A first centenary, like 2018’s of the Armistice, is a kind of hinge in time. It marks the point at which a commemorative scale of years and decades begins to swing outward toward a longer scale of centuries and even millennia. Such a moment is like the edge of a continental shelf where, with our feet still in the shallows of calendrical time, we peer over that rim into the undersea canyon of deep time.
On November 4, 1919, a week before the first anniversary of the Great War’s conclusion, a letter to the editor of the Times worried that there seemed to be “no signs of any official or public celebrations” scheduled to mark the first Armistice Day.
On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, in the midst of World War I, fifteen hundred volunteer troops staged a violent uprising in the Irish capital of Dublin and in strategic positions across the then-British colony. In retaliation, the English deployed ground troops and sailed the gunboat Helga up the Liffey River. In the ensuing fighting, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, Sackville Street, was almost utterly destroyed, and over three hundred buildings were damaged in the city, including many major landmarks.
Modernism and camouflage would seem to be unlikely allies. One advances and the other retreats. One rebels and resists; the other lurks undercover. But during World War I, a group of renegade camoufleurs forged an uneasy truce between modernism’s flash and camouflage’s muted secrets. Their sources were extraordinary and eclectic. Drawing inspiration from animal behavior, avant-garde design, and women’s fashion, the camoufleur—and, as I argue, the camoufleuse—worked to reimagine visibility and warfare in modern terms.
November 2018 not only sees the US midterm elections which will allow the American people to respond at the ballot box to the tumultuous and often exhaustingly toxic political environment during the Trump presidency. It also brings the less heralded and seemingly more distant centenary commemorations of the end of the First World War on November 11th, 1918. Yet another world historical milestone to be overshadowed by a relentless domestic news cycle dominated by a politics of distraction and fear that seems to harness racism, misogyny, economic inequality and outright violence to an unprecedented degree.