Book Review: “Wilson”

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

Crowds waiting for the parade of the famous 369th [African American] Infantry, formerly 15th New York regulars, New York City. From the U.S. National Archives.

Crowds waiting for the parade of the famous 369th [African American] Infantry, formerly 15th New York regulars, New York City. From the U.S. National Archives.

Review by Len Shurtleff, WW1HA president

Freedom Struggles: African-Americans in World War I. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Harvard, 2009, 318 pages, illustrations, index, notes, ISBN978 0 647 03592 8, $35 cloth. The author is a Professor of History at Duke University.

This is an elegant yet powerful social history of a crucial point in America’s history. The author identifies the decade of World War I as a watershed in black America’s fight for political equality and social justice.

Heeding the call of leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, African Americans volunteered in large numbers for military service in hopes of validating their claims to full citizenship. As many as 200,000 served overseas in WWI mainly as laborers, construction workers and stevedores. Unfortunately, the Army enforced the segregated Jim Crow social norms of the Southern and border states, both at domestic training camps and overseas in France.

Many thousands more black people moved north to escape segregation, work in war industries and seek new educational opportunities, sparking racial tensions there as well.

The Wilson administration was not sympathetic to the calls of the newly founded (1909) NAACP for full citizenship for black people and, indeed, proceeded after 1913 to segregate the federal government, which had previously largely integrated its work force and opened post office and other patronage jobs to black people in the South. Though France had its own peculiar racial mores and barriers,white Army officers and politicians feared that French men (and particularly women) would undermine their efforts to keep black Americans under Jim Crow regimens.

Service overseas brought young African Americans in contact with many other men of color from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean, widening their horizons and opening their minds to the concept of a vibrant African diaspora. Returning home in the “Red Summer” of 1919, black veterans found little had changed in American society.

The Red scare, which came in the wake of the November 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, was accompanied by widespread racial violence. Some 38 violent riots rocked American cities from Detroit to Omaha. Black soldiers were lynched in the South. The Ku Klux Klan rode again in the North and Midwest. Expectations of birth of a new freedom for African Americans were crushed.

On the positive side, it was also a period during which African Americans developed the sophistication they would need to expand the fight for equal rights. What was hoped for after 1919 was demanded and won after 1945 by determined and patriotic African Americans who had learned from the Great War.

Book Review: “War’s Waste”

amputees blogOn Nov. 11, while the rest of the countries involved in WWI hold Remembrance events, the United Sates celebrates Veterans Day. Sometimes there are parades or ceremonies honoring the flag; sometimes the day passes only with the banks and post office being closed and kids getting  day off school.

Caring for veterans is a serious concern for any country. Here Len Shurtleff reviews Beth Linkner’s book about the aftermath of WWI.

War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America, by Beth Linker, University of Chicago, 304 pages, photos, tables, index, ISBN 978 0 2264 8253, $35.

Review by Len Shurtleff

In post-Civil War America, veterans’ pensions were the largest line item in federal budgets, taking up some 50% of that budget by 1900. By 1915, these pensions had cost $3 billion, more than the cost of the war itself. According to Linker, this created a virtual pork-barrel welfare state for Union veterans of about $3 million annually.

These pensions and an accompanying system of national soldiers’ homes had support from the politically powerful Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union veterans’ organization upon whose patronage Republican politicians depended for votes and campaign funding. Progressive Era reformers saw this as wasteful of public funds and a disincentive to productive work and self-improvement among veterans.

The outbreak of World War I prompted progressive reformers to apply their social gospel and work ethic ideals to veterans’ benefits in an effort to reduce the drain on the public purse. The War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 created a new board to adjudicate claims for war damage or loss that was independent from the corrupt Treasury Pension Bureau.

The system grew in complexity with America’s entry into the war in 1917, adding provisions for mandatory allotments for dependents, life and disability insurance, and mandatory restorative rehabilitation for wounded troops.

The aim became one of rehabilitation; returning wounded men to productive civilian lives, teaching them new skills if necessary and providing amputees with serviceable prostheses.

As a result of this dramatic turnaround in treatment of wounded veterans, the Army Surgeon General’s Office constructed some 149 new hospitals with 100,000 beds with ample facilities for treatment and long-term rehabilitation. Amputee veterans were looked upon not as objects of pity, but as candidates for total rehabilitation and reintegration into civilian life as productive wage earners and husbands and fathers rather than swelling the welfare rolls.

Still, this new effort saved no money. By 1920, the federal government was spending as much on World War I veterans it was on Civil War survivors, and veterans benefits still took up half the federal budget.

By 1935, New Deal recovery programs had, of course, vastly reduced this share as federal budgets expanded mightily.

This system now is a complex mix of war risk insurance, physical rehabilitation and vocational training managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The several iterations of the post-World War II GI Bill have added both benefits and costs that dwarf any previous veteran pension scheme dating back to the War of 1812.

Book review: “The Long Shadow”

abac077From WW1HA President Len Shurtleff:

The Long Shadow: The Legacies of The Great War in the Twentieth Century, David Reynolds, W. W. Norton, 2014, 544 pages, maps, illustrations, index. $32.50 hb. Also available in Kindle and CD. The author is a Cambridge University historian.

This is a monograph that would have pleased scholar-diplomat George Kennan, who labeled The Great War “the seminal tragedy of the 20th century.” Much of the ground plowed here in elegant prose will be familiar to students of WWI. The collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman monarchies; the German Revolution of 1918 and 1919; the rise of Fascism and Communism, the twin scourges of the 20th century; major if short-lived expansion of the victorious British and French empires at the expense of the losers; the creation nine states, among them Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia, that did not exist prior to the war; the emergence of Japan as an expansive great power, and of the United States as a global power house whose economic and financial might humbled that of Great Britain.

The aftermath of the conflict was hardly peaceful. Fighting broke out in newly independent Finland and along the Baltic coast in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Soviet Union fought a civil war and reconquered Ukraine even while it invaded Poland in an abortive bid to expand Communism into Central and Western Europe. The Ottoman Sultan was replaced by a Turkish republic, led by Ottoman war hero MustafaKemal Atatürk, which fought a short, bloody war with Greece to regain much territory lost on The Great War. Nationalists from Egypt to Korea took Woodrow Wilson at his word and attempted unsuccessfully to throw off their colonial yokes.

Many of the leaders of World War II — Churchill, Mussolini, Hitler, Roosevelt, DeGaulle — were active participants in WWI and carried their experiences into the next great conflict. Veterans’ movements like The American Legion got their start as a result of The Great War. While the Legion was dedicated to democratic principals; other similar groupings in Europe were not and achieved their ends – particularly in Germany – by paramilitary means. Even the venerable Council on Foreign Relations was the result of Wilson’s inability to field a professional diplomatic corps, and The American Civil Liberties Union had its origins in wartime American patriotic excesses.

In all, while France and Great Britain had won, they felt less secure and were less secure in 1919 than in 1914. France, irreparably scarred by her vast human battle losses, was unable to elicit British and American support for the creation of a Rhineland buffer zone against Germany. The result was the Maginot Line. British finances were crippled by the war and never really recovered until well after 1945. She was obliged to accept naval parity with America and later during WWII to transfer her gold stocks to Fort Knox. Only America and Japan stood up as overall winners. Thus, the whole thing had to be refought all over again as the inimitable Yogi Berra might say.

 

Planning the best battlefield pilgrimage ever… (hopefully)

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By Randal S. Gaulke

Organizations throughout Europe are busily preparing for the Centennial Commemorations of World War 1. The famous Ossuaire de Douaumont, outside of Verdun, and other memorials are being cleaned; signage and brochures are being refreshed; and reenactments and commemoration ceremonies are being planned. This is a perfect time for Americans considering a visit to the battlefields or a pilgrimage to their ancestor’s war to plan a trip. While it might seem a daunting task initially, the reader might just find that it is the journey, and not the destination, that brings the most pleasure.

Planning a battlefield tour requires several skill sets including knowledge of the sites and events that the reader wants to explore; some knowledge of the language and culture, and some knowledge of the local area. With the help of the Internet and translation tools it has never been easier to piece together the details needed to plan a meaningful trip “Over There.”

Before looking at each skill set, the planner should understand the limiting factors: What is the tolerance of one’s travelling companions? How much time can realistically be planned? What are the priority sites to be visited? Answering these questions can reduce the stress that inevitably arises when it takes longer to find the town, trench line, cemetery, etc. – or when one heads 100 kilometers in the wrong direction.

What is the purpose of the trip? Is it to survey the major battlefields of the war, visit a specific battle in depth, or retrace an ancestor’s wartime experience? There are scores of books and websites available on the war, covering the full range of topics. The trick is finding the resources that are most helpful. The best overall book for visiting American battlefields is “American Armies and Battlefields in Europe,” first published in 1938 and re-published in 1992. Its suggested one- and two-day tours are just as valid today as when they were first published. If more detail is needed, select a book or two on a specific battle, a regimental or divisional history, and a good biography or two.

The Internet can help guide planners; and don’t forget the used book sites www.abebooks.com and www.choosebooks.com. Scanning bibliographies and link pages can also alert the planner to other relevant materials.

It is highly recommended that the planner should gain at least some basic language skills and some understanding of the culture. Taking a French-for-Travelers course or an introductory-level Berlitz course will ease the frustration level of trying to communicate. Understanding foreign culture is equally important. The author takes a quick read through Polly Platt’s (somewhat dated) “Savoir Flair! 211 Tips for Enjoying France and the French” before every trip. Rick Steves’ publications and videos also offer solid advice for the independent traveler.

Planning the itinerary comes next, and again the Internet can be a great starting point for finding lodging, exploring sites to visit, etc. Google Maps helps one plan routes and appreciate distances between sites. For driving, the Michelin Orange Series 500 (1, 200,000) maps are recommended. Traveling from Paris to the Meuse-Argonne and Verdun requires map numbers 514 (Ile-de-France), 515 (Champagne-Ardenne) and 516 (Alsace, Lorraine.) The maps can be ordered easily online, or they can be purchased at the many oasis (Aires) on France’s Autoroutes. For battlefield exploring, the IGN Blue Series (1, 25,000) maps the most useful — after one has learned how to read them. They can be ordered on line (www.ign.fr), or they can be purchased at the Maison de la Press in larger French towns.

The most important tip: Bolster the research by taking advantage of the many experts. Who are these experts? They are authors, armchair historians, tour guides, battlefield enthusiasts, etc. Where can they be found? The Internet is the best place to look. Two associations that come to mind are the U.S.-based World War One Historical Association (www.www1ha.org) and the U.K.-based Western Front Association (www.westernfrontassociation.com). Both of these organizations have websites, publications, local branches and knowledgeable members experienced in visiting battlefields. Many French towns and Departments (i.e. states) have tourism websites, too, including the Department of the Meuse (www.meusetourism.com/en). Finally, many individual enthusiasts or associations have knowledge on very specific areas, and they are often glad to share that interest with others.

Tower of the Ossuaire at Verdun by jameswberkThis is the tower of the Ossuaire de Douaumont, where bones found on the battlefield around Verdun were gathered and laid to rest. Nearly 300.000 French and German soldiers went missing during the 10-month battle.

 

Book: “The Star of Istanbul”

“The Star of Istanbul,” to be published in October, is the second in a series by Robert Olen Butler recounting the adventures of Christopher (Kit) Marlowe Cobb, a Chicago newspaper reporter. Cobb got himself mixed up with some bandits, some Germans, some weapons and Woodrow Wilson in last fall’s “The Hot Country,” set in 1914.

Now it’s 1915, and he’s more a spy for the U.S. government who masquerades as a reporter than the other way around. His assignment is to follow a German citizen working in the U.S. who is suspected of carrying information that could affect the outcome of the war.

Butler writes his action in slow motion: He pulled his knife, and I drew my pistol, and he threw the knife, and I ducked, and he was running, and I was running, firing as I ran, and he fell, and as I got close to him, he sat up and whipped out another knife, and so on, and so on.

I prefer my action short and snappy: I shot him. He dropped to the floor. I stepped over his body and ran down the stairs. The maid would find him in the morning. Now I needed a drink.

But that would be a different book. If you aren’t troubled by his breathless thrills, Butler is great fun. There’s a mysterious dark-haired beauty (there was another in “The Hot Country,” and for several pages here, I thought they were the same person), and there are disguises, and taxis that arrive out of nowhere with fervently loyal drivers. These are the adventures you’d want to have yourself if you were that kind of guy. And a very good shot.

Also, on the very first page Cobb follows his German right up the gangplank onto the Lusitania.

The story falters once the characters arrive in Instanbul, but altogether there are thrills aplenty. You know Butler will send Cobb to Russia (where he will meet a mysterious dark-haired beauty) in 1917. I look forward to finding out where he goes in 1916.

If you like a little noir in your novel, Didier  Daenincke’s “A Very Profitable War” might suit you. Translated from the French, it’s set in 1920 and involves a veteran turned detective scraping along in Paris on cheating wives and unfaithful husbands who uncovers a scandal that goes back to the war. The ending will make your eyes pop.

Memorial Day 2013

More than any other modern war ’14-’18 lives in the memory as the ultimate example of a mismatch between what was at stake and the price that was paid. It is the war of the ‘lost generation’, sacrificed for a cause which, in hindsight, is difficult to pinpoint.”

Sophie De Schaepdrijver, Belgian historian and Associate Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University, quoted on http://messines1917.blogspot.be

ruins

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Remembering Vimy Ridge

Vimy Ridge Day was celebrated in Canada yesterday, a day to remember the men who fought April 9- 13, 1917, to take the ridge from the Germans and whose success — at a cost of more than 10,000 casualties, including 3,598 dead — marked a turning point for the Canada and its army.

From Veteran Affairs Canada:

Brigadier-General Alexander Ross had commanded the 28th (North-West) Battalion at Vimy. Later, as president of the Canadian Legion, he proposed the first Veterans’ post-war, pilgrimage to the new Vimy Memorial in 1936. He said of the battle:

“It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then . . . that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

Here’s a link to a wonderful story from CBC Hamilton, with photos, videos and audio recordings:

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/2013/04/08/hamilton-vimy-ridge.html

Image Carving the names  of the missing on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. There are 11,000 names.

Image Mother Canada mourning her dead; a detail of the memorial, one of the most impressive sites on the Western Front.

Feet to Remember

Caroline Copland of London had a dream: She was walking from the  Passchendaele battlefield to Canary Wharf, one of London’s two financial districts — the Wall Street of London, perhaps.

After she woke up, she decided to make the 125-mile journey on foot in reverse: London to Ypres, from the Cenotaph to the Menin Gate.

Her walk is a fund-raiser for Combat Stress. According to its website, “Combat Stress is the leading UK charity specialising in the care of Veterans’ mental health. We are currently supporting just over 5,000 ex-Service men and women.”

The organization began in 1919 as the Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society to rehabilitate veterans with shell shock.

Caroline expects to be in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, on Thursday in time for the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. She’s blogging — shin splints! — and collecting donations at http://www.justgiving.com/feettoremember

Fun fact: In 1927, the Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society, to provide work for the men under its care, developed and manufactured one of the first electric blankets to be sold in the UK.

Here’s more about shell shock, which we now know as PTSD:

http://historyofptsd.wordpress.com/world-war-i/

 

 

 

 

 

A tank here and there

George Sipple, blogging as Great War Fiction, has an interesting post about newly re-released films of London, made in 1924, that include views of the World War I tank that was displayed outside the British Museum.

http://greatwarfiction.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/a-tank-outside-the-british-museum/

Apparently, it was a tourist attraction — just the size of it would have intrigued me. The only WWI tank I’ve ever seen is Deborah, which is about the size of my Taurus. Deborah, or D51, was hit by German artillery at Flesquieres during the Battle of Cambrai on Nov. 20, 1917. The tank reportedly was dragged into a convenient shell hole and buried. It was found more or less intact in November 1998.

Blogger That Scouse Bastard has an interesting post about his visit to Flesquieres and the Cambrai area. He has great pictures of Deborah and more, including the Tank Corps Memorial at Pozieres.

http://www.thatscousebastard.com/D51_Deborah/

Here’s Deborah’s official site, with details about the tank, the battle and how Deborah was recovered.

http://www.tank-cambrai.com/english/home.php

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Tanks parade in London after the war. National Library of Scotland.