The More One Knows

One of the top ten reasons behind why we homeschooled was to spark our children’s interest in history, a subject that too often is taught in a yawn-inducing and stultifying manner. Yet, history is endlessly fascinating, humility-inspiring, and crucially relevant. The more one learns about historical events, the more questions there are to explore. This week, the 109th anniversary of the sinking of the British ocean liner, the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, presented such an example.

I don’t have extensive knowledge of World War I, and my emotional involvement in events pitting Britain and Germany against each other is colored by Nazism and World War II. Therefore, when reading about World War I, my sympathies start off on the Allied side. Nevertheless, good and evil rarely line up so tidily.

The emotional movement of the American electorate away from isolationism and the United States’ eventual involvement in the war in Europe, was influenced by a German torpedo sinking the RMS Lusitania, enroute from New York to Liverpool, England. The attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 passengers, among them over 120 Americans.


Those deaths were horrifying. (Erik Larsen has written a riveting book about the event, Dead Wake, that is so tensely evocative that despite knowing the inevitable conclusion of the story, I still found myself breathlessly hoping the final scene would not be what it was.) While the loss was tragic, the Germans weren’t quite the monsters suggested by popular depictions of the incident. Germany suspected that along with passengers the ocean liner was carrying large amounts of ammunition for their British foes. Their suspicions were accurate. In fact, the German embassy placed ads in New York newspapers warning citizens against traveling on the ship.

Was Germany’s priority the protection of its own soldiers, in which case England bears responsibility for placing armaments on a civilian ship? Would Allied outrage at the sinking have been different if the quantity of ammunition was the same but the ship only carried a few passengers? What if the ocean liner had been carrying soldiers who were lobbing artillery from its decks?

The line from World War I to World War II, to the Cold War, and to conflicts in the world today is easy to see. Surely, we could go back farther and draw connections to other places and circumstances. War has been part of history almost since the world’s inception. It shows no sign of abating. As fewer western politicians have any first-hand experience with war and the military, and are increasingly ignorant and arrogant about the past, we can expect more conflict rather than less.

This Musing is dedicated in memory of Lior Rudaeff, age 61. Lior was presumed to be a hostage kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, as he responded to calls to protect his neighbors. It has been discovered that he was killed and his body taken by the terrorists into Gaza to be used as a bargaining chip. It is unknown how many others presumed to be hostages are actually corpses. Since the international Red Cross and the Biden administration have shown no interest in the hostages aside from a few formulaic words, there is no knowing who is alive, whose bodies were taken after being murdered, and who has been murdered since being kidnapped.

And with prayers for those hostages we hope are still alive, among them, Liri Albag, age 18. Hamas terrorists posted a video showing them kidnapping her and she has not been heard from since.


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