The intervention of the United States in the First World War

The intervention of the United States in the First World War

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Title: Four soldiers - a French, an English, an Italian and an American - with the Statue of Liberty

Author : JONAS Lucien (1880 - 1947)

Creation date : 1918

Date shown: 1917

Dimensions: Height 71 - Width 54

Technique and other indications: Museum 422/4 FI 30-2789

Storage place: North Departmental Archives website

Contact copyright: © Nord departmental archives - Photo J.-L. Thieffry

Picture reference: Museum 422/4 FI 30-2789

Four soldiers - a French, an English, an Italian and an American - with the Statue of Liberty

© Nord departmental archives - Photo J.-L. Thieffry

Publication date: October 2003

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The intervention of the United States in the First World War

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Historical context

The intervention of the Americans

The United States, which had initially resolved to remain neutral, in 1914, entered the war on April 6, 1917, alongside the Entente - France, United Kingdom, Russia - and its allies - Belgium, Serbia, Japan, then Italy, Romania, Portugal, Greece and China. The German "extreme submarine warfare" torpedoing neutral trading ships and their intrigues in Mexico have driven the Americans to the other side. In the spring of 1918, the Germans released from the Eastern Front because the Russians withdrew from combat following the October Revolution (armistice in December 1917 and Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918) can resume their attacks West.

But, mainly from March 1918 [1], the United States sent an army to Europe which, at the time of the armistice, would exceed two million men. In June and July 1918, the 2nd American Division effectively helped to prevent the Germans from advancing towards Paris.

Image Analysis

A fraternity of arms for the fight for freedom

This 71 cm by 54 cm lithograph depicts the four main allies at the end of the First World War [2]. Like a tutelary genius, the Statue of Liberty, donated by France for the centenary of American independence, dominates the composition. This Liberty does not have the feminine features of the Bartholdi statue, but a fierce face. Because the allegory gives meaning to the brotherhood of arms of three soldiers, a French, an English and an Italian, side by side in a trench, and to the engagement, of an American soldier standing, ready for action .

The statue's raised arm is cut off by the framing, but the scene of the trench, in the foreground, nevertheless shines in full light, as if lit by its invisible torch. The vigorous drawing of Lucien Jonas [3], military painter during the war of 14-18, here represents the fighters clinging to the defense of the territory and paints differently, like an immense apparition emerging from the darkness, the powerful allegory of Liberty. The composition and style thus distinguish two planes, that of visible reality and that of the epic momentum that animates it. The soldiers, all at their duty, scrutinize the front line, but Liberty looks the spectator in the eye, appealing to his conscience.

Crouching on the edge of the trenches, the French soldier, who bears the insignia of the 127th Infantry Regiment of Valenciennes, touches the sacred soil of the mother country with his hand, ready to pounce. The defense of the earth is not an abstraction here. The national territory is invaded. Thousands of men fight daily for him and become one body, alive or dead, with this earth in the trenches. With his rifle down, the British soldier, equipped with one of the earliest models of gas mask, stands courageously, a determined and fearless companion in arms. The bersagliero Italian occupies a more remote place. In front of them lies, abandoned, a helmet with studs, used by the German army from February 1916, a derisory sign of the proximity of the enemy.

Compared to other belligerents stuck in the world of the trenches, the American soldier wearing a helmet stands upright, left foot forward, bayonet on the barrel of the rifle. However, it is the new element, ready to move. To soldiers and civilians, he brings the hope of victory.

Interpretation

The struggle for freedom, mystic of war

Lucien Jonas produced, in October 1917, another lithograph entitled "Bold guys, j’arrive" [4], which presents a similar composition but not the same conviction. Here, the intensity of the message lies in its counting: our united soldiers fight tirelessly in defense of freedom; the frozen situation of the trenches can be reversed by the new American troops. On the occasion of July 14, 1918, the artist shows that the heroic selflessness of combatants is driven by the supreme value of Liberty. The statue of Bartholdi, often used by poster artists, here symbolizes both the brotherhood of countries resulting from democratic revolutions and the unwavering determination of the Allies born of the justice of their cause.

The artist testifies to the exceptional conviction that the Entente countries had in defending freedom. His drawing sheds light on a deep question: how did the First World War crystallize such a phenomenon of resistance and sacrifice on the part of millions of combatants and civilians for four years? Georges Bernanos, a veteran himself, analyzed it in 1941 (Georges Bernanos, Letter to the English, 1941): "There is no war without a war mystique and it is the people, not the bourgeoisie, who gave the war of 1914 its mystique. It was ultimately against German nationalism and militarism that our men rose up. The people of France believed they were waging this war, "for Law, Justice, and universal peace", to accomplish "the mission that history would have entrusted to them, as all the combatants have learned on the benches of France. 'republican school of Jules Ferry'.

  • allegory
  • army
  • United States
  • War of 14-18
  • American intervention
  • patriotism
  • propaganda
  • Statue of Liberty
  • war
  • 14-18
  • 1914-1918
  • lithography
  • soldiers
  • uniforms
  • trenches
  • militarism
  • Freedom
  • american war of independence

Bibliography

Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004. Georges BERNANOS, Letter to the English Paris, Gallimard, 1946 Jean-Baptiste DUROSELLE The Great French War 1914-1918 Paris, Perrin, 1998.The Great War Posters Historial of the Great War, Amiens, Martelle Editions, 1998.Mario ISNENGHI World War I Paris-Florence, Casterman-Giunti, 1993.Journal of France and the French, political, cultural and religious chronology, from Clovis to 2000 Paris, Gallimard, 2001. Claudine WALLART “On a poster by Lucien Jonas”, in One hundred images, one hundred texts, one hundred years in Valenciennes, Valentiana, Revue d'Histoire des Pays du Hainaut Français n ° 25-26, double number 1st-2nd semester 2000.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS and Marine VASSEUR, "The intervention of the United States in the First World War"


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