World War I exhibit explores war’s impact on children

Published: 9 February 2024

By Sarah Sicard
via the website

war’s impact on children MilitaryTimes

Children dressed in costume during World War I. (National WWI Museum)

The “Greatest Generation” is renowned for military heroism during World War II. But before this famed demographic signed up to fight for Uncle Sam, many were shaped by a childhood spent amid World War I.

It’s not surprising, then, that the First World War instilled an entire generation with a brand of patriotism that could prompt risking everything to preserve the American dream. That exact experience is currently showcased in the National World War I Museum’s exhibit “The Little War,” an exploration of childhood between 1914 and 1918.

The exhibit’s items, according to Specialist Curator Natalie Walker, incited questions for museum staff about war’s impact on children, both during World War I and throughout subsequent conflicts.

“[It was] the literature that was being produced for children at the time, the toys, the games they were playing — Allies versus the Central Powers,” Walker told Military Times. “It made it that much easier to embrace the Second World War just 20 to 25 years later.”

Those who produced children’s literature, toys and costumes of the time presented the war in a way that would remove fear factors. In doing so, the lens through which World War I was viewed by children was one of adventure, where morally superior participants always emerged victorious.

It was natural, then, for young Americans raised in such an environment to not only be willing to serve if called upon, but do so excitedly — even subconsciously — as they deployed like the heroes they once read about.

“[The literature] beat it in in terms of good versus evil … to instill these ideas of patriotism, being a good citizen, and fighting for your country,” Walker noted. “But these kinds of things also trivialized violence and war. [Children are] playing from the safety of their backyards and all of this literature talks about a Boy Scout who goes overseas, and he escapes every battle and conflict unscathed. … They didn’t want to scare children. … At the same time, they’re not really telling the truth.”

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