Sunday, November 11, 2018

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month...

Allen Guelzo on "The Great War's Price":
.... Given that almost 8 percent of the American population was (like my great-grandfather) either German-born or the offspring of German parents, and another 4.5 percent Irish, who had every reason to sympathize with the 1916 Irish uprising against British rule, the United States might have felt little incentive to take the Allies’ side. ....

But once in, Americans were all in. “There was a crusading spirit in the air,” recalled one new recruit in the spring of 1917, “bands were playing martial music on the courthouse squares.” Newspapers hawked stories of German atrocities and pictured the German emperor, Wilhelm II, as “the Beast in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, who wanted to conquer the world.” Re­cruitment posters (led by James Montgomery Flagg’s frowning Uncle Sam) confronted young men with the demands “I want you for u.s. army” and “Uphold our honor, fight for us.” Those more hesitant would be drafted under the Selective Service Act of 1917.

After three years of watching the Great War from the sidelines, Americans ought to have been better prepared for taking up arms. They weren’t. The Army’s tactical doctrine showed no sign of any of the brutal lessons being taught in the trenches in France about machine guns, barbed wire, and poison gas.

The country would soon learn otherwise, for what the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) walked into was an entirely new and horrific way of making war, honed by three years of remorseless practice. All told, the United States put into uniform less than 4 percent of its population that was eligible for military service; from that number, 116,000 Americans died in the short span of their involvement. ....

From the muck of the war, American soldiers were able to retrieve at least a few moments of glory. The first sizable American units to go into action fought at Cantigny on May 26, 1918, at Soissons and Château-Thierry in July, at Saint-Mihiel in September (where up to 14 American divisions participated), and, in October and November, in the 47-day battle to clear the Argonne Forest. The U.S. Marines earned their first great title to combat glory in the fighting for the Belleau Wood in June 1918, along with the memorable response given by Lieutenant Lloyd Williams when the French advised him to retreat: “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” The Germans gave the Marines one of the names they’ve lived with ever since: Teufel Hunden (Devil Dogs). ....