Buckle up for another time travel trip with Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman in the Way Back Machine to celebrate the 100th birthday of 1917. Remember what our old philosophizing buddy George Santanya once said after a few beers while trying to impress a waitress: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Taking heed of George’s words, let’s stroll around the events of just one short century ago. Perhaps a review of the past will allow us to make some sense of our present muddled circumstances and avoid repeating World War I as World War III.
In 1917 Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president. The year started off with a bang when T. E. Lawrence, soon to be Lawrence of Arabia, joined the Arab tribe of Feisal Hussein to fight the Ottoman Empire. In January, the United States made a deal with Denmark and bought the Danish West Indies for $25 million. While not as good a deal as the Dutch got buying Manhattan for $24, it was still a bargain at twice the price. Once the U. S. owned the islands, we renamed them the Virgin Islands for reasons shrouded in Oedipal love and mystery. Owning the Virgin Islands assured us that cruise ships loaded with Norovirus-infected passengers would have a place to dock, throw up and buy T-shirts. In January, the little cable cars that climb halfway to the stars first appeared on the streets of San Francisco where Tony Bennett would, a century later, leave his heart and his liver.
Europe was a bubbling cauldron of toil and trouble as World War I kept boiling over. America was still out of the war at the beginning of 1917. Relations with Germany took a major turn for the wurst when a German submarine sank the U. S. S. Housatonic. President Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany in April. The last American troops under General Black Jack Pershing left Mexico in February after vainly chasing Pancho Villa.
Repeating the past, one hundred years later, President Trump threatened to send U. S. troops back into Mexico to round up some more ‘bad hombres.’ Somewhere Pancho is snickering.
The Russian Revolution went into overdrive when Czar Nicholas II ordered his army to put down demonstrations in Petrograd and the army mutinied. Things got worse and Czar Nick abdicated in February, only to end up dead in 1918 at the hands of the Commies. In August 1917, Pravda, the official newspaper of the communists called for the killing of all capitalists, priests and officers. A hundred years later, to the surprise of many Republicans and Democrats, President Trump announced the moral equivalency of Russia and America. The Commies took over Russia in October and with Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin their leaders. Things don’t always work out when there is a triumvirate of leaders. Leon Trotsky had a falling out with Stalin. Leon ultimately ended up with a severe headache brought on by the wrong end of an ice axe delivered at the request of Stalin decades later. Cheka, the secret police force of the Commies was established in December 1917. Cheka begat the KGB, which begat Vladimir Putin, who begat The Donald.
Not everything in 1917 was war or rumors of war. Some other stuff happened also. The first jazz record “Dixie Jazz One Step” was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Montana’s Jeannette Rankin was elected as first female Representative in the U.S. Congress. Prohibition in the form of the 18th Amendment was approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification, much to the delight of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., gangsters and teetotalers everywhere.
America’s first draftee in World War I, the immortal Leo Pinckney was inducted into the Army in May 1917. It was awkward to have Germans serve as British royalty during World War I. The British Royal family was of German descent and renounced its family name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in July. They changed their last name to the much more stiff-upper-lip and crumpet-chomping sounding name of Windsor. That name change saved us from having to say Queen Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
America’s favorite G-Man and cross-dresser, J. Edgar Hoover got his first job at the U.S. Department of Justice in July. Speaking of spies, the Dutch temptress Mata Hari was executed as a German spy in France in October. History is silent on whether J. Edgar ever dressed as Mata Hari. The “last successful cavalry charge in history” occurred in October 1917 at the Battle of Beersheba in Palestine when the Australian cavalry attacked and defeated the Germans and the Turks.
What can we learn from history? Not much. Excuse me, I just got a picture of a cat on my cell phone.