The War to End All Wars

The National World War I Museum was very high on our list, but we had several other museums we had planned to visit (Jesse James Home, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and a few others). It was 3:30 by the time we left the Negro Leagues Museum, and we hopped in the car and plugged in the address – great only 15 minutes away. We followed the instructions, but the destination didn’t seem to be in the right place. We check their website and put in the address again.

Still, that address did not work either. We were both hungry, so we stopped and grabbed a bite to eat. After getting some food, we remembered seeing a very tall statue down the street, and decided to drive in that direction. We did, and finally found what we were looking for at exactly 5 – the exact moment the museum closes. We looked longingly at the individuals exiting the building, walked around the outdoor area for a bit and decided that we would skip the Truman Presidential Library and instead go back to the WWI Museum the next morning. Boy, are we glad we did.

The cost of admission was $12 each and because the museum is so expansive, they actually offer an optional two-day pass. Though we only a had two to three hours to spend (time was ticking on getting our RV out of the local KOA), we were going to see as much as we could.

At the entrance, there is a glass walkway with red, silk poppies on the level below. Red poppies became the symbol of WWI. When trenches were drug, the loose soil provided the perfect conditions for poppies, and as the soldiers would move on, broad swashes of the land would be reclaimed by seas of red, appearing like nature’s reminder of the blood spilled on the hills. Each of these 9,000 flowers represented 1,000 men lost to the war. Nearly one million young men killed in battle.

A short movie introduced us to the political and economic conditions preceding the war. After the video, we followed a war time line, which began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by Yugoslav nationalists. The assassination that was called off, but the shooters did not get the message in time – and while the war was unlikely to be prevented entirely, the circumstances of its beginning, and the inevitable outcome may have been postponed had they received the message.

The museum is divided into two sections, before and after United State involvement. As a nation, we only participated in the final two years of the six year war. And many historians believe our participation in the war is what transitioned us to a world power… to this point in our nation’s history we had taken a very isolationist approach to world affairs.

In the middle of the museum, there is another movie explaining many of the factors that led to US entrance into the war. The setting of this movie is impressive. You can see trenches below the movie screen with soiled, tired soldiers wearily marching across a post-apocalyptic landscape. The movie set alone really brings home the full impact of the war.

Throughout the museum you see artifacts, personal stories, news clipping and terrifying weapons that explain to progress of the war. The most interesting part of this museum is the replica trenches. Each is designed to match the trench-building styles of the key participants – German, French, English and American. There are small “look ins” which trigger realistic conversations that may have took place in each trench. The darkness and booming war sounds make you feel as if you were there with these brave young men.

There are two additional exhibits on the upper level, as well as an elevator that will take you to the top of the Liberty Memorial Tower and an amazing view of downtown Kansas City.

World War I was called the War to End all Wars, but as we all know, mankind, it seems, is averse to peace and the search for freedom, the lust for land, money or power, or even a nationalistic view make war a constant, if not, expected part of historical human experience.

The World War I museum brings home the globalization of war and its impact on generations. With the last living soldier passing last February, it’s important to keep the global impact of all war, and its horrors at the forefront of our national consciousness.

Plan your trip today here.