Saturday, November 11, 2017

Disquiet on the Home Front, 1917

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

This year Veterans Day falls a few months after the 100th anniversary of our entry into the war.

Maj. Edward Allworth by April Waters
You might remember a story in the paper from earlier this summer about a new portrait of one of Oregon's Medal of Honor winners commissioned for the Lebanon Veterans Home.

The medal honors Edward Allworth for action on November 5th, 1918. Later he worked at Oregon Agricultural College - now OSU.

Isn't it just straight-up wonderful and beautiful, a perfect instance of public art matched to site?

As the Public Art Commission thinks about art for the new Police Station, they ought to think more about art that is immediately legible and delightful rather than art that requires a lengthy artist statement to parse and decode. Public art should not be too opaque or elusive! Sometimes it should be challenging, but its challenge should not be so difficult to grasp. Public art that is too elliptical just becomes inert.

Damien Gilley talking about "Mirror Maze," July 5th
via Twitter
The local cultural moment during World War I is weird, though.

The Establishment was crazy threatened by the Wobblies. Women had just won the vote in the state of New York, and were looking at national women's suffrage. There's a deep jumble of progressivism and counter-reaction.

November 8th, 1917

November 8th, 1917
And then there's Russia.

The first news of the Russian Revolution is about equal weight with a photo of Vice President Marshall and his upcoming talk at the Salem Armory.

Who the heck remembers Vice President Marshall?! Except to specialists, he's totally unknown and forgotten. Turns out he was Governor of Indiana...hmm...and when President Wilson had a stroke...hmm...wait, maybe he should be better known after all? Anyway, the nativist sentiment and intolerance for dissent seems relevant just now. In his Salem speech he was focused on German-Americans:
"The time has now come when a man who will not melt into a loyal American should be taken out of the melting pot and sent home," said Mr. Marshall. "When a naturalized citizen is found making seditious utterances against the president and this country his naturalization papers should be canceled and his properly confiscated to the United States government....I am not prejudiced against the foreigner. The foreigner who comes to this country with the intention of becoming a good citizen sometimes makes an even better American citizen than I am. I believe that 95 per cent of the German people in the United States today would be good and patriotic citizens if we would only let them....[The war] will put an end to the hyphenated American of every kind and we will have instead a plain, unadulterated American citizen from now on." [November 9th]
More than this, there's an interesting rhetoric of racist tropes around Germany, western Europeans. It's a reminder of how malleable is our rhetoric around race and how it always serves other ends.

Here the German nation and its soldiers is a rampaging gorilla, "the beast." It's impossible not to read this with the ethos of Jim Crow and "Birth of a Nation" in mind.

November 7th, 1917

November 9th, 1917
(Here's an enlistment poster that shows it even more graphically.)

As for the "home front," Salem was obsessed with cigarettes. Prohibition on alcohol had been the law for a couple of years. But tobacco? No problem! For soldiers there's the action of the drug, narcotic, stimulant, and appetite suppressant. For readers here it also seems to function like a screen, or part of a larger screen, for deflecting and avoiding the actual horrors of war. The Capital Journal Tobacco Fund got nearly as much advertising and talk as the Liberty Bond program.

November 10th, 1917

November 10th, 1917

November 10th, 1917
There's a lot going on in all this, and you might have or know of better readings. It's impossible to unpack.

Here's part of a poem by Wilfred Owen:
Patting good-bye, doubtless they told the lad
He’d always show the Hun a brave man’s face;
Father would sooner him dead than in disgrace,—
Was proud to see him going, aye, and glad.
Perhaps his mother whimpered how she’d fret
Until he got a nice safe wound to nurse.
Sisters would wish girls too could shoot, charge, curse …
Brothers—would send his favourite cigarette.
Each week, month after month, they wrote the same,
Thinking him sheltered in some Y.M. Hut,
Because he said so, writing on his butt
Where once an hour a bullet missed its aim
And misses teased the hunger of his brain.
His eyes grew old with wincing, and his hand
Reckless with ague. Courage leaked, as sand
From the best sand-bags after years of rain.
But never leave, wound, fever, trench-foot, shock,
Untrapped the wretch. And death seemed still withheld
For torture of lying machinally shelled,
At the pleasure of this world’s Powers who’d run amok.
Owen himself was killed November 4th, 1918, the day before Allworth's action in the medal citation.

1 comment:

Susann Kaltwasser said...

My fear is that the art that the Art Commission is deciding on is done in the closed rooms of the PW department. Public art needs to be seen by the public prior to being purchased. So far IMHO they are about 1 for 10 in buying something that is appreciated.

After the great controversy over the police station itself to add controversial art would be adding insult to injury. So, far all the information about the police building design is being done in 'virtual' secrecy. We have been down that path before and it did not end well.

Another thing about the 'art' that you featured near the Chemeketa Parkade, I have tried to see it in person a couple of times. Turns out you can't see it unless you actually drive directly past it or get out and walk past it. Not very accessible. I heard rumors that they were thinking of paying to put more 'public art' in the alleys. Ugh!