22nd Annual Colby Symposium offers a look back at the legacy of World War I

  “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” –Aldous Huxley

One hundred years ago today, on April 6, 2017, the United States formally entered World War I. In the months leading up to that day, President Woodrow Wilson officially severed diplomatic ties with Germany, and our nation readied itself for war. Six weeks later, the first U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin training for combat.

The entrance of U.S. military forces into the four-year long global conflict helped turn the tide in favor of an Allied victory, but at a tremendous cost to American lives. When the Armistice was signed on Nov.11, 1918, of the more than two million U.S. soldiers who served on the battlefields of Western Europe, some 116,000 made the supreme sacrifice, 14 of them Norwich alumni.

The Norwich fallen range in age and rank from Lt. Col. Alan R. Williams, Class of 1903, who earned a Silver Star for gallantry in action while serving with the 38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces, to Corp. Harold S. Metcalf, Class of 1920, who was killed while serving with the 26th Division, 102nd Machine Gun Battalion. Both men gave their lives in the waning weeks of the war in the Romagne region of France.

Why is this relevant today? As I am sure you are aware, next Wednesday and Thursday, April 12 and 13, Norwich is hosting the 2017 William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium. This year’s theme is “Won the War, Lost the Peace: The Centennial Legacy of World War One.” Among the distinguished guests is retired U.S. Army Col. Robert Dalessandro, chairman of the World War I Centennial Commission and deputy secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission. Considered one of the Army’s foremost experts on battlefield interpretation, Dalessandro has previously served as a member of the senior executive service and executive director/chief of military history, U.S. Army Center of Military History.

Also joining us for classroom visits and Thursday afternoon’s panel discussion is Michael Neiberg, professor of history in the department of national security and strategy at the U.S. Army War College. A widely published author on the theme of war—especially the two world wars—Neiberg is the inaugural chair in war studies at the Army War College.

Rounding out our all-star panel of World War I experts is Jennifer Keene, a professor of history and chair of the history department at Chapman University. Keene has published three books on America’s involvement in the First World War and is currently working on a book detailing the African-American experience during the First World War, as well as a project comparing the experiences of soldiers from the French and British empires during World War I. She serves on the advisory board of the International Society for First World War Studies and is the book review editor for the “Journal of First World War Studies”.

Also in attendance will be this year’s Colby Award winner, David J. Barron, author of “Waging War: The Clash Between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS.” A United States circuit judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and the former S. William Green Professor of Public Law at Harvard Law School, Barron previously served as the acting assistant attorney general of the Office of Legal Counsel at the United States Department of Justice.

Although World War I took place before most of your grandparents were born, there is still much we can learn from it. This year’s Colby Military Writers’ Symposium, made possible by the generous support of the Pritzker Military Library and other benefactors, offers Norwich students a rare, close-up view of World War I through the eyes of four prominent military historians and scholars. I strongly encourage you to attend as many of the scheduled activities as you can, including classroom presentations, book signings, and the moderated panel discussion.

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