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Demian Tretyakov
Demian Tretyakov

Making History The First World War

Boris Yeltsin, who served as first president of what was called the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1999, allowed yet further freedoms. The old textbooks became so completely devalued that history examinations had to be postponed throughout the Soviet Union. (In Estonia and Ukraine, laws were introduced that made writing bad history a prosecutable offense.) By 1989, Remnick notes, books had appeared in Russian schools with chapters on the Soviet period that resembled dissident writer Solzhenitsyn more than the approved texts of earlier generations.

Making History The First World War

Polls in the year that Putin came to power showed that three-quarters of his people regretted the breakup of the U.S.S.R. and wanted Russia to win back lost territories such as Crimea and eastern Ukraine. As Figes argues, they were resentful about being told they should be ashamed of their history. They had been raised on the Soviet myths: the great liberation of the October Revolution, the first five-year plan, the collectivization of agriculture, the defeat of the Trotskyites, Soviet achievements in culture, science and technology. Why should they feel guilty? Today, even Soviet-era secret police uniforms are on sale. Putin promptly created his own version of history, combining Soviet myths (sans their communist baggage) with stories from the Russian Empire before 1917, and when the centenary of the revolution came, his government studiously ignored it.

Women had worked in all American wars, often following their husbands and serving in as nurses, cooks or laundresses, but their military experiences expanded significantly during WWI. Most notably, the military opened enlistment to women for the first time in American history. Though the majority of women still served as nurses through the American Red Cross or the Army Nurse Corps, many also worked as administrators, secretaries, telephone operators, interpreters and translators, librarians, canteen workers, entertainers, and in various other positions. Approximately 25,000 women served during the Great War through volunteer organizations such as the American Red Cross, the YMCA and the military. For the first time, these women were overwhelmingly middle and upper class. One of them was Belle Baruch.

The struggle for equality was even greater for black nurses. Although an estimated 1,800 black nurses were certified by the Red Cross for duty with the military, only eighteen were called up for service, and only after the Armistice was signed in November of 1918. These eighteen women were the first black women to serve in the Army Nurse Corps, but none were ever sent to Europe, and none received any benefits or pension from the Army because they were sworn into service after the Armistice. In fact, only five or six black women succeeded in making it overseas to help during the war; the YMCA sponsored four women, and in the last months of war a professional black pianist, Helen Hagan, was permitted to entertain soldiers in Europe. A black woman doctor may have also gone overseas, but this is non-confirmable.

"Our campaign has been about more than just uniting a district, more than winning back the House, more than making history," Omar said. "Our campaign has been about shifting narratives, restoring hope and re-establishing access in our democracy."

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