It appears that the nation’s plans to commemorate the Centennial of the First World War in 2014 are progressing. The WWI Centennial Commission Act (House Resolution 6364) passed by Congress and was, until recently, awaiting the President’s signature. However, the bill died on the Presidents desk. And, as the rules go, if a bill, for other than appropriations, signed by both parts of the legislature goes to the executive branch and is not signed within 10 days, it becomes law. That’s Poli Sci 101 in any university. And thus, the Frank Buckles bill, heretofore known as the WWI Centennial Commission Act, is now law but quite toothless. There’s no funding. The chairman of the commission can task government agencies as might be pertinent but on a reimbursable basis. (Read more about this here.)
In general, the bill provides for the formation of a board consisting of twelve members within 60 days after it becomes law. Plans have already begun to nominate members of this board, though unofficially. So, who will be the leader of this new Commission? Where will they be based, on the East Coast or Kansas City? What role will the American Battle Monuments Commission play in our national 4-year remembrance? They are, after all, the appointed caretakers of nearly all the American First World War commemorative constructs.
Once again, history repeats itself and commemoration remains one of the most political of all national activities, but risks becoming an exploitative process, one used to fulfill agenda far from the intended purpose of remembering the war dead.
Let’s hope that this group remembers the true meaning of commemorating this first global event. It, and our dead, deserve our respect.
Lisa Budreau is a consultant to the WWI Regional Office with the American Battle Monuments Commission, based in Arlington, VA, and Garches, France. She is author of Bodies of War: World War I and the Politics of Commemoration in America, 1919-1933 (NYU Press, 2009).