Harvard’s Drew Faust says the Civil War marked the start of large-scale industrial war, not WW I

Historians in the News
tags: Civil War, WWI

World War I, whose guns opened fire just over a century ago, is often called the first modern large-scale war, when traditional fighting tactics gave way to the murderous innovations of industrial weaponry, including poison gas, tanks, long-range artillery, and armed aircraft. But Harvard President Drew Faust on Monday offered a different narrative.

Instead, she said, it was a conflict a half century earlier and an ocean away, the American Civil War, that first pitted the infantry charge and other traditional tactics against rapidly modernizing weaponry. It was the Civil War, whose increasingly sophisticated gunfire and artillery sent men desperately digging into the earth for shelter, that pioneered trench warfare, she said. It was the Civil War, and General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea, that expanded the fight beyond battlefields to civilians supporting the war. It was the Civil War — still the bloodiest in U.S. history — whose 750,000 dead showed the world the carnage that modern weapons could produce, and prompted governments to honor and bury the fallen in national cemeteries.

In England, Faust delivered the prestigious Sir Robert Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge’s historic Senate House. The hourlong speech drew a crowd of roughly 150 people — including more than a dozen Harvard alumni studying or teaching at Cambridge — to the neoclassical stone building completed in 1730 as a formal ceremonial venue.

In an introduction, Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz praised the “historic connection and active links” between Harvard and Cambridge’s Emmanuel College, where Faust is an honorary fellow. One historic connection between the institutions was on display at the post-lecture reception: a 17th century registration book bearing the only known signature of a 1624 Emmanuel College matriculant named John Harvard.

The talk, the university’s oldest named lecture, was endowed in 1524 by Rede’s estate. Previous Rede lecturers have included English biologist and early evolution supporter Thomas Henry Huxley in 1883, Irish President Mary Robinson in 1996, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2009, and Nobel Prize-winning scientist and National Cancer Institute Director Harold Varmus in 2011....

Read entire article at Harvard Gazette

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