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"'Somewhere in Belgium or France it don't matter which': What Can the Canadian Expeditionary Force Tell Us about Consent and Coercion in the Great War?" With Dr. Martha Hanna

Tue, April 29, 2014 | Harry Ransom Center, Prothro Theater

4:00 PM

In late May, 1916, Laurie Rogers, a soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force serving on the Western Front, mused in a melancholy moment that he was "somewhere in France or Belgium it don't matter which."  If Rogers and his compatriots were hard-pressed to distinguish France from Belgium; if the defense of 'la patrie' which was so central to the fighting resolve of French troops on the Western Front was a matter of supreme indifference to most of them; if - in short - they were, fighting in France, but not for France, how did their perceptions of this alien and in many ways inhospitable land influence how they thought about the war?  Did their experiences of France reinforce their resolve to endure unto victory?  Or did their experiences of combat and contact with civilians behind the lines undermine their morale and make them regret their decision to enlist? By examining how Canadian troops perceived France and the war that they were waging there, I will examine from an unexplored angle one of the most debated topics in contemporary scholarship about the war:  did soldiers endure the war because they subscribed to the belief that theirs was the cause of justice, or did they continue to serve, having learned full well the horrors of war, only because they were compelled by coercive force to do so? 
Martha Hanna is a Professor in the Department of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is a specialist in the history of modern France, with a particular interest in the First World War. She is the author of The Mobilization of Intellect: French Scholars and Writers During the Great War, published by Harvard University Press (1996) and several articles on the cultural history of France during the early twentieth century, including "A Republic of Letters: The Epistolary Tradition in World War I France" which appeared in the American Historical Review (December 2003). 

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