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Lecture kicks off World War I centennial series

| Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In order to commemorate its centennial, Dan Lindley, associate professor of political science, spoke about the First World War in the Annenberg Auditorium on Wednesday. Lindley’s discussion of World War I, started off a five-part lecture series, hosted by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.

“The question is what’s changed from then to now,” Lindley said. “Who cares about World War One anymore? It’s very important in history; it was known as ‘The Great War,’ [and] ‘The War to End All Wars.’ Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case.”

Beginning with the very start of the war in 1914, Lindley reviewed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and the effect of tight alliances and all-or-nothing mobilization on the war’s frontier.

“Nationalism is another factor here …  it’s taken to hyper-nationalism with strong doses of social Darwinism,” he said. “The idea that nations have to fight each other to show their worth … Would we have a war if we thought fighting was good?”

Lindley described the conflict as being of a scale and scope simply unimaginable in contemporary times.

The first day of the war is a good example, as the British army lost the equivalent of one percent of their country’s total population, he said.

“Imagine if in one battle, we lost 3 million people,” he said. “It’s unfathomable. At Verdun, [the French and Germans] started that battle with 37 million artillery shells … [it’s] rather unbelievable.”

Lindley also compared the damage done by World War I’s artillery campaigns to the impact of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, showing pictures and describing how they leveled cities to a very similar degree.

“We talk about the human cost, but there’s a permanent cost to the beauty which is Europe, and the lovely history that was there,” he said.

Lindley introduced a tool of his own creation, the ‘Lindley War Prediction Table,’ which is available on his website. He said the table features a variety of categories to diagnose relations between two nations and the chances of a conflict arising. Such groupings include rapidly shifting power, scapegoating and ethnic brethren abroad.

Midway through the lecture, Lindley played a three-minute snippet of Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 film Paths of Glory, an anti-war piece set in the trenches of the Western Front. This was part of an effort to emphasize the brutality of the combat and its Sisyphean nature with days spent fighting over feet of terrain, he said.

Dan Graff, the director of undergraduate studies in the department of history, said the lecture series exemplifies the intellectual life of Notre Dame, one where faculty are personally connecting with students in an intimate way. Moreover, he said he stresses the inter-disciplinary nature of the series, which is highlighted by the history department as an “Exploring History” event.

The next lecture of the five-part series will be delivered by Dr. Tait Keller of Rhodes College at 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 8th. The lecture, along with the following three lectures, will take place in the Annenberg Auditorium of the Snite Museum of Art.

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