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The American Army and the First World War…

The American Army and the First World War (Armies of the Great War)

by David Woodward

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A really excellent synthesis of how the American ground forces were impacted by political, strategic and social forces and about the only reason I don't give this book the top-most mark is that it's a little too technical for the general reader. What Woodward really brings into focus is a point that can never be forgotten; how hard it was to get significant American military power involved in the war when it would still count for something. This being a result of how low the United States started on the military learning curve and how long it took for the wider American public to buy into at least a shallow sense that this was their war too. While it's easy to excoriated Woodrow Wilson for his unrealistic attitudes (and of being in a state of denial of being responsible for military decisions that he arguably never moved beyond) his reluctance is a more accurate reflection of wider currents in American society than those of the Anglophilic Northeast elite.

This book also spends a great deal of time on how the Entente did itself no favors in regards to American participation in terms of trying to procure American manpower as direct replacements. I can see no practical way this could have worked and can only imagine the outcry when the British military started to execute American citizens for desertion and cowardice, as you know they would have done. It would have made a lot more sense for American troops to be fed in as divisions and then aggregated into American corps and armies as the force structure grew and one probably would have wound up with an American field army in roughly the same amount of time. Perhaps not as large, but also not the shambling giant with feet of clay that was always on the verge of crumbling due to the slapdash way by which it was created. Entente bad faith rendered this option pretty much dead on arrival. An underlying reality here is that if this had been a Franco-American alliance there would have been a lot less strife, considering the lingering Anglo-American rivalry.

One then gets to the person of "Black Jack" Pershing, who one has to be critical of for his intransigence and inflexibility on so many issues but who, at the same time, looks like an indispensable man for having done as much as anyone to will a modern American field force into being. If he could have concentrated more on being a field commander and less on being a policy maker this would probably have helped matters, but that then gets back to Wilson's fecklessness in terms living up to his job as commander in chief, or at least picking a Secretary of War who could better deputize. Peyton March getting the job of Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army remains mostly unsung as the man who arguably saved the day. I still believe that the psychological impact of Pershing losing most of his family in a tragic house fire gets underrated.

Finally, vis-a-vis the chaos of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, one thing this book doesn't play up enough is how much the "Spanish" Flu impacted operations. Many of those so-called stragglers appear to have been falling-down sick if you accept modern scholarship on the topic; something that the Army medical corps downplayed due to their failure to cope with that crisis. See Carol Byerly's "Fever of War" as food for thought. ( )
  Shrike58 | Oct 3, 2017 |
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