This strange memory came to my mind yesterday, triggered by a New York Times article covering the 100-year anniversary of the cessation of the “War to End all Wars,” and suddenly reading this I jumped back four years ago to an early summer morning in Northwest Iowa. We were driving through the country to our work site for the week in an ancient Ford F-150. I was building grain bins those summers, and even at 6:30 am the humidity made the cab unbearably stuffy so like normal all our windows were down. Building grain bins is a grueling occupation; 12-hour days in 90 or 100 °F weather with 100% humidity. Once I fell on a steel sheet and had 2 inches of knee-skin peel off me like an apple. Another time I saw a guy’s face caved in by a 200-pound steel door. A dangerous line of work I’ve strangely grown to miss. Anyway, I was the only one in or that had been to university but my coworkers still [sometimes] enjoyed conversations on history, politics, or the general state of things. It was July 28, 2014. I asked my coworkers if they knew what that day was the anniversary of? What began 100 years ago? A few guesses that were not very close so I revealed it as the day 100 years back WWI began. The day a political extremist fired a few rounds into the Austro-Hungarian king-to-be. A few weeks after this modern warfare would kick off. As I told them all this I had to yell because of the open windows. And it’s strange because as I remembered this I could feel that sensation of the wind hitting my face and whipping my hair, the smell of farm earth and me lecturing on world history. I can’t remember one other thing of that day. But I do remember a few moments of that car ride to a grain bin, and how I had considered Europe 100 years prior.
So yesterday I started all my classes with the question: “what was Sunday the anniversary off?” "What happend 100 years ago?" Only a few kids attempted to answer and my favorite was “your anniversary with another person?” Of the four classes I threw this random question at one 13-year old got it. At that moment I wondered if kids in France, or the U.K. or most other nations in Europe would have gotten it right. And I thought, yes probably. I love history, and when you want to understand modern history you must look back at the entirety of the last century. So I suddenly realized, why would more than just one kid know or, to be honest, care about this moment 100 years ago? Spain was neutral! Ok, Belgium was neutral too but they didn’t really have a choice…But this all made me think more about what does a nation care about remembering? The U.S. is so far from Europe and even more so before jet travel, but Spain was just a few hundred miles from one of the bloodiest cesspools in history. And yet they kept out of it on a national level so when your ancestors don't bleed for something does it really become relevant to you? Maybe if I asked older kids in a history class they’d have fared better.
As I led activities on how to shop for Gucci sunglasses or used underwear my mind was mostly preoccupied with how much history varies in significance from nation to nation. Being honest, that New York Times Article focused on how indifferent, stone-faced, and antagonistic Trump was during the ceremonies over the weekend. But to me it brought just two things to mind; the first being how are people in Spain remembering this and why? That why has led me into an internet frenzy on Spanish activity during that time period, and also to the larger question of how other events monumental in the movement of time effect the national conscious. And the second thing was that random flashback to me in a filthy, hot truck on my way to build a grain bin and quizzing coworkers on the state of the world 100 years back.