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On the Battlefield of Memory

The First World War and American Remembrance, 1919–1941

Written by Steven Trout

Publication Year: 2010

This work is a detailed study of how Americans in the 1920s and 1930s interpreted and remembered the First World War. Steven Trout asserts that from the beginning American memory of the war was fractured and unsettled, more a matter of competing sets of collective memories—each set with its own spokespeople— than a unified body of myth. The members of the American Legion remembered the war as a time of assimilation and national harmony. However, African Americans and radicalized whites recalled a very different war. And so did many of the nation’s writers, filmmakers, and painters.

Trout studies a wide range of cultural products for their implications concerning the legacy of the war: John Dos Passos’s novels Three Soldiers and 1919, Willa Cather’s One of Ours, William March’s Company K, and Laurence Stallings’s Plumes; paintings by Harvey Dunn, Horace Pippin, and John Steuart Curry; portrayals of the war in The American Legion Weekly and The American Legion Monthly; war memorials and public monuments like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; and commemorative products such as the twelve-inch tall Spirit of the American Doughboy statue.


Trout argues that American memory of World War I was not only confused and contradictory during the ‘20s and ‘30s, but confused and contradictory in ways that accommodated affirmative interpretations of modern warfare and military service. Somewhat in the face of conventional wisdom, Trout shows that World War I did not destroy the glamour of war for all, or even most, Americans and enhanced it for many.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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Prologue: "Guide-Book Ike"

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pp. xv-xxxiii

In 1937, two years before Europe descended into the Second World War, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), the organization responsible for the construction and maintenance of permanent American war memorials and cemeteries located overseas, completed its final commemorative project of the Depression era—a comprehensive guide-book titled American Armies and Battlefields in Europe. ...

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Introduction: Memory, History, and America's First World War

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pp. 1-41

Dwight D. Eisenhower was just one of the millions of individuals in the 1920s and 1930s who contributed to what historian Jay Winter has called the “memory boom,” an international wave of public involvement in war remembrance triggered by the cataclysm of the First World War.1 yet for the most part, historians have ignored or misunderstood the American manifestation of this phenomenon. ...

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1. Custodians of Memory: The American Legion and Interwar Culture

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pp. 42-106

When Willard Waller, a history professor at Columbia University, wrote the passage quoted above, as part of a study designed to help American civilians understand the millions of strangers soon to return home from Europe and the Pacific, the conditions of wartime had all but silenced criticism of the once-controversial American legion. ...

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2. Soldiers Well-Known and Unknown: Monuments to the American Doughboy, 1920–1941

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pp. 107-156

If judged by the number and scale of public memorials that it inspired, the First World War produced an outpouring of pride and patriotism unparalleled in American history. Indeed, in some regions of the country today, more World War I memorials exist than any other kind of public commemorative artifact, and the total number of such memorials in the United States would almost certainly run in the tens of thousands. ...

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3. Painters of Memory: Harvey Dunn, Horace Pippin, and John Steuart Curry

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pp. 157-221

Two large-scale projects, each unprecedented in the history of the American military, reflected the AEF’s preoccupation with memory. The first was an effort to document, through photographs, nearly every conceivable facet of the U.S. Army’s activities in France. From 1917 to 1919 the Photographic Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps...

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4. Memory’s End?: Quentin Roosevelt, World War II, and America’s Last Doughboy

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pp. 222-252

On July 14, 1918 (Bastille Day), Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of former president Theodore Roosevelt, was shot down and killed when his patrol of American airmen encountered a German force over Chamery, France. Accounts of the aerial battle vary greatly. German witnesses, members of the famed Flying Circus (led, at this point, by Hermann Goering, ...


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pp. 253-276


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pp. 277-290


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pp. 291-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383497
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317058

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 24
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 760066697
MUSE Marc Record: Download for On the Battlefield of Memory

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Collective memory -- United States.
  • Memory -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Influence.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Social aspects -- United States.
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