Still in the Trenches: World War I and Its Complicated Aftermath

Posted
November 08, 2018

One hundred years later, all remains quiet on the Western Front.

An area known as the Zone Rouge running from Lille to Verdun, scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the First World War, is fenced off to this day. Entire towns within it were abandoned, the surrounding fields and collapsed trenches filled with human bones and tons of unexploded ordnance. It remains too dangerous to enter, the soil still saturated, even now, with the chemicals of war: mercury, lead, chlorine, and arsenic. If, as the wartime poet Rupert Brooke suggested, there is some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England, there are dozens of square miles of northeastern France that will remain uninhabitable for hundreds of years.

A century after it ended with the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, the effects of the War to End War still seep into modern life — in literature, politics, attitudes toward freedom and civil liberties, and especially in the geopolitical map. To mark the anniversary, PAW sought the views of several faculty members and alumni about World War I’s enduring impact and reviewed how some Princetonians thought about the conflict at the time and afterward.

Featuring commentary from History Professors Stephen Kotkin and Joshua Guild. Read more at Princeton Alumni Weekly.