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tv   American Artifacts World War I Soldiers and Art in the Trenches  CSPAN  May 13, 2018 10:00pm-10:31pm EDT

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announcer: we recently traveled to tyler, texas to learn about its history. learn about tyler and other towns on you are watching american history tv come all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> each week, american artifacts takes you into archives, museums, and historic sites around the country. next, we visit the smithsonian national air and space museum to learn about stone carvings created an trenches of bunkers by walk one soldiers and only recently rediscovered. photographs are featured in the exhibit.
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>> hello, my name is dr. jeff gusky and i am a national geographic photographer. welcome to the smithsonian national air and space museum and to artist soldiers commemorating world war i. the space i am standing in front of is a large underground city. we are just seeing a small segment of this vast space which once held up to 4000 world war i soldiers. it was occupied initially by the french and then the german and then the french took it back and then the americans. and, in this space, soldiers from the main national guard, part of the yankee division, lived underground for almost two months. and, what is remarkable about this particular place, and you can see this on the smithsonian channel documentary called americans underground, which was filmed in this space which exists under a french farm field, completely unprotected, unmarked, in the middle of
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nowhere, in the raw. you enter through small holes in the ground. and when you go into this place, it is totally dark. you cannot see your hand two inches in front of your face. yet when you turn your head lamp on, you see this, and you have carvings like this carving. it's a beautiful regimental emblem with the words above, mechanic from south brewer, maine, which is outside of bangor, maine. this is an ancient stone quarry. the reason why these places were transformed into underground cities was because there were many of these spaces adjacent to the trenches of world war i. and so armies on both sides used the technologies of the day, rail, telecommunications,
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hospital, sanitation systems, command and control, living quarters. they are fast spaces. vast spaces. one photograph is over 25 miles underground. they were so big they had street signs underground. you still see, like here, you can look in the ceiling and see metal posts from telecommunication lines and electricity. it was an entire infrastructure of the modern city brought underground, and when the world turned totally inhuman on the created a human world below. i'm often asked how i found this hidden world of world war i. i didn't discover it. actually, these places had been known since the war in the small villages and localities where they exist. there are many, many, many
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places. there were hundreds of them during world war i. so the way that i came upon these places was like so many things i discovered as an explorer, by sheer coincidence. i had met a bureaucrat from the french defense ministry and related to another project and discovered that he was involved in the planning for the 100 year anniversary for france. immit. joseph zen he was very kind in that he made introductions for me to local officials all along the western front. and they, in turn, introduced me to local people all along the western front. over time i got to know these people and they shared their secrets. in turn i have made an effort to render these beautiful works of art and cultural treasures that are in complete darkness for
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history. we were preserving what they call the patrimony, and in turn, i have also never reveal the locations because they are vulnerable to vandalism and theft and not protected. i would like to show you another example of the traces that americans left behind. so beneath a beautiful french farm field you will find this place, which you enter by going almost straight down into the ground on two ladders approximately 30 feet. and you are suddenly in a hidden world of world war i. and when you turn your lamp on, you are 100 years back in time. becauses a human world, what we find are all of these messages to the future, notes to loved ones, inscriptions, jokes, artwork, left by the americans
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in this place. and this wall is an example where you see the density of carvings, how there was almost a sense of urgency by the american soldiers to create a sense of them of homeminded and to reconnect to home, and also to say to the future, not knowing if anyone would ever see these, i was here. i was once a living, breathing human being, so we see 1918. you see masonic symbols, knights of columbus. this was the golden age of paternal organizations. there is one oddity about this. these were guys for new england. it was a yankee division. somehow there was a straggler amongst these guys from chicago, or who love chicago. we will never know, but i had posted this photograph on facebook a number of years ago
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not long after the story broke in national geographic, which which was the first time that this hidden world was revealed. this was the summer of 2014 at the beginning of the 100 year anniversary of world war i. and someone wrote in to say that this emblem right here is the emblem, even today, of the chicago fire department. wow. what a shock. that person was absolutely right. so there was someone amongst all these new englanders from chicago. i would like to show you how these soldiers felt about america. this is a cellar underneath a farm in a violent part of the front. canteeni. and the unit that was here was the big red. the unit that sustained the most
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casualties and had the most days of combat of any unit in the war. the farm was completely leveled. but americans found shelter in this cellar. and when you're walking down the stairs you turn to the left and you see u.s. forever and this flag. and the emotion of how they felt about their country when in the midst of a deadly war just up it is helen, where earth, comes through 100 years later, and this is all over the place. and this place underground and almost every other one that i visited, you get a sense that they knew what they were fighting for, that there was something that they believed in outside of themselves as a group, and they were very proud to be american. as an er doc in a time of
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terrorism, when we are facing an existential threat from the outside, i feel like it is really important that we have a sense of what unites us as a country, as a nation, to remain strong in this time of terror. and so i feel like their example is good for us. and i don't say that from a perspective of right or left. but that is what i feel when i'm down on these places. you see many contrasts when you are underground. you see the human condition. you see sorrow to laughter. lovede despair to missing ones, and to missing girlfriends. and this carving could be in a museum, like the museum of modern art. it is very characteristic of the art of 100 years ago.
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, like matisse. it is a french carving in a french underground city. it shows how the soldiers were trying to re-create a human world, a world of feeling, emotion, aesthetic, and a world connected into a life before war that helped them get through a time that it's impossible for us to imagine. you know, during world war i there were over one million high-powered shells fired every single day for 4.5 years. it is beyond human comprehension. if a person was anywhere in the kill zone of one of these weapons, they wouldn't just die, they would disappear. it was a term called pink mist, which is all that was left of a human being after one of these weapons struck and they were in
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the perimeter of the bomb, and so this to me is what master structure means. it is just something that goes beyond anything we can conceive. and i fully feel like we are facing this risk today. they walked blindly, both sides, into a meat grinder that was right in front of their eyes. , and yet they could not see the danger. i feel like, almost a responsibility and a sense of urgency as an er doc, explorer, to bring this message to our times, to understand our vulnerabilities to mass what keeps and that the world human keeps the world safe, and we must be sober about the risks that we face and not be charmed by technology and all by all the wonders of modern progress and power. all we have left in the end is
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each other and what keeps us us human. and this carving is an example of when the world was inflicted with mass destruction, that's exactly what the soldiers did, was try to stay human. as an emergency physician, this gets to me,eally because you have a soldier with half his face gone. that works with trauma patients, the degree of injury this represents, where someone is mortally wounded, but they survive, and yet they are traumatized for the rest of their life is what this rendering conveys. this carving was made in 1914 not long after the war began. and it represents not only the injury to -- the physical injuries to a soldier, but the
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psychic injuries to the society. of thece, the symbol half face related to world war one goes to the heart and soul of so many french people because they lost not just millions of young men in this war, but it psychic wound that stayed and scarred the society for generations. and they felt it and they expressed it in the motif of the half faced soldier that was badly injured. so that b why this is important to me, both for specific traumatic injuries and individuals and to the psychic wounds to a society after war and mass instruction. as americans we are so accustomed to preserving
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cultural and historic treasures , marking them, protecting them. it's inconceivable for us that you would have a one of a kind treasure like this, created by as aoldiers, used this place of worship underground very close to the front lines. and yet it is unmarked, unprotected. it is under a french farm. anyone, if they knew where it was, could walk in and deface this, steal it. it is so vulnerable. this was the last photograph i took and it was just a little bit more than a year ago from , and it is as show very soulful feeling when you are there looking at this space and imagining what these young
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french jewish soldiers were that washe world exploding just above, and here they were trying to find some sanctuary and spiritual refuge from the horror of war, and this place in particular has a warm glow, almost a spiritual feeling that comes through a century later. i'm jewish. i'm not very religious, but i'm proud to be jewish, so this has extra resonance for me. this is the only example of a jewish chapel that exists from world war i in an underground city. i would like to show you another chapel, a christian chapel, next. it's very close to the front lines. and here you have a chapel where
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a --oldiers would pray and that would take them to the front-line trenches. the men would pray not knowing if they would come back alive, come back to safety. and even 100 years later you see the color still present and the carvings are perfect. and you get a sense like you are there with them. almostis just an metaphysical experience that transcends time when you are down here. photographing this was very difficult, and a friend of mine, his family has owned the farm that is above this chapel for centuries. he reveres this place, and he chide mease me and
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because the photograph i was producing were not very good. it's almost impossible not to render this place with normal techniques. because of that challenge -- in fact, he made me feel bad, like i didn't care about this place. and so i went online and started looking for a technique i could learn to render this space with the color and texture and emotion that you see when you're actually underground. and i found it through the mastery of an unbelievable photographer named harold ross who lives in the amish country. i went to his studio and studied with him for three intense days twice to learn this technique and it is rembrandt lighting that he uses in the studio and i
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was able adapt it to underground. it is very complicated, but enables you to light in a very particular way each section of a scene, and to bring out the texture and the three dimensionality and depth, and that is what you see here. next i would like to show you a photograph of a carving that is one of a kind. what you see in this carving is unlike anything else that i have seen or any of my friends know of anywhere else in the western front. it is apocalyptic. it is a premonition of the 21st 20th century. to get into the space you have to crawl through a narrow opening that's barely big enough for your body, and you slide in on your rear end and the camera gear is passed down and you
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can't use a tripod because it's so tight and the place is almost collapsing on itself. but you find in this place a carving that tells us what the soldiers in this sector in 1917 were feeling. it's only five years after the titanic goes down. the unsinkable titanic, and it is a commentary on the dark side of modern progress, where people have finalt we can solutions and be protected once and for all from risks, like with the titanic, the iceberg, and we find out on its maiden voyage that it is actually vulnerable and sinks. and world war i was almost the same situation am a but much more massive, where all the wonders of the modern city, the technologies that made life fast and efficient and exhilarating
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and inexpensive and powerful were being used in the background to develop weapons that had never been seen before. and so world war i was the first modern mass distraction where the technology that made life in cities possible and make life good was suddenly like a genie that came out of the bottle and destroyed everything in sight. and no one ca could imagine that it would happen. in thisre mutinies sector on the front. there is a sense of despair by the soldiers but there is no future to the world. and you have this ship going down. it's name is liberty. i don't read french, but it says liberty is leaving the world. sun in theis a upper left-hand corner and it says the sun of my youth is
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setting. and then the disasters of the 20th century. and the date, 1917, and the unit number. so the positive we take away from this is that the world is still here. we went through mast instruction and survived and we have a tremendous resilience to push back against the dark side of progress. but as an er doc who is passionately concerned about the future and about avoiding mass distraction i look at this and i want to scream loudly to our world and our times about the fact that we must see the dangers of a world where technology and progress is reign without control. when that happens you have world war i and that's what i'm really concerned about with the approaching era of artificial
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intelligence and robotics where we could easily relinquish human control. and we are toast. that is what world war i shows us and tells us. i have walked the battlefields and places of mass murder in modern times in eastern and western europe and the former soviet union, where millions and millions of people have been brutally slaughtered in the last 100 years. , during the modern era. so we are in no way immune to the most horrific outcomes related to technology and the all the wonders that we enjoy and that make our life better. we must remain human. in the er we have an island of humanity where we depend on technology, but human beings always come that's my mission first. for this work, to help people genieat happens when the
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of mass destruction comes out of the bottle and when we allow eign withouto r human control. it will end us and we must not let that happen. now we are going to see a photograph that is another tie-in from world war i and has to do with with race. this is a skull with a gas mask. this space is the only remaining vestige from 100 years ago of any black combat unit in an underground city. 370th fromthe chicago, the black devils. and they had a tradition of being the only african-american unit for decades. they had all black officers and all black men. and on the last day, the last hour, the last minute of world
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, the last americans fighting were the black devils, so when the armistice came and all the guns went silent, they would not quit. they had an objective to capture a german convoy and they follow ed that german convoy and chased it all the way back across the border in belgium and conquer their objective and then they stopped, because they felt they were fighting for not just america, but for civil rights at home and everyone was watching them. by the way, the name the black devils was the name the germans gave to this unit because of their fierceness in combat. so this is a story of a vision about america during a time when racism was rampant in the military and in america and when
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the opportunities for african americans was nothing like today. they had no civil rights laws. there were no veterans benefits. there was no safety net. and yet they were stakeholders in america, and they believed in america. and even with all the horrific circumstances they faced at home, it wasn't about the conditions at home, it was about the way that they saw themselves as americans and their belief in what america meant to them. it was in her freedom, like martin luther king talked about. free at last, free at last, thank god almighty we are free at last. it was a freedom that no one can take away, and these african-american soldiers were very proud of their country and very proud of their service, and to defendt like hell america, and we hardly know about them today.
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they were heroes, and this is the first time a photograph, from the only trace of their existence come in fact the only trace of any black combat unit from world war i, is here, and this is one of the representations we still have today. to end today's tour, i wanted to share a photograph that makes everyone laugh. it shows that these guys were modern people like us. they cared about the same things we do. they laughed and cried and agonized about the same things we do. and so these were guys from new england. and it is 1918. and their team, the red sox, is on a winning streak. and they would go on to win the world series that year. little did they know that the curse of the bambino would
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follow the next year and they wouldn't win again for 86 years. here we have in big bold letters under a french farm field in total darkness in this underground city, where hundreds and hundreds of yankee division soldiers lived and worked, found shelter for almost two months in -- redhis inscription sox-seven, yanks-four. i understand it was an actual game. here koc,ve aoh and knights of columbus. i mentioned earlier in our walk through that this is the golden ism.of fraternal you see they just see the inscription of the fraternal orders. that's what they care about.
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so in a different part of this underground system, there was a soldier who died. and he must have been from chicago as well because the way his yankee division friends remembered him was to place his name in the 1918 logo of the cubs, which was on a losing streak at that time, but this was the team that he loved come so i can imagine what it was fan while hiss team is on a losing streak to be surrounded by red sox fanatics, hundreds of them, in this in this underground city. 1918 i would like to leave you with a few thoughts. first i want to communicate that privilege of visiting this hidden world war i , but it was only through the help of many french friends that shared their secret and spent untold hours, never charged me a
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nickel for their time. they were devoted, along with me, to preserving this time cancel that connects us humanly to 100 years ago and to the risks of modern mass destruction. so through the soldiers in this era and this human connection, we can hopefully prevent this master structure today. that's why hope you'll come to see this exhibit and why you will feel like you were there 100 years ago, facing what they faced, and take from that experience the responsibilities that we have to face the dangers of mass destruction we face today and avoid them and be strong and sober about what's important, which is that we keep our world human and safe. thank you.
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>> as 1968 came to a close apollo 8 sent three astronauts orbits. you saved 1968 red one testify graph. our guest are elizabeth cobbs, historian and mark kramer harvarddirector of university project on full war


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