I find myself becoming more and more interested in World War I recently.
This is an inexplicable thing. Most people do not suddenly seize upon a 95-year-old conflict and begin to read up on it for the fun of it.
“Oh,” you say, “but you are a historian. You are not most people. You often seize upon things that nobody today really pays any attention to and begin to read up on them for the fun of it, so long as those things happened in the past. This is one of the reasons why you do not get invited to parties very often.”
But, it must be said, World War I has hitherto not been one of those things. Mostly I have confined my random history seizures to things like 18th-century American political culture (my chosen field), 17th-century England, modern America since 1960, or World War II (which, along with the Civil War, is the gateway drug of American history – the thing that snags people when they are young and impressionable and draws them in deeper and deeper until finally they are out on the streets hawking their furniture to pay their library fines.)
World War II is a harsh mistress.
Part of this fascination for World War I is no doubt the fact that I have just been covering it in my Western Civ II class. The "Roots of World War I" lecture is my favorite of the semester, as it covers a 50-year period of Europeans carefully setting up tripwires guaranteed to create a cataclysmic war, and then in one afternoon in Sarajevo in 1914 they all go off. It’s fun to set it all up and watch it all fall down like that.
Part of it is also my long-standing love of all things Tolkien. JRR Tolkien was a soldier in the Great War, a man who saw combat on the Western Front and survived the war largely because he came down with trench fever and had to be shipped home before his unit was annihilated. I just finished reading a book that covers this sequence of events, though whether this is a cause or effect of the current fascination is debatable, as it was an interesting if seriously flawed book.
There are probably other reasons behind this as well, should I care to explore further. But in truth, I don’t. That would probably lead me to questioning the whole enterprise and losing interest, and I think I’d rather just focus on the history and enjoy it.