What is the Lasting Impact of World War I? | PBS Education
World War I is not just about trench warfare and poison gas. It’s a story of boys, airmen, ambulance drivers, red cross workers, hello-girls, yeomen, donut dollies, farmers, war production workers, suffragettes, and pacifists. it is a fascinating era that, despite its deep and far-reaching impact, seems to have become too inaccessible to students. How often have you heard the phrase, “why do we have to learn these things?” As an educator, I believe it is essential that we find ways to engage students and help them understand the impact of the great war on politics, technology, and culture. To help start this conversation in your class, consider trying this activity.
activity instructionsDivide the class into four groups of 6-8 students. Distribute four sets of images described below. Since this stage of the activity is intended for brainstorming, I suggest setting rules so that students don’t google the answer ahead of time.
- group a: a male wristwatch; oil rig; prosthetic limb; canned food, preferably beef stew or spaghetti (note: these should be current images if possible).
- group b: a person who does pilates; a woman voting; vegetarian sausage pack; copy of a standardized test, perhaps a sat or act (note: these should be current images if possible).
- group c: images of wwii, vietnam, berlin wall, euros of the european union
- group d: president truman; Douglas MacArthur (Korean War Image); Jeanette Rankin (her 1940 congressional photo); president eisenhower
Ask each group to try to find a connection between the pictures. the answer, of course, will be the first world war.
How do each of these pieces connect to World War I?
- a men’s wristwatch: At the beginning of the First World War, a wristwatch was recognized as a piece of women’s jewelry; but a year after the trench warfare, the impractical male pocket watch was replaced by the wristwatch and its protective “cage” over glass and radio dials for night use. a wristwatch was necessary to synchronize maneuvers and deliver supplies at the right time. today’s wristwatch is not just a watch, but also a minicomputer.
- oil rig: although the first world war may have started with coal power, in the end of the war was oil-powered with the internal fuel engine powering planes, tanks, supply trucks, and mechanized infantry. At the end of the war, the question, which continues to haunt us today, became: who will control the oil fields in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and Persia (present-day Iran)? today when something happens in iraq or syria the price of gasoline goes up almost overnight.
- Prosthetic Limb: Prostheses were needed in such large numbers during the First World War that the UK resorted to standardization for mass production. aluminum alloy was introduced as the main material for prostheses instead of wood. today’s prostheses are designed for the individual, and many contain microchips and robotics. they work more like a natural limb than ever before.
- canned food: canned food was not new in the first world war; however, it was not commonly eaten until the need arose for easy-to-mass-produce food that could be quickly delivered to the front lines. after the war, mass food production industries focused their advertising on troops who had grown accustomed to their front-line meals and food they couldn’t get at home. therefore, these canned foods made their way into the home.
- pilates: While spending time in a British internment camp during World War I, German boxer and bodybuilder joseph hubertus pilates motivated his fellow inmates, including those bedridden in bed, with exercise programs that promoted movement and health. after the war, he and his wife developed their exercise philosophy, which is still popular today.
- a woman voting: the suffrage movement in britain and the united states began before the first world war broke out. while many suffragettes put aside their activism to work outside the home to support the war effort, some suffragettes continued their civil disobedience, willing to be imprisoned for their beliefs. however, by the end of the war, women throughout the Western world had proven their importance in the war effort and were rewarded with the vote in many countries during the first half of the 20th century.
- vegetarian sausages: Due to early food shortages, particularly meat, some Germans ate a cheap alternative to meat: vegetarian sausages. these rather bland sausages were made from soybeans, flour, corn, barley, and ground rice. Although not incredibly popular at the time, tasty versions of these sausages have found their way into vegetarian diets today.
- Standardized Testing: During 1917 and 1918, the Army tested more than 1.5 million men to determine what kind of soldier someone might be . although one test (alpha) measured such things as numerical and verbal skills, another version was typically used for recruits and volunteers who were illiterate or did not speak English. after the war, higher education institutions relied on the alpha test to determine class placement for students, perhaps eventually leading to the use of law or sit in college placement.
- World War II: World War I did not directly cause World War II. however, ww1 created several consequences that led to a second world war:
- new states in eastern europe that were weak and ready to be taken over by hitler.
- a devastated germany and france appeased hitler to avoid another war.
- u.s. policy of isolationism so as not to be involved in another European conflict.
- In Asia, Japan turned to militarism and began to seize European possessions.
- ineffective league of nations. During World War II, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin created a new international security agency, the United Nations, in hopes of preventing World War II.
- harry truman: in world war i, truman served as captain of a field artillery battery and saw action at st. mihiel and the mose-argonne. Truman was elected Vice President in 1944. He became President in April 1945 following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. It was Truman’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. After World War II, Truman issued an executive order in July 1948 desegregating the United States. military. truman was president from 1945 to 1953.
- douglas macarthur: in world war i, macarthur was commander of the 42nd division (the “rainbow division”) – 1917- 1918. he continued to serve his country after the war. In July 1932, as Chief of Staff of the United States Army, he was ordered to clear members of the Bonus Expeditionary Army (World War I veterans seeking the bonuses they had been promised) from Washington, D.C. During World War II, he led US forces in peaceful campaigns as Supreme Allied Commander, 1941-1945. During the Korean War, MacArthur was commander of the United Nations Far East Command 1950-1951.
- Jeannette Rankin: In 1916, Rankin, an avowed pacifist, was the first woman elected to Congress. On April 5, 1917, Rankin voted against the declaration of war. In 1918, Rankin ran for the Senate but was defeated. she spent the interwar years on social welfare and pacifism issues. In 1940, Rankin was re-elected to the House of Representatives. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rankin is again called upon to vote on a declaration of war, this time against Japan. Casting the only “no” vote on the floor, she declared, “As a woman, I cannot go to war and I refuse to send anyone else.”
- dwight eisenhower: beginning in september 1917, eisenhower trained officer candidates at fort oglethorpe, ga. In 1918, she was a commandant at Camp Colt (Gettysburg), an Army Tank Corps training center. the war ended before he could be sent abroad. He spent the interwar years serving in the military developing skills to be used in World War II, when he served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. In 1944, he served as the Supreme Commander of Overlord: The D-Day Invasion. Eisenhower served as President of the United States. uu. from 1953 to 1961, during which he dealt with the conflicts of the cold war among the many duties and responsibilities of his.
For more on how they relate to war, visit The Wall Street Journal’s “100 Years 100 Legacies: The Lasting Impact of World War I.” As an extension activity, you can invite students to research an item from one of the categories (politics, countries, weaponry, medicine, culture, tactics, economics) and explain how it connected the 20th or 21st century to the First World War.
Now that you’ve got your students’ attention and started a conversation, you can expand the discussion to the impacts of war. Are you looking for more areas to highlight? Read an overview of several key developments of the First World War here. More resources can be found in this World War II collection on PBS LearningMedia.