Monday, January 15, 2007

Over There: The United States in the Great War, 1917-1918

Over There: The United States in the Great War, 1917-1918 by Byron Farwell (1999) covers the United States involvement and contribution in World War I. This book is excellent for Americans who may not want to read about the war from its start in 1914, but wish to concentrate on the US involvement in the war. It does not provide an in-depth analysis of the war, but does a very good job at keeping the reader engaged and educating the reader about American involvement in WWI.

My Rating: Very Good (****). As an American, I enjoyed the book tremendously since it covered the war from the involvement of the USA and not from its beginning. It provides a good summary of World War I for the American audience. It is well-written, interesting, and provides relevant aspects of the history of the war without trying to cover every aspect in great detail.

Some strategies and themes presented in the book include the following:

Twisting the facts to provide unified backing for the war.

The sinking of the Lusitania is often considered the single event that brought the US into the war. It was positioned a defenseless ocean liner attacked by the inhuman Germans. Of its 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,195 perished including 124 of the 129 Americans on board (including multimillionaire Alfred Vanderbilt, actor Charles Frohman, and author Elbert Hubbard). The facts were that the Lusitania carried six million rounds of .303 rifle ammunition, fifty-one tons of shrapnel shells, parts for mines, 200 additional tons of ammo, and sixty-seven British soldiers. The Lusitania had 12 six-inch guns and was classified as an auxiliary cruiser. The Germans had even published in several newspapers a warning to anyone planning to travel on the Lusitania that it was a viable target for the Germans. "Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan was one of the few who viewed the disaster realistically: 'Germany,' he said, 'has a right to prevent contraband going to the Allies and a ship carrying contraband should not rely upon passengers to prevent her from attack." (pp. 23-25)

"President Wilson revealed the Zimmermann note to the press. ...Alfred Zimmermann, German foreign secretary, sent a coded message ... proposing a defensive alliance with Mexico in case of war between the United States and Germany. It contained the proviso that 'Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona' ...British naval intelligence intercepted and decoded the message... Released to the public, it created a storm of outrage. Many now felt that war with Germany was inevitable." (p.34)

"Creel's committee [Committee on Public Information] soon developed into the United States' first propaganda ministry, disseminating Wilson's political views to every village in the country and eventually throughout the world." Creel used many channels including:

  • A corps of 75,000 Four Minute Men recruited to speak during theater intermissions, before clubs, or at any other place an audience was available.
  • Traveling salesmen were supplied with pamphlets and asked to speak with their customer base.
  • Immigrants were urged to speak English, salute the flag, and cultivate patriotism in their children.
  • Daily and sometimes hourly press releases proclaimed the enemy to be barbaric huns.
  • Exhibitions of military equipment were arranged.
  • Thirty propaganda bulletins and distributions were prepared in several languages and 75 million copies distributed.
  • Artist were asked to draw and produced 700 poster designs, 122 streetcar advertising cards, 310 advertising illustrations, and 287 cartoons. The most famous was the "Uncle Sam Wants You!" poster.
  • The motion picture industry produced "hate-the-Hun" films. (pp. 123-124)

"Americans grew suspicious of each other. Neighbor spied on neighbor and workers spied on their fellow workers. There developed a kind of national paranoia. ... Creel was later blamed for the hysteria. One critic observed that, 'Never have so many behaved so stupidly at the manipulation of so few.'" (p. 125)

"On 12 July the New York Times headlined a story with a dateline of the day before: OUR MEN TAKE BELLEAU WOOD, 300 CAPTIVES. This was not so. It was not even close." (p. 171)

"Colonel Stewart was ordered by the War Department to tighten censorship of letters that were 'most unsoldierly in tone and anti-British in sentiment'" in response to AEF discontent when serving in Northern Russia. (p. 282)

Elimination of Basic Rights of Citizens.

Many occurrences abused citizens without due process, including:

  • Between April and November 1917 thousands of suspected citizens were arrested, often without a warrant.
  • 1,200 were placed in internment camps.
  • Factories established their own FBI.
  • Federal troops put down strikes, raided unions, and arrested leaders.
  • The fifteen top leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World were sent to prison with sentences 0f twenty years.
  • The War Department listed 75 books as vicious German propaganda and they were removed from the shelves of libraries.
  • On April 6, 1917 Wilson authorized the seizure of radio stations.
  • The Espionage Act was passed.
  • The postmaster general was authorized to refuse mail advocating treason and cut-0ff mailing privileges of assorted foreign language newspapers and magazines, bankrupting many. (pp. 125-126)

The Economics of War.

"Not everyone was driven by patriotism. It was noticed that some people were making more money than they had before the war, some a great deal more."

  • "Paytriots," Secretary Daniels called them.
  • Pierre DuPont offered to manufacture much-needed smokeless powder--for a price (making 25-50% profit).
  • The assistant secretary of the treasury denounced the makers of American flags as unpatriotic profiteers.
  • Coal mining companies were found to be "as fine a specimen of war profiteering as I have ever seen" according to Secretary of Treasury McAdoo with profits of more than 1,000% in one year.
  • Bethlehem Steel increased its profits by more than 800%.
  • "The law of supply and demand has been replaced by the law of selfishness" said Herbert Hoover.
  • The number of millionaires doubled from the pre-war number.
  • A manufacturer made army raincoats that dissolved in the rain.
  • Labor wanted their fair share of the profits and resorted to strikes. (pp. 131-133)
  • "The British, French, and others who supplied ships were not eleemosynary; the American government paid for every soldier transported in a foreign vessel. The French made an attempt to charge for every man sent to fight for them as if he were a prewar passenger on a liner instead of a human sardine on a troopship. When the Americans refused to be gouged the price was reduced from $150 per man to $81.75." (p. 81)
  • "Except for small arms, almost all of the army's needs were supplied by Britain and France at exorbitant prices." (p. 104)
  • "Through it all [the movement from St. Mihiel to Argonne], the French officer in charge of the trucks insisted on counting the men in each and collecting receipts for their delivery, for the French charged the Americans by the head for transporting their soldiers to fight for them." (p. 222)
  • "Of the eight billion dollars loaned to the Allies, little was repaid. Only Finland paid in full." (p. 299)

Weak leadership during the War.

"Among the armies of the world, that of the United States ranked sixteenth, just behind Portugal." (p. 37)

"The punitive expedition of regulars and ill-trained and ill equipped National Guardsmen led by Brigadier General John Pershing against Francisco ('Pancho') Villa in 1916 had learned little that could be of value to them on the Western Front and their stumbling about south of the border illustrated all too starkly how unprepared the country was to fight a modern war. It had not even been able to suppress a Mexican bandit." (p. 37)

"Colonel McAlexander had narrowly escaped being sent home in disgrace. He had graduated near the bottom of his class at West Point ... a staff officer found him asleep in his dugout at 9:00 one morning. He was saved thanks to the pleading of his brigade commander ... explaining that McAlexander habitually spent his nights in the front-line trenches with his troops. McAlexander emerged from the war with the unusual distinction of having earned both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal." (p. 179-180)

"The [French Army] mutinies were not against the war... They were a passionate protest against stupidity, incompetence and indifference, .... against fire-eating generals who threw away lives in futile stunts for the sake of la gloire." (p. 91)

"In July 1917 the country had begun production of the recently designed 8-cylinder Liberty engine, but Pershing asked for a 12-cylinder engine instead and 13,574 of the 12-cylinder Liberty engines were built ... but it was too heavy for pursuit planes. In May 1918 Pershing demanded the 8-cylinder plane again. ... Planning and organization remained in a state of flux. ... Much of the difficulty was the result of Pershing's continual changing of specifications. ... Thousands of changes in the details of planes were cabled by him, until manufacturers simply threw up their hands." (p. 199)

"General Charles P. Summerall, commanding V Corps, directed MacArthur: 'Give me Chatillon or a list of 5,000 casualties.' ... The hill was taken, but more than twenty-five years later MacArthur, reminiscing with General Robert Eichelberger, said, 'I have hated him ever since.'" (p. 230)

"George C. Marshall was taken aback to learn that the army that had fought at St. Mihiel was to be sent immediately to a new sector, for it was his responsibility to issue the orders for its transfer. 'I could not recall an incident in history where the fighting of one battle had been preceded by the plans for a later battle to be fought by the same army on a different front, and involving the issuing of orders for the movement of troops already destined to participate in the first battle, directing their transfer to the new field of action." (p. 221)

"President Wilson, attending the peace conference, made a grand tour of the European capitals but, although Chateau-Thierry was only an hour away from Paris, the commander-in-chief did not find time to visit it or any of the fields where his soldiers had fought and bled, nor did he see any of the military cemeteries. His neglect was noted." (pp. 264-265)

Inability to learn from experience.

"It seems not to have occurred to any general on either side that in a war of attrition the advantage lay with the defensive, that the attacker lost more men than the defender. It was a lesson never learned." (p.48)

"The marines attacked in waves, lines of men sometimes moving shoulder to shoulder, almost like a Civil War attack, without benefit of mortars or grenades, and German Maxim machine guns scythed them down. ... Belleau Wood proved a hard nut to crack. Fourteen days later it was indeed taken, but the marines sustained nearly 5,200 casualties, including 750 killed, more than fifty percent of its strength. One mile had been gained. It was the costliest battle in Marine Corps history and would remain so until the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943." (pp. 169-171)

"Parachutes were, however, used by observers in balloons, who jumped 116 times with only one fatality. ... Perhaps from bravado or perhaps from the belief that the falling plane would hit the parachutes before they could fall clear, pilots did not carry them until the last months of the war. (p. 194)


"In the first four months 2.7 tons of shipping had been sunk [by German U-boats]." US Rear Admiral William Sims asked if there was any solution. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, Britain's First Sea Lord, told Sims: 'Absolutely none that we can see now.' Sims devised and recommended "a convoy system--merchant ships assembled and traveling together under the protection of destroyers--be instituted, but the Admiralty rejected the idea out of hand, declaring it to be a waste of cruisers and destroyers." When it was finally implemented later in the war, "During the last months of the war convoys lost only about one percent of their ships" (pp. 71-72).

The British use of depth charges was that "The drums were simply rolled off the decks until American investors developed the 'Y gun,' a specially devised apparatus which hurled the huge charges with greater accuracy and less risk." (p. 72)

"... a submarine detection device device developed by forty-year-old Professor Max Mason, a mathematician then at the University of Wisconsin. It not only could detect the sound of submarines as far as twenty miles away, but also could reveal the direction of the sound." (p. 72)

".. the development by two Americans, Commander S.P. Fullinwider and a civilian, thirty-seven-year-old Ralph Cowan Browne, a roentgenologist, of an electrical system and mechanism that made possible an improved mine." (p. 72) "... the British Admiralty rejected the idea" but after the US deployed them in the Northern Sea "they wreaked havoc with the German submarines" and were considered "one of the wonders of the war." (p. 73)

"As the war progressed the value of [native American Indian] languages, unknown in Europe, was recognized and many were used as telephone operators, speaking in their native tongues." (p. 160)

"The guns had difficulty hitting small targets twenty miles away until Edwin P. Hubble, an infantry captain who knew something about the mathematics of moving objects through curved space and time, provided solutions. Dr. Hubble later won a Nobel prize and built the 200-inch telescope on Mount Palomar. His name was given to the first space telescope." (p. 209)


"Many arrived in France without ever having fired their weapon. ...When the 90th Division shipped out in June 1918 only 35 percent of its personnel had received more than four weeks of formal instruction." (p. 65)

"As disdainful as he was of French training, Pershing lauded the skill of French cooks." (p. 101)

"On 30 March 1918 Lloyd George, and on the following day Clemenceau, dispatched messages to President Wilson urging him to send more American troops, even untrained and unorganized troops, as rapidly as possible." (p. 118)

"Many of the American divisions were still not fully trained or fully equipped. ... Some [American soldiers] did not even know how to insert rifle clips and it was said that experienced soldiers were getting $5 apiece to instruct them." (p. 221)

Wrong Priorities.

"The winter of 1917-1918 was the most severe of the war and the snow was unusually heavy in eastern France. In the newly arrived troops of the AEF clothing was in short supply, even boots for marching. Urgent appeals to Washington were rejected 'owing to need for supply of troops in the United States.' Soldiers at war could not be clothed as long as soldiers at home needed uniforms. ... Major Frederick Palmer referred to this period as the Valley Forge of the AEF." (p. 98)

"No one seemed able to tell the troops why they were fighting Russians in Russia and many felt they had been forgotten and abandoned. ... 'we were fighting a people against whom war had never been declared and we didn't know why we were fighting them." (p. 283)

Double Standards.

"223 French-speaking American women, called 'Hello Girls', were imported to operate a cable and plug switchboard. "The 'Hello Girls' wearing the uniforms required by the army and drawing army pay, had assumed they were in the Army Signal Corps. They discovered they were not only when they were discharged and informed that they had been merely employees and were ineligible for the status and benefits of veterans. Not until 1979, after a campaign led by former Hello Girl Mrs Louise Le Breton Maxwell, did the army give honorable discharges, war medals, and veteran benefits to the few survivors." (p. 307)

"In the 42nd Division several officers, out of the line for a time, were discovered to have rented rooms in Baccarat and Badonviller which they shared with local women or prostitutes. They were court-martialed, deprived of pay, and given a stern lecture by Douglas MacArthur, who after the war was to do exactly the same thing himself--without, however, receiving reprimand or punishment."(p.146)

"There was a reluctance to give medals to blacks until after a reevaluation was begun in 1988. In 1991 a Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously to Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 93rd Division (Provisional) for leading an attack upon a machine gun nest." (p. 251)

Theodore Roosevelt was a proponent for the war and his youngest son, Quentin, was killed in action in a dogfight. He was a pilot. Teddy Roosevelt did not have a double standard for his own children, all of which would serve in WWI. "Pershing rote to [him]: 'Quentin died as he had lived and served, nobly and unselfishly, in the full strength and vigor of his youth, fighting the enemy in clean combat. You may well be proud of your gift to the nation in his supreme sacrifice." (p. 192)

"When the army received complaints from several YMCA women that their superior, Mr. O. K. LaRoque, sexually harassed them, he was ordered out but refused to leave and went unpunished." (p. 271)

"Comparatively few American medals were awarded during the war. The War Department failed to recognize their morale value and good job done and Pershing had originally believed that the knowledge a soldier had of a good job done and earning the respect of his comrades should be reward enough. ...The Rainbow Division submitted nine recommendations for the Medal of Honor, a list headed by Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur ... Pershing chose six, MacArthur was not one of them. ..."The days for brigadier generals to rush forward in the firing line waving their hats and yelling 'Come on boys!' are in actual warfare at least a thing of the past" ... [Patton] feared he would not receive the Distinguished Service Cross and considered resigning if he did not get it. ... The Silver Star medal was not instituted until 8 August 1932, but during World War I small silver stars were authorized to be worn on the campaign ribbons of those cited in orders for gallantry. Essentially these were what the British called 'mentioned in dispatches.' Douglas MacArthur, who earned seven of these in World War I, equated them with the new medal and awarded himself seven Silver Star Medals." (pp. 295-296)

Fighting Ability of the AEF.

"General Walther Reinhardt, chief of staff of the German Seventh Army which opposed the Americans in this battle, praised their elan and will to attack. 'They may not look good, but hell, how they can fight!' he said."(p.183)

"Corporal Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ... in the 1st Moroccan Division and a witness to the fighting. ... 'We had the Americans as neighbors and I had a close-up view of them. Everyone says the same: they're first rate troops, fighting with intense individual passion ... and wonderful courage. The only complaint one would make about them is that they don't take sufficient care; they're too apt to get themselves killed. When they're wounded they make their way back holding themselves upright, almost stiff, impassive, and uncomplaining. I don't think I've ever seen such pride and dignity in suffering." (pp. 183-184)

"The Germans had such a high opinion of the fighting abilities of the Indians, their impressions drawn from Wild West shows and from highly popular German books about them, that German newspapers tried to conceal the fact that their soldiers were fighting against them. During the St. Mihiel offensive the commanding officer of the German 97th Landwehr ordered snipers to pick off Indians when they could be recognized." (p. 160)

General Joseph Helle ... said of the Americans: 'We were quite unprepared for such fury in an attack.' So were the Germans. General Walther Reinhardt, chief of staff of the Seventh German Army, agreed with Helle and compared the fervor of the Americans to the German volunteers in 1914." (p. 184)

"Men in the rear areas who went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) from their units and made their way to the battleline where at least 3,170 were killed and 6,471 were wounded. The total number of men so eager to see combat is unknown, but the practice ws so widespread that General Pershing made special arrangements for those men who had done good service in the rear to have the opportunity to go on the firing line." (p. 265)

"By war's end Americans held 101 miles or 23 percent of the battleline." (pp. 265-266)

Winston Churchill wrote: "To fight in defence of his native land is the first duty of the citizen. But fight in defence of some one else's native land is a different proposition... To cross the ocean and fight for strangersd, far from home, upon an issue the making of which one has had no say, requires a wide outlook upon human affairs and a sense of world responsibility." (p. 285)

"Belgium's Cardinal Desire Joseph Mercier [had] come to the United States to thank Americans for their assistance to his country." (p. 287)

"British military historian Captain Basil Liddell Hart best summed up the American contribution: 'The United States did not win the war, but without their economic aid to ease the strain, whithout the arrival of their troops to turn the numerical balance, and, above all, without the moral tonic which their coming gave, victory would have been impossible." (p. 299)

Fighing Under French Command.

"The worst disaster to Americans was sustained by four rifle companies of the 28th Division, a National Guard unit from Pennsylvania that had been integrated into a French unit which retreated without warning, leaving them to be killed or captured." (pp. 178-179)

"The Americans took the ridge, but the French had failed to keep pace and the Americans were forced to defend their own flanks. As a result, 3 October 1918 was the bloodiest day in the division's history, but on the following day the French could with ease assume their places in the line. General John A. Lejeune, then commanding the 2nd Division, sent off an angry telegram to AEF headquarters saying he would resign his commission rather than again fight beside the French units." (p. 249)

Opinions of Europeans.

"... Americans objected to British rations and never learned to prefer tea to coffee. 'We don't like their blooming tea or their blamed pet cats,' wrote one soldier. 'They said it was rabbit, but we used our own opinion. We had tasted rabbit in the states and we knew.'" (p.245)

After the war "Relations between occupiers [Americans] and the occupied [Germans] were soon cordial. Many Americans found the Germans friendlier than the British or French." (p. 269)

"Ambassador William Graves Sharp in Pris remarked that, 'Many of the French seem to have forgotten that but for us the Kaiser and his nobles would be running France.'" (p. 272)

"Pershing complained that the French 'had never once said a word of thank or complimented the American troops on what they had done.' According to Haig, Pershing told him that Americans would never forget 'the bad treatment which they had received from the French and that it was difficult to exaggerate the feeling of dislike for the French which existed in the American army.'" (p. 272)

Some interesting facts presented by the author include:

  • "Because of the misuse of the word 'shrapnel' by several generations of ignorant journalists, many readers of World War i literature assume that the word 'sharpnel' meant shell fragments. But this was not the case. Shrapnel, invented by Major Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842) of the British Royal Artillery, was first used in 1804. " (p. 45)

  • "58.51 percent of all battle casualties were caused by enemy artillery and mortar fire; rifle and machine gun fire accounted for 38.98 percent." (p. 46)
  • "Charles E. Stanton, a quartermaster lieutenant colonel, ... announced, 'Lafayette, we are here!' words later attributed to Pershing himself" (p. 94).
  • "When MacArthur was recommended for promotion to brigadier general, Pershing disapproved it, but MacArthur's mother so lobbied Washington that General Peyton March, the chief of staff, approved the promotion." (p. 98)
  • "Sauerkraut became 'liberty cabbage. ... German measles became 'Liberty measles." (p. 125) "As of January income tax was increased so that many now had to pay what was billed as a 'Liberty Tax.' The number of American taxpayers rose to seven million in 1918 from only 500,000 the previous year. (p. 290)
  • "General Pershing served as a first lieutenant in the 10th Calvary [a black regiment] from 1892 to 1898 and for his championship of black soldiers was called "Black Jack" Pershing. (p. 148)
  • "Marine John C. Geiger, who was in an attack on 10 July, later confessed that after he and others surrounded a German machine gun nest the crew wanted to surrender: 'But there's not much use taking as prisoners men who fire at you until they see they are overpowered. I don't remember any prisoners walking back from that crowd.' Private Carl Brannen of the 6th Marines claimed that, 'Machine gunners were never taken prisoner by either side.' ... Lieutenant van Dolson wrote that the soldiers from Alabama 'did not take many prisoners, but I do not blame them much for that.' A Georgia soldier wrote home: "All of you can cheer up and wear a smile for I'm a little hero now. I got two of the rascals and finished killing a wounded with my bayonet that might have gotten well had I not finished him' (p. 174).
  • "I never heard a man cuss so well or so intelligently, and I'd shoed a million mules ... The battery didn't say a word. They must have figured the cap'n could do the cussin' for the whole outfit." Private Paul Shaffer describing artillery Captain Harry Truman.
  • "Of the more than 15,000 pigeons trained to carry messages in France some 5,000 disappeared, perhaps some into French marmites. ... One pigeon returned with the message: 'I'm tired of carrying this God-damned bird.'" (p. 225)
  • "... Captain Frank Williams ... in the 82nd Division. He had been a sheriff in Montana and Wyoming and had performed as a fast-draw shooter with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Reconnoitering a hill north of St. Juvin on a foggy October morning he came upon five Germans escorting an American prisoner. Williams sauntered toward them, his pistol in its holster. Perhaps his empty hands put the Germans off guard, but when he drew near he pulled his pistol and shot four before they could raise their rifles. The survivor surrendered." (p. 228)
  • "German soldiers they encountered there readily raised their hands and called 'Kamerad!' but as soon as the Americans lowered their rifles, the 'prisoners' fell flat and an assault team burst through them and cut up the platoon. Lieutenant Dwight H. Shaffner ... cut down several men with his Chauchat, then drew his pistol and seized the German captain who had organized the ruse: Dragging him back, he forced him to divulge information about the German positions ahead. For his valor, and in spite of his disregard of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor." (p. 230)
  • "... novelist William Faulkner ... finished ground school on 13 November, two days after the Armistice, and never won the wings he nevertheless wore. Faulkner never flew solo or was sent to France or was injured in a airplane crash or was commissioned or did much else that he claimed; like Hemingway, he pretended to be what he was not and to have done what hedid not do." (p. 252)

  • "It was said that the Germans fought for territory, the British for the sea, the French for patriotism, and the Americans for souvenirs." (p. 269)
  • "March wrote: 'President Wilson only interfered twice with the military operations of the War Department while I was Chief of Staff, and both times he was wrong. The first of these was the Siberian Expedition; the other sending American troops to Murmansk and Archangel, in northern Russia." (p. 273) "General March called the Siberian expedition a 'military crime.'" (p. 284)
  • The AEF officers in northern Russia "routinely instructed their men 'to take no prisoners, to kill them even if they come in unarmed'" and in many cases this was done. (p. 283)
  • "Men who had left aid stations prematurely to return to the fighting discovered that they had no credit for their wounds." (p. 289)
  • "Over in France and in the occupied part of Germany the doughboys feel peeved that Prohibition has been enacted in their absence." (p. 290)
  • "The soldiers and sailors returned to a land of bootleggers, gangsters, speakeasies, and bathtup gin" (p. 290)
  • "In late May 1932 some 17,000 unemployed veterans from all parts of the country decended upon Washington and demanded immediate and full payment of the [veteran] bonuses. The 'bonus army' camped in ramshackle huts assembled by its members almost within sight of the Capitol. In June Congress voted down their demands and most of them returned from whence they had come. However, some 2,000 remained. When President Hoover ordered them removed, Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, aided by Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent soldiers carrying bayoneted refles to burn their shacks and move them on." (p. 294)

1 comment:

Delilah said...

Good for people to know.