungs ruined by chlorine gas. And William Butler Yeats saw quite
clearly what'd happened. For that is when he wrote,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
I'm John Lienhard at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
The American Review of Reviews. (Albert Shaw ed.) Vol. 54, July-Dec., 1916
William Butler Yeats' complete poem, The Second Coming, from which I've
quoted two lines, may be read in its entirely online on the
Poem of the Week site.
Engravings from the Review of Reviews. Grant Memorial photos below by J. Lienhard.