Some world events are so huge, they forever separate us from our past. They transform the world, so that nothing will ever be as it was.
Take World War I, for example. Just over one hundred years ago, on April 6, 1917, the US forayed into a conflict that came to be known as The Great War, a name that sticks with it still. I’d always wondered about that word. What makes a war “great”? It seemed to me that, if we’re talking about the scope of atrocities committed and the number of civilian deaths, World War II would be the more appropriate candidate for “greatness.” But as I learned more about the First World War, I came to understand why World War I was called The Great War.
Consider this: before World War I, most of the world lived under the rule of monarchy, in one form or another. For thousands of years, we always had a king or queen that ruled over us, and we were at the mercy of their whims. That was just how it was. But that all changed after the war, as democracy grew and new forms of government stretched their wings. It was also the first modern warfare, with mass-produced and high-tech (for the time) weapons capable of killing thousands in a matter of minutes. Calvary on horseback and formation marches became antiquated, replaced by tanks and machine guns. Shell shock, a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome, originated in World War I. Soldiers, exposed to intense–unprecedented–shelling, were reduced to shadows of themselves by the horrors of this first modern war. Empires fell, creating new power structures and alliances across Europe. We still live in the consequence of the world order created after World War I.
World War I is a frequent topic of conversation at my household, because my son loves Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, and Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood is a favorite. It’s a good thing I’ve listened to the podcast Hardcore History and learned about World War I in more detail than my grade school ever offered, or I’d be out of my depths because of these books. So, here’s a guide to that deep dive into World War I, for both kids and adults (or older teens).
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, And Blood
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series gives kids a fun and relatable way to understand history. Of the six graphic novels currently available for purchase, Treaties, Trenches, Mud, And Blood is by far the most ambitious installment. World War I is, of course, such an enormous topic, and the number of countries involved alone risks making for a confusing narrative. Author and artist Nathan Hale works around this confusion by representing each country’s people as an animal. The Germans are eagles, the Austro-Hungarians griffins, the British bulldogs, Serbians wolves, Russians bears, and so on (yes, there are many more). This is an awesome advantage of visual storytelling. Page after page of carefully drawn battlefields present staggering scenes for audiences to digest. His pages feature a ton of detail rendered with a clean and clear presentation.
While violence in the book isn’t graphic, it is truthful and honest. World War I resulted in a shocking amount of deaths and misery, all possible because of modern weapons. Nathan Hale focuses on the Western Front (France and Belgium), with a quick look at the Eastern Front (Germany and Russia). There are stories of heroism at the Battle of Mons, in the endless trench warfare, and under the threat of chemical weapons, woven in with the history the Russian Revolution and of America’s entry into the war. The book shows the steady escalation of the war, year upon year, as the countries involved fought on and on, throwing more bodies into the war’s grim engines, until it finally reaches its end in 1918. And for what? As all wars do, this story ends on a somber note, inevitably.
My child loves this book because it is so dense with information, packed with data pertaining to the lives of soldiers and the details of the war. However, it’s the smaller moments, like how the Americans sent a messenger pigeon to stop a friendly fire, that stick with him. The book provides a context for so much historical discussion, too. After reading this book, the trench exhibit in the World War I wing of the Museum of Flight made sense to him, and he now wants to visit World War I sites across France and Belgium, to visit the sites where history unfolded. I love a trip with purpose, and I hope that he can retain this knowledge and curiosity until he learns about World War I at school. And then he can listen to… (see below)
For Older Teens & Adults
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: Blueprint For Armageddon, Part I – VI
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, a popular history podcast narrated by veteran journalist Dan Carlin, evokes the old tradition of oral history, and the frank and conversational tone of this podcast feels like the perfect format for Carlin to discuss his subject. First and foremost, Dan Carlin is a fantastic storyteller. In Hardcore History, he applies his journalistic discipline to historic events recent and ancient. He sources countless history books for each subject, bringing a weight of authority to his discussions. His six-part series on World War I, Blueprint For Armageddon, is truly epic. Each episode clocks in at around three to four hours–that’s over twenty hours of deep and detailed history, told at the ground level and above. That might sound intimidating, but just hit play. Once you start, you’ll find it’s difficult to stop. Carlin paints a vivid pictures of people’s lives during World War I, whether they were soldiers, civilians, generals, bureaucrats, or members of royal families. Human suffering touched everyone in World War I, and Carlin makes that suffering visible and human in ways that resonate with modern audiences.
If you find it difficult to fit a 23-hour podcast series into your schedule, jump straight to episode V. It’s about the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Russian Empire. There is so much drama, especially surrounding Rasputin, one of history’s infamous shadow figures, and his rise to power, and the influence he held over Tsar Nicholas II and his wife. Their story is so human and relatable (especially for parents) that their demise feels all the more tragic.
Dan Carlin offers all of his storytelling skills and World War I stories for free on the Hardcore History Podcast. Past episodes are on sale at his web site and are well worth your money. If you enjoy his World War I series, I recommend Ghosts of the Ostfront, the story of the Eastern Front during World War II. Enjoy!
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood: http://www.abramsbooks.com/product/treaties-trenches-mud-and-blood-nathan-hales-hazardous-tales-4_9781419708084/
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: http://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-series/