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Lusitania Sinking - WAR MOMS

WAR MOMS (Illustration) Famous Historical Events World History Disasters World War I

Soldiers from both sides lived in trenches during WWI. They were wretched places, as depicted by this image of a German trench occupied by British soldiers. Allied trenches were often built by the non-fighting Chinese Labor Corp (around 100,000 with British forces and about 40,000 with French forces). Maintained by the Imperial War Museum, and online via Wikimedia Commons, the original photo for this image was taken in July of 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Troops are from A Company, 11th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment. Click on the image for a better view.

 

The story of Kathe Kollwitz, a German mother and artist, typifies the anguish endured by mothers on both sides of a conflict.

It was the summer of 1914 - the start of war. All was not "Quiet on the Western Front."

Peter Kollwitz wanted to join the German Army. His country did not start the conflict but had been pulled in because of its alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Archduke Ferdinand, the assassinated heir to the throne, was Kaiser Wilhelm II's friend.

The Kaiser, according to his view of things, neither planned for nor wanted war. Not everyone in his government agreed with him, however.

One could argue the Kaiser should have followed his instincts and resisted harder. As trenches were dug and battles fought - many to a draw with little to show for the effort except dead people - it would have been interesting for the Kaiser to answer the question: "What are we fighting for?"

Even now, many decades later, it is difficult to assess why a world war erupted after an heir to the throne was killed. Was something more than alliances at work? Or did governments value peacemaking efforts less than they valued national alliances?

Whatever the motives of national leaders, Kathe Kollwitz did not want her son Peter to join the Kaiser's Army. Within a few months, the young man was dead in Belgium, buried in a Flemish field with many other fallen Germans.

Although his mother never got over his death, she used her anguish to create "Grieving Parents," a moving tribute to Peter. Watching over his grave in Belgium, the sculptures express a profound indictment of war and what it does to families.

The Great War was not the only armed conflict which ripped apart the home of this German mother. Kathe Kollwitz' grandson Peter was also killed ... in World War II.

Her art, which profoundly portrays the range of maternal emotions, celebrates the joy of Family and the pain of Killed in Action (1921). Both a Visit to the Hospital and Widows and Orphans (1919) convey the bewilderment Kollwitz must have felt as she watched the men around her make war and take life. Viewing her art makes a person wonder: "How much can one woman bear?"

The women of France were also shouldering huge burdens. More worrisome than managing homes, and producing war matériel, was finding enough food for their families. America - while she was neutral and later when she was not - helped to feed the people of Europe.

For 2½ years the United States had managed to stay out of the war. But when Lusitania sank, and 123 Americans died, there was a huge public outcry against Germany's actions. Examining the evidence, one can safely conclude the Lusitania's demise changed America's attitude about remaining neutral.

There were hardliners, within the Kaiser's government, who could not have been more pleased about that.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 01, 2004

Updated Last Revision: Mar 15, 2017


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