Book Review: “Wilson”

 “Wilson”  By A. Scott Berg
(G. P. Putnam & Sons) 2013     818 pp
Review by WW1HA President Sal Compagno

A musical interlude (plus war animals!)

Trench mortar school mascot on a German trench mortar Man standing next to a captured German trench mortar. There is a tiny monkey sitting on the barrel of the trench mortar. The man is holding the monkey's hand and is looking closely at the monkey's face. Many soldiers adopted animals, often abandoned or left behind by their owners, and kept them as pets or mascots. From the National Library of Scotland

Trench mortar school mascot on a German trench mortar
Man standing next to a captured German trench mortar. There is a tiny monkey sitting on the barrel of the trench mortar. The man is holding the monkey’s hand and is looking closely at the monkey’s face. Many soldiers adopted animals, often abandoned or left behind by their owners, and kept them as pets or mascots. From the National Library of Scotland

From Michael Gubser of James Madison University:

I am a professor of modern European history (including World War I) in Virginia, and I have recently had a musical that I have co-written accepted into the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) as part of its Developmental Reading Series.  The musical, entitled “Into the Sun,” takes place in World War I and is based loosely on the experiences of the British World War I poets, such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and others.  Some of the songs in the play use their poems as lyrics.

NYMF is a major festival of new musicals that takes place each year in July, and it attracts producers and theatre representatives looking for new plays to develop and produce.  As part of this festival, ‘Into the Sun’ will have three staged reading performances in New York City on July 15 and 19.  It will hopefully be a great opportunity to raise awareness of World War I and of the war pets during this centenary.

I’m sending two sites: 1) the announcement of the show on the NYMF website:   and 2) our Kickstarter site which provides a succinct summary of the musical as well as two videos — one an artist’s statement and the other a documentary-style promo video — that describe the show:

WW1HA 2013 Symposium speakers: Gary Armstrong

Gary Armstrong is political science professor at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.  He received his PhD at Georgetown University in 1994, with a dissertation focusing on the clash between Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Henry Cabot Lodge over terminating the war with Imperial Germany in 1918.

Here’s the link to his page at the WW1HA website:

A farewell to Paul Fussell

This week, the New York Times Sunday Magazine eulogizes the famous people who died over the past year. Dwight Garner writes of Paul Fussell:

Fussell’s masterpiece is “The Great War and Modern Memory” (1975), a book that’s of permanent literary interest; his prose and quality of observation are uncommonly fine. …  A literary scholar as well as a soldier, Fussell attended to (of all things) that war’s poetry and observed how it exposed the yawning gaps between the myth and reality of armed conflict.


Here’s the link:

Carnacki and the Western Front

Do you know the work of William Hope Hodgson? He was a writer of horror famed for his short stories. Though Hodgson was killed on April 19, 1918, his most famous character, the ghost hunter Carnacki, long out-lived him with other writers adding to his tales.

Today is William Hope Hodgson’s birthday. He is celebrated on Sam Gafford’s blog here:

Nail-biting in 1916

Today’s vote is not the only one that had America on the edge of its seats. Blog GlobalPost recently wrote of the 1916 election:

“(Woodrow) Wilson, a Democrat seeking a second term against Charles Evans Hughes, was staring down the barrel of World War I, which had been sweeping though Europe for two years leading up to the election. Wilson had respected America’s desire for neutrality, and campaigned on the slogan ‘He kept us out of war,’ Yahoo Voices reported.

“Though it initially seemed like Hughes, a moderate Republican and former member of the Supreme Court, had won, the results were neck-and-neck right across the country and came down to California. The west coast ultimately gave Wilson a narrow win, with 49.2 percent of the popular vote and 277 electoral votes to Hughes’ 254, according to InfoPlease’s Campaign database.

“Wilson ultimately had to renege on his promise to the American people, and entered World War I when Germany began attacking U.S. ships.”

Here’s a link:

Here’s a red-and-blue map of the 1916 results:

This is a fascinating account of how the news of the election returns was spread — no Facebook, tweets or endless droning analysis in those days:

“SEVEN thousand wireless telephone operators within a radius of 200 miles of New York City received election returns from the New York American. Three hundred and fifty moving-picture theaters; special bulletin boards in different parts of the city, and the principal hotels of Manhattan obtained the news from the above office, as fast as it was received. Fifty extra telephone lines were run into the American office, the theaters were placed on lines that were in continuous operation, and while the news of the closest Presidential election in years was being given to the public thru these channels, the editorial staff compiled the returns without the slightest confusion. announcer broadcasting.”

Here’s the link:
Anyway, the campaign is almost over and we hope to have the results tonight (or tomorrow, or the day after that). May the odds be ever in your favor!

The Battle of Coronel

The Battle of Coronel, on Nov. 1, 1914, was the worst British naval defeat of the war. It was fought off the coast of Chile between Vice-Admiral Graf von Spee and Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock, who went down with all hands on the HMS Good Hope, one of two British cruisers sunk by the Germans.

Blogger Darren Milford begins the story with this ominous detail:

“When the two forces first sighted each other the light was in favour of the British, the sun would be in the eyes of the German gunners.  By the time firing started the sun was just below the horizon, reversing the visibility advantage.”

Read his account at

Cliff McMullen has a Web page with a pictorial record of the Battles of Coronel and the Falklands. Find it here:


Dave Webster has a beautiful photo of the church window in North Yorkshire that was created in memory of Cradock. You can see it and read about it here:

Hew Strachan at the National WWI Museum

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial is proud to host Great War scholar Hew Strachan on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.

Strachan, who is Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford University, Director of the Oxford Programme on the Changing Character of War, and a Fellow of All Souls College, will present a special lecture entitled, “The First World War: Commemoration or Celebration?”

“We are thrilled to welcome such a renowned expert to America’s only World War I museum,” says Interim Museum President & CEO Dr. Mary Davidson Cohen. “As the centennial of the Great War quickly approaches, it is increasingly important that we explore what it means to observe the anniversary of a global event whose effects are still felt today.”

The free lecture, made possible with funding support from Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P., will take place in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; lecture begins at 7:30 p.m. No reservation is necessary. Strachan will be available to sign books after the lecture, and copies of his work will be available for purchase in the Museum Store.


About Hew Strachan

Strachan’s research focuses on military history from the 18th century to date, including contemporary strategic studies, but with particular interest in the First World War and in the history of the British Army.  He is the author of several highly acclaimed books on military history, including European Armies and the Conduct of War (1983), The Politics of the British Army (1997), and The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms (2001).  His multi-part documentary series for television formed the basis for The First World War: a New Illustrated History (2003), and Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography (2007).

Three officers of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) are sitting around a table. The table is laid with a vase of flowers, plates and mugs, but there is no food visible. The bottle appears to be labelled, ‘Dark Port.’ This photograph, which is attributed to John Warwick Brooke, shows the easier conditions often enjoyed by the officers.
The collar badges of the regiment show small elephants to commemorate the regiment’s earlier service in India.
National Library of Scotland

World War I National Seminar report

Here, in chronological order, are the notes I posted to Facebook on the talks presented at the seminar Sept. 8-9 at the Marine Corps Career Colleges in Quantico, Va.:

Friday: I’m at the World War One Historical Association’s national seminar at Quantico. Just heard Graydon (Jack) Tunstall’s talk on the Carpathian Winter War — the Carpathian Mountains are in the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, and Romania. I may have left out a few countries. During WWI, they were fought over by the Russians and the Austro-Hungarians. Jack’s book “Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915” is going to the top of my pile! — at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Very interesting talk by Laurence Lyons on George Owen Squier and the development of American tactical radio. To be honest, I was afraid the topic would be too technical for me, but the speaker did a great job of explaining how wireless telephonic communication was invented and kept the human element in focus, too. His book is “Mixed Signals on the Western Front: How the Slow Adoption of Wireless Restricted British Strategy and Operations in World War I.” That is a lo-o-ong subtitle. But wireless communcation would have saved many, many lives on the Somme. Add it to the pile!
“The Myths of Belleau Wood,” presented by J. Mark Miller of the USMC Library: The importance of Belleau Wood was the impression it gave the Germans: that the Americans were there to fight. Morale was everything in the summer of 1918 and Belleau Wood gave the Allies a tremendous boost. (I’m paraphrasing.) Marines of today don’t want to let those guys down.
I wrote a post about our third talk, but my friend’s computer ate it. Marine archivist James Glincher gave a presentation on early Marine aviation that focused on five pilots who fought in the war. The best detail was the alligator that pilots training in Louisiana made their mascot — and, yes, they did give it a ride. War gator!
Marine college history professor Edward Erickson speaks on Mustafa Kemal, the Ottoman Empire army officer who stopped the ANZACs at Gallipoli on April 25-27, 1915, later the first president of the Republic of Turkey. (You might know him as Ataturk.) He was an excellent fighter and commander, and a hard drinkin’ gambler and womanizer, and an obnoxious loudmouth when it came to criticizing his superiors. This actually is a little over my head — my reading is too Euro-centric. (Stirling Rasmussen, a Facebook friend, added: “He also overthrew the Ottoman leadership, banned polygamy, changed the written form of Turkish from an Arabic to a Latin script that is so phonetically matched to the language that once learned, all could read, and set up what eventually became a democratic government. Oh, and he kicked the Greeks out of Turkey after the end of the war. To me, he was one of the great men of the 20th century.”)
Kevin Seldon, a former Marine and now a history teacher, presented a selection from his slideshow about the Battle of Belleau Wood told through the experiences of the men who fought there: face after face of those who were killed, gravely wounded or witnesses to terrible combat. In 2002, Seldon met and talked with the last survivor of the battle, then 105 years old.
Saturday. Last night Scott Stephenson, a professor of military history at the Army, gave a lively talk about the final days of the war and the poor guys who had to tell the Kaiser that he didn’t have the troops to march into the homeland and defeat the revolutionaries. And by the way, you just abdicated. Stephenson’s book is “The Final Battle: Soldiers of the Western Front in the German Revolution of 1918”; it won the 2011 WW1HA Tomlinson Prize for best book in English about the Great War.
Richard DiNardo, professor of national security at the Marine college, gave a lively talk on the German/Austro-Hungarian/Bulgarian attack on Serbia in 1915. Of course the Serbs were beaten back — Serbia suffered more than 70 percent casualties in the war. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians were set on getting a path through Serbia to get supplies to Turkey. The Serbs rereated, the attack was concluded — and Germany and Austria-Hungary began the squabbling that eventaully destroyed their alliance. DiNardo’s latest book is “Breakthrough: The Gorlice-Tarnow Campaign, 1915.” Top of the book pile!
Bradley Meyer is the dean of academics at the USMC school of advanced warfare. Here’s the best I can summarize of his fascinating talk. The Germans used stormtroopers to attack as fast and as far as they could, with covering fire from machine guns in their own lines. Then more troops moved forward to exploit the gaps the stormtroops created. A blitzkrieg is a combination of breaking through the enemy’s defenses and operational exploitation to surround and destroy enemy units. All the Germans needed to achieve blitzkrieg in WWI was motorization for more speed. (Facebook friend Philip Meluch added: “The operative word is “achieve”. The issue for the Germans was being able to sustain their breakthoughs. The Allies in the final year tailored their offensives to the means available.”)
Patrick Mooney of the National Museum of the Marine Corps speaking: We just suffered 83 percent casualties as the 1/5, 4th Marine Brigade, trying to capture Blanc Mont Ridge on Oct. 4, 1918. There’s a very beautiful monument on Blanc Mont to the Marines and the 2nd Infantry Division.
Geoffrey Rossano has written several books on Naval aviation including “Stalking the U-Boat: US Naval Aviation of World War.” He’s speaking about U.S. Naval aviators who served with the British in the WWI. Many interesting photos of airfields, planes and rosters.
Nic Galvan Gunnery Sgt has us all tasked with taking Hill 142. First we were the major, and now we’re Capt. Hamilton and our Marines are lying in a wheatfield getting their packs shot off their backs. He keeps barking, What are you gonna do, SIR? Well, we do eventually win the war, so I guess things will work OK (at least for some of us).
And that, sadly, was that — until next year!