In this week’s installment of the Lifelong Learning Blog, JoAnn Bell interviews Mike Zoob (Road Scholar’s first-ever employee). Mike just returned from An Oxford WWI Conference: Remembering The Great War. There are still dates available for next spring’s conference on the same topic!


JoAnn Bell: Out of all the thousands of programs we offer, why did you choose this one?

Mike Zoob: I remember studying World War I in college and have always been fascinated yet angered by the horror of it — Civil War battle strategies came face to face with modern technology and machine guns. I have wondered whether WWII and Hitler’s rise might have been prevented if a generation of English, French and German leaders had not been killed. The literature of the war published both during and after it has always held my interest, as well as most recently the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker.

JB: Your program featured some heavy-hitting instructors. Were there any that stood out?

MZ: Difficult question as all were quite good. Professor Sir Hew Strachen, Chichele Professor of the History of War at All Souls College, Oxford, (All Souls being the best kind of college where there are no students and distinguished faculty do research and think great thoughts) is the editor of the Cambridge Military History Series and among other honors and duties is a Specialist Advisor to the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy in Great Britain. He spoke on Military Operations and National Strategies in 1914 and gave a very high-level view of the tensions between broad strategic issues and the reality of operations on the ground. It was a brilliant lecture.

JB: What was the most interesting thing you learned?

MZ: In WWI, all British soldiers who were killed overseas were buried there — none were brought home to be interred. Though each family who lost a loved one mourned, the nation as a whole did not have the opportunity to grieve as a whole. There were no coffins, nor funeral processions. In addition, there were thousands upon thousands of men who died who were never identified, as dog tags in those days were made of cardboard and disintegrated. I learned about the successful effort to bring home one unidentified soldier, so that the nation as a whole might have the opportunity to publicly grieve for the more than 888,000 who died in the war. There were not many dry-eyed participants during that talk.

JB: You stayed on the Oxford College campus. What was that like?

MZ: St. Hugh’s college was a wonderful place to stay. The student’s rooms were charming and the lovely lawns and flower plantings on the campus pleasant to view and walk about. We were a 15-minute walk from downtown Oxford and a 5-minute bus ride, so everything was very convenient.

JB: WWI was 100 years ago. Do you see any parallels with the geo-political world today?

MZ: Very much so. In the past several years, the rise of nationalism in the Balkans has once again reared its ugly head just as it did leading up to the war, and the entire range of problems the world faces in the Middle East can in many ways be traced to the aftermath of WWI and the peace treaty that created countries drawn in the sand that reflected the imperial interests of the victorious powers in the world without taking into account the interests of the people who lived there.

JB: Tell us your favorite parts of the program.

MZ: The lectures, which were uniformly excellent along with our visit to the Imperial War Museums in London, which featured a new and very extensive exhibit on WWI that was outstanding.

JB: There were nearly 80 people in your group. What was it like having a group that size?

MZ: Though I was used to programs with much smaller numbers I think the nature of the program with its extensive number of lectures very much lent itself to a larger group. I found that people got to know one another at pre-dinner wine receptions both indoors and on the campus terrace and that most people made an effort to dine with different participants so that one got to meet an interesting and varied number of people.

JB: You went by yourself. Did you meet any other solo travelers?

MZ: There were quite a few people at the program who were solo adventurers. A number had spouses or companions who were not as interested in the subject matter as those who attended and then an equally large number who were without a partner. I found that couples and solo attendees mixed very freely.

JB: What Road Scholar adventure is next for you?

MZ: In less than a month I shall be attending a Road Scholar program on a small barge that accommodates 22 people in Provence, a part of France I have never been to. We begin our leisurely voyage in Avignon on the Canal Du Rhone and complete our voyage on the Mediterranean. Then a year or so from now my youngest grandson will be 9 and we will go on an Intergenerational program, and then, God willing, I shall begin another round of programs with my four grandchildren.


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