Great War (1914-1918): The Society and Culture of the First World War discussion

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Historical Discussions > America in the War: Contradictions and Opinions

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message 1: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 75 comments Mod
I just read The Illusion of Victory America in World War I and The Last Days of Innocence America at War, 1917-1918back to back. What an interesting experience, as they both have such radically different interpretations of many many events in the war. While the first books strikes me as something of a revisionist history (and I may not be using the term entirely correctly, for those who are professional/academic historians; and know I do not do justice to these excellent books in one sentence descpriptions), seeking to show the "dark" side of American involvement in WWI, the contradictory, hypocritical, egotistical side of Wilson, the failed promises the US made, and how America's lack of true neutrality probably forced the US into a war it might have avoided, etc. On the other hand, Harries book is revisionist in another way, seeking to rescue the contributions of American in WWI from the European Allies who immediately downplayed American support and American history, which seems to have made it (as a Newsweek article in 2007, I think, called it) "The War that We Forgot." And while their book acknowledges some of the things Fleming discusses, they, along with Ronald Schafer to some degree, in America in the Great War The Rise of the War Welfare State, which I read after I finished the above two, suggest Wilson's shifting ideological opinions were signs of good statesmanship, moving with the times and necessary compromise, and Lodge and Lansing were foes of Wilson. While other countries have equally contested histories of WW1, I have doing a lot of reading on the American experience in WW1 lately, and it seems like this is especially problematic period in American History. I would be curious to know other's thoughts.



message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert Mueller | 1 comments I have spent a good deal of time researching the First World War and actually traveling on the war's battlefields while researching my book, 'Fields of War.' I am a military history reader - not a political history reader. Modern day Europeans – not surprisingly - frequently dismiss America's contributions to ending the war. Normally this opinion is accompanied with a statement of the number of casualties suffered. However, France, Britain, and German were in a state of exhaustion by 1918 (actually France and Britain were finished as offensive powers in 1917). German's Kaiserschlacht Offensive in 1918 came very close to winning the war for them, but also resulted in their exhaustion. While American casualties were minor when compared with the other major combatants, it was the growing presence of 2 million fresh, eager American soldiers that convinced the German General Staff that the war was irretrievably lost. The German government also initiated Armistice negotiations based upon Wilson’s Fourteen Points, only to have them repudiated by Clemenceau and Lloyd George. The two prime ministers demanded an armistice that was punitive to Germany – and we know how well that turned out.


message 3: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 69 comments I saw this item this afternoon. The last American doughboy died over the weekend. http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/02/27/wwi....


message 4: by AC (new)

AC | 8 comments Jenna wrote: "I just read The Illusion of Victory America in World War I and The Last Days of Innocence America at War, 1917-1918back to back. What an interesting experience, as th..."

Thanks for these book ideas.

Jenny - I'm curious - since you've read quite a number of books on the topic of WWI (certainly more than I have), have you read Niall Ferguson's Pity of War -- and if not, why?

I have my own views about this book and what it represents, but I haven't read it and cannot know for certain if I'm right about it.

If you haven't read James Joll's excellent book, though, let me recommend it:
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33...

As to the view that the armistice was overly punitive - there are many who will disagree, Robert -- most recently MacGregor Knox' really stunning and recent book:
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/86...

... as also with the hoary notion that Reparations was damaging to Germany, that it led to the hyperinflation, and hence to Nazism. In fact, very little of the best literature on the inflation supports this view -- See my review (with accompanying comments) here:
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

On the Fischer controversy, which is surely relevant to the question, cf. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


message 5: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 75 comments Mod
Hi, AC thanks for your good book suggestions. I have read Sir Niall Ferguson's book - but it's been years, so I probably would have to go back and read it again to give make any substantial statement about what I thought of the book.


message 6: by James (new)

James | 14 comments Whilst the American Expeditionary Force made a significant contribution, that contribution has been largely overstated in many circles. Yes their presence undoubtedly shortened the war but in may opinion did not change the eventual outcome. I also don't believe Britain and France were "finished as offensive powers in 1917", they were very battered and bruised however.


message 7: by KOMET (last edited Apr 07, 2014 05:49AM) (new)

KOMET | 73 comments James wrote: "Whilst the American Expeditionary Force made a significant contribution, that contribution has been largely overstated in many circles. Yes their presence undoubtedly shortened the war but in may o..."
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Sir,

As far as the French Army was concerned, following the Mutiny that took place within its ranks in the spring of 1917 (following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive), it was in a very bad way. Had the Germans known how disaffected many of the poilu were at that time, they might have attacked along that part of the Front (the Chemin des Dames) and made significant gains. There was defeatism in the French Army as late as May 1918, when the Germans launched their Blücher-Yorck offensive against the French between Soissons and Rheims. Indeed, the French government had plans to evacuate Paris and move to Bordeaux when it seemed likely that the Germans were poised to take the French capital that June.

For their part, the British sustained significant losses at Arras, Messines Ridge, and at Passendaele by the close of 1917. Their offensive at Cambrai was the one bright spot for the British Army, though it proved unable to maintain most of its gains.

The significance of the Americans' stand at Cantigny, Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry, and Soissons cannot be overestimated in terms of its psychological value. For by August 1918, Germany came to the realization that it could not win the war.

The Second Battle of the Marne by Michael S. Neiberg

The Second Battle of the Marne by Michael S. Neiberg


message 8: by James (new)

James | 14 comments Komet,

Indeed the French were in a very bad way following the mutinies, no question there, but did that finish them as an offensive power? The short answer is no. The many of the units that mutinied still maintained that they would hold the line against attack but would not launch futile assaults for no apparent gain. Whilst no doubt significant I do not think they affected French offensive prowess in 1917 and there is a lot more to these mutinies that gets glossed over.

I'm not doubting the bravery and sacrifice of Cantigny, Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry and Soissons. But it was at places like Hazebrouk and Villers Bretonneux were the halters to the German spring offensive were applied, and it was Amiens on 8 August that well and truly broke the German Army's back. This was largely a British/Commonwealth and t a lesser French affair, clearly a huge achievement for armies that were spent as far as offensives were concerned. After Amiens the Germans were unable to mount another offensive so from that point on they were on the back foot, but could still bite hard.


message 9: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) A well reasoned response James and one which I totally agree with.


message 10: by Mark (last edited Apr 08, 2014 02:53PM) (new)

Mark Mortensen | 68 comments KOMET wrote: "The significance of the Americans' stand at Cantigny, Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry, and Soissons cannot be overestimated..."

Well stated Komet as come June 1918 the German's less than 40 miles from Paris had the momentum to take the capital with a forward march of a few days. The French heading south were passed by Americans venturing north towards the enemy. The tide was turned and a new dawn began at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood at 0350 on June 6th saving Paris. This was monumental.


message 11: by KOMET (last edited Apr 08, 2014 12:08PM) (new)

KOMET | 73 comments Another matter I would like to add to this conversation is that once America entered the war, the Imperial German Air Service embarked upon what became known as the "Amerika Programm."

Germany, anticipating a massive inflow of American manpower and material by the summer of 1918, set about establishing a larger air force, which would support the Army in its 1918 offensives on the Western Front.

But in the process of expanding the air service, several German frontline squadrons never received their full complement of personnel and aircraft. So, when the war entered a critical phase in the summer of 1918, the German Air Service was stretched to its utmost on the Western Front. Indeed, fuel was becoming a problem. Then, too, the Allied air forces (British, French, Belgian, American, and Italian) continued to grow in size and helped to play a significant role in the Battle of St. Mihiel in September 1918. St. Mihiel was one of the first battles in history in which a single air commander (Colonel William Mitchell of the U.S. Army Air Service) was placed in command of a large combat air arm tasked with harassing enemy air and ground forces.

This is just another way of emphasizing the value of the American contribution towards victory in November 1918.

The U.S. Air Service in World War I, Volume 1 - The Final Report & a Tactical History by Maurer Maurer

The U.S. Air Service in World War I - Volume 3 The Battle of St. Mihiel by Maurer Maurer


message 12: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) I don't think anyone could downplay the value of the American contribution during the Great War Komet.


message 13: by happy (last edited Apr 09, 2014 02:32AM) (new)

happy (happyone) | 102 comments My personal opinion is that the main US contribution was in the abstract - They are coming. It forced a lot of the German tactical and strategic decisions. The "We have to win the war before they get here." syndrome. The US entry into the war also boosted the Allies morale.

In reality the US main contribution were in the last 6 weeks/2 months of the war. Yes the 2nd and 3rd Divisions helped stop the Germans in the spring of '18 at the Marne (the 3rd ID's nickname is still Rock of the Marne), but there was not much else available. For the most part there were not enough combat ready US units available before the fall of '18. Also Pershing’s insistence on 1914 tactics (The spirit of the offense and the power of musketry) didn't help matters, esp since most of the infantry could not really shoot straight - Sgt York excepted of course


message 14: by James (new)

James | 14 comments The tide was not turned at Chateu Thierry and Belleau Wood. Those battles were certainly monumental but did not "turn the tide", certainly not on their own.

I think your post us well worded happy and I concur.


message 15: by KOMET (new)

KOMET | 73 comments happy wrote: "My personal opinion is that the main US contribution was in the abstract - They are coming. It forced a lot of the German tactical and strategic decisions. The "We have to win the war before they get here..."
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So true, happy.

The German Offensives of 1918 by Martin Kitchen


message 16: by Mark (last edited Apr 09, 2014 04:52AM) (new)

Mark Mortensen | 68 comments happy wrote: "since most of the infantry could not really shoot straight - Sgt York excepted of course..."

Don’t forget the Marine Corps. Of the 8,000 plus Marines in the 4th Brigade all were enlisted men and every participant was qualified as marksmen, sharpshooter or expert on the rifle range. Simply if you were not certified shooting as marksman or above you did not fight in France. They were a very competitive cohesive group. When casualties arose qualified Marines took their place.


message 17: by happy (new)

happy (happyone) | 102 comments Okay, other than Sgt York - the Marines were the only American's who could shoot straight :)


message 18: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Some very good posts here, all very interesting!


message 19: by J.W. (new)

J.W. Horton (JWHorton) | 1 comments American reporter George Seldes was one of the first people into Germany as the war was ending and he interviewed Hindenberg himself. Hindenberg apparently broke down in his presence and confessed in effect that the Americans were the straw that broke the camel's back. However, the story was suppressed and Hindenberg went on to promulgate the old "stab in the back" lie instead.


message 20: by Mark (new)

Mark Mortensen | 68 comments J.W. wrote: "American reporter George Seldes was one of the first people into Germany as the war was ending and he interviewed Hindenberg himself. Hindenberg apparently broke down in his presence and confessed in effect that the Americans were the straw that broke the camel's back..."

Thanks J.W. I’d heard of Lincoln Steffens but I had never heard of George Seldes, who lived quite a life for over 104 years. Seldes notes it was the battles in the Argonne that broke the camel's back. My paternal grandfather fought at the battle of Blanc Mont in the Argonne. Hindenberg would certainly know the impact of that early October 1918 event. It’s amazing the level of censorship that remained in place after Armistice.

I notice in one account Seldes severely downplayed the September 1918 battle of Saint-Mihiel that my grandfather labeled a “walk-a-way”, but did involve combat.


message 21: by James (new)

James | 14 comments I'd day the Battle of Amiens broke the Germans back. By October 1918 the German Army was well and truly stuffed, Muse-Argonne just speeded up the process of victory and demonstrated that somtimes allies have important lessons earned in blood to pass on from their own experiances, and it might pay to heed said lessons.


message 22: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) I have to agree with you there James, although everyone agrees that America's entry to the war spelt the end for Germany.


Black Day of the German Army in this war...


"This remark is attributed to General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) following the unprecedented Allied advance on the 8 August 1918, the first day of the Battle of Amiens. The statement reveals Ludendorff's pragmatic realisation of the growing strength of the Allies (especially in connection with the promise of massive numbers of US troops) and the exhaustion of the German armies in France."

One of the best books that I have read so far on America's contribution to WW1 is this title:

The Last Days of Innocence America at War, 1917-1918 by Meirion Harries by Meirion Harries

I must confess to having these two books still sitting unread in my library:

The Doughboys America and the First World War by Gary Mead by Gary Mead

Over There The United States in the Great War, 1917-18 by Byron Farwell by Byron Farwell


message 23: by Mark (new)

Mark Mortensen | 68 comments Not to beat a dead horse as there were far too many in WWI, but those pondering how the American Expeditionary Forces fared in WWI combat might enjoy Amos Wilder’s memoir as noted by my review. :-)

Armageddon Revisited A World War I Journal by Amos N. Wilder by Amos N. Wilder


message 24: by Mark (new)

Mark Mortensen | 68 comments Here is a link to an interesting New York Times article dated 10/24/14 regarding Belleau Wood titled “Where Americans Turned the Tide in World War I”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/tra...


message 25: by KOMET (last edited Oct 26, 2014 04:00PM) (new)

KOMET | 73 comments Earlier this month, I finished reading "Mr. Wilson's War: From the Assassination of McKinley to the Defeat of the League of Nations" by John Dos Passos. In it, Dos Passos dealt at considerable length with the American contribution to the war effort in 1917 and 1918, in addition to many of the key personalities (e.g. Pershing, Foch, Petain, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Sir Douglas Haig) of that era.

I am firmly convinced from reading that "Mr. Wilson's War" that, without direct American involvement in the First World War, the Allies would have been defeated by Imperial Germany.

Mr. Wilson's War From the Assassination of McKinley to the Defeat of the League of Nations by John Dos Passos


message 26: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Lossl | 7 comments Mark wrote: "Here is a link to an interesting New York Times article dated 10/24/14 regarding Belleau Wood titled “Where Americans Turned the Tide in World War I”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/tra......"


I found the article illuminating, and it had interesting pictures of France and hero's who died there, thank you for sharing it.


message 27: by Terry (new)

Terry | 38 comments I think we have to consider that the 1918 German offensive was in direct response to the U.S entry into to the war. Ludendorff calculated that with the German troops freed up by the withdrawal of Russia, the 1918 offensive could force Britain & France to negotiate a peace favorable to Imperial Germany, before American troops could become a significant factor. If the German military knew the U.S. would remain neutral, the withdrawal of Russia would have made victory for Britian & France impossible, giving them more military options.


message 28: by James (last edited Oct 29, 2014 12:31AM) (new)

James | 14 comments "Where Americans turned the tide in WW1" A very presumptuous title if ever their was one. Not to take anything away from the bravery of US soldiers during the war, but to put it in a context of a bar fight their impact on the battle field can be likend to, arriving at the bar late, discovering their opponent squirming on the floor in pain from previous assaults and hitting him on the head with a bar stool for good measure. Hastened his demise, yes, turned the tide, no at least no in a battlefield sense.


message 29: by Terry (new)

Terry | 38 comments I still think this question is too isolated in scope, everything is intertwined. Why did the U.S. enter the war ? Unrestricted German submarine warfare sinking U.S. ships. The Zimmerman telegram was just a pretext, as evidenced by the Wilson Administration sitting on the telegram until they wanted to enter the war. What about the desperate demands of the British & French that U.S. troops go into the front lines piecemeal, under the command of British/French officers ? These were very desperate times for the Allies, with the French mutinies, and subsequent commitment not to mount future offenses. Without the U.S. intervention, the Allies couldn't win. I think the question of whether Imperial Germany could have won, had the U.S. remained "neutral" will be forever unanswerable. I have enjoyed this exchange !


message 30: by hunter (new)

hunter p | 1 comments Question for every one what is your favorite machine during this time period... also if you were to fight in this war what service would you be in navy,army,artillery brigade, etc.


message 31: by Terry (new)

Terry | 38 comments I am an American Air Force veteran , so give me a SPAD, please!


message 32: by Mark (new)

Mark Mortensen | 68 comments Both of my grandfathers fought on the front line in WWI. My maternal grandfather served with the U.S. Army infantry passing away when I was in my mid-30’s and my paternal grandfather fought with the U.S. Marine Corps infantry passing away when I was 27.

In this instance I’d favor the Marine Corps “Devil Dogs”. Two-thirds of all applicants were rejected for service. The solo Marine Brigade was a breed apart and the bonding between the comrades was something to behold.

It may not classify as a machine but I’d take a Springfield 03’ rifle with a scope.


message 33: by James (new)

James | 14 comments Being in command of a 9.2inch howitzer detachment.


message 34: by Terry (new)

Terry | 38 comments Mark, you should be very proud of your grandfathers- WW I was aimply hellacious ...


message 35: by KOMET (new)

KOMET | 73 comments Today, I salute my maternal grandfather, who I knew as "Grandpa" (1895-1973), one of the kindest, gentlest, yet strongest men I've ever known. He enlisted in the U.S. Army following the declaration of war in 1917 and in the following year, he was a Corporal in France assigned to the Services of Supply. (The Army, being rigidly segregated at the time, assigned most of the African American men in its ranks to service units. So, aside from the 93rd Infantry Division --- which Pershing loaned to the French for the duration of the war --- only the 92nd Infantry Division saw combat.)


message 36: by Mark (new)

Mark Mortensen | 68 comments Komet, the segregation was not fair. Like your grandfather my paternal grandfather (1890-1980) was gentle and the quietest man I ever knew. It was apparent to me his mind often drifted back to the war days when he was rugged. Following the Occupation of Germany he eloped with my grandmother in 1920 being married for 60 years.


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