In the small, isolated hamlet of the Great Plains where, if I did not grow up, at least I spent my boyhood, a place where the nearby cattle significantly outnumber the people still today and little but the changing of the seasons occurs to mark the passage of time, there was seldom anything grand or calamitous that might serve to strike awe into a youngster like myself. My friends and I would swim in the public pool or take laps around the town on our ten-speeds in the summertime, casually fish the creeks and ponds year-round, and in winter sled the mighty bluffs adorned in all varietals of yucca and cacti, but by and large there was nothing daunting, nothing sensational, and little to make any real impression upon me in my youth; aside from the occasional death in the family or vacation to California, mine was in many ways a forgettable childhood. One great exception was the omnipresence of an immense granite monument sitting just outside the courthouse, utterly massive to an undersized boy, and with a warrior atop it. The soldier, forest green from head to toe, not unlike my plastic army men, sported knee-high boots, held a rifle in one hand, and had the other raised bravely as a fist, charging forward with a curious, saucer-like helmet on his head and a gallant, stoic expression forever worn upon his face. At least, that’s how my seven-year-old self remembers him, the soldier of my youth, the only soldier I can recall ever having met until I left for university. Thus, as a child, I was introduced and reintroduced unceremoniously to the Great War whenever I stopped my bike in front of his monument to marvel. He made me want to be a soldier myself, though I knew better even then to think I was made of the stuff of warriors. This soldier was impressive, and sometimes I would even try to invent for him a story in my mind, but I knew nothing of war, even less about his war; it was difficult for a little boy growing up in a tiny town in Nebraska to imagine how something that happened so long ago and so far away could matter very much to me.
The year 2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Great War, the War to End All Wars, the First World War, or whatever else we might like to call it. As human beings, we celebrate anniversaries, often for no other reason than that they have predictably and yet again arrived. Birthdays are a great example of this, wedding anniversaries another. We delight in the inevitable, or at least the predictable; oh, but how we love a celebration! And what better to celebrate, what more important to remember, than the eve of the event that would forever, irreparably alter our world—before fading bleakly into the annals of history, damned to obscurity by the black-and-white photography of the time, the death of those who lived it, and the subsequent emergence of still sexier villains, greater crimes, and the notoriously and increasingly finite attention span of the American populace. Indeed, it would seem that the event that shaped the last hundred years has been relegated to that of a supporting role in many texts and minds alike. However, as the centenary fast approaches, even we the people may pause to consider, perhaps for a final time, the war that did not end all wars.