Views from the Embassy: Diplomacy and World War I

Hangouts at State
15 April 2015

For many, the guns of August 1914 seem like a story from long ago. Sepia-toned images of dusty, musty relics, mustached gentlemen in pinstripe pants, and ladies in near floor-length skirts dominate images in popular culture. Yet, surprisingly, those who witnessed civilization unraveling at the seams were very ‘modern’ and through their memoirs, letters home, and correspondence with Washington, they convey similar attitudes and concerns that we would recognize today. For the men and women in the U.S. diplomatic community in France, as elsewhere in war-torn Europe, their unique, front row seats to events ensured that they had a rendez-vous with history.

What was it like to experience war on the front lines while representing a neutral nation? How did the actions of the U.S. diplomatic community impact foreign public opinion of the United States? What role did African Americans and women play in the United States’ neutral response prior to 1917? What were the tensions between diplomacy and neutrality, and how did the 1914-1918 experience change the U.S. diplomatic corps and the conduct of U.S. diplomacy—and how does it inform our actions today? How did the media coverage of the war change European opinion of the United States—and Americans—and how did U.S. reporters’ accounts of war-torn Europe alter the way American culture viewed the larger world? In what ways did the war experience change the world in which we know it? What were the elements that we’d still recognize today?

The centennial of the First World War offers us the opportunity to reexamine events and better understand how the world was irrecoverably altered over the course of four years. Join us as we discuss findings in the Office of the Historian’s recent “Views From the Embassy” project and contextualize it into the larger picture of the era—and its impacts today.

For more information on the WWI project, please visit the project’s website.

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