History of US – Chapter 8

Going to War with the Army you Have, not the Army you Want

Going to War with the Army you Have, not the Army you Want

In late 2004, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was posed a series of questions from US troops in Kuwait including questions about their lack of preparedness for an entrenched conflict. Specialist Thomas Wilson (278th Regimental Combat Team, Tennessee National Guard) asked, “”Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor [sic] our vehicles?” Rumsfeld replied, “As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want.” Eighty-seven years earlier, the US found itself declaring to enter a war that it was not prepared to fight.

On April 2nd, 1917, Wilson asked for and shortly thereafter received a declaration of war against Germany –not Austria, the Ottoman Empire, or any of other two dozen or so countries that were fighting against the Allies. The Senate voted 82 to 6 to declare war on Germany on April 4, 1917; the House concurred on April 6 by a vote of 373 to 50. Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman to serve in the House of Representatives, was among those who voted against the war. “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war,” declared Rankin. Later on, she clarified her decision to vote against going to war on the grounds that “I knew that we were asked to vote for a commercial war [and] that none of the idealistic hopes would be carried out.”  

Over fifty members of the House agreed with Rankin, to include the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Claude Kitchin (D-NC). Kitchin rejected the call to war believing that those who will be called to fight and die will not be the ones who declared the war to begin with: “Let me once remind the House that it takes neither moral nor physical courage to declare a war for others to fight.” The US was simply not prepared to fight a protracted European conflict, which some Americans seem well aware of. The author of The Klansman (turned into the movie Birth of a Nation) wrote a sequel that was turned into a movie in 1916 called Fall of a Nation, portraying goose-stepping, spiked-helmet-sporting Germans marching over this country. The movie was a clear shot at US pacifists in general, and President Wilson in particular.

General Leonard Wood, a one-time US military commander of Cuba, was Wilson’s Chief of Staff until 1914. Wilson and Wood diverged on their interpretations of US preparation for war with the former fearing that preparing for war would necessarily lead to war and the latter a proponent of creating and maintaining a standing army as a matter of policy in general.

One immediate concern that Wilson tackled was the diversity of Americans (especially all those German immigrants). Thus, Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI). Led by George Creel, the CPI was tasked with ensuring that American opinion favored US intervention and supported a possible protracted conflict. One thing the CPI did was to work with Hollywood and produce a series of huber-patriotic movies depicting clear and explicit differences between the liberty-loving Americans and the German animals, such as “The Claws of the Hun” and “The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin”.

Creel created a pool of amateur speakers who were tasked with giving targeted speeches to specific ethnic crowds in support of the US war effort. These speakers were supposed to make their points in no more than four minutes and thus in an homage to the Revolution, Creel named these on-call speakers, “Four-Minute Men.” According to Creel, over 75,000 speakers gave an estimated 7.5 million speeches. Major ethnic groups such as Jews, Germans, and even American Indians were targeted to ensure their support for the war. Rabbi A.G. Robinson of New York reported that Jewish speakers reached “about 25,000 people per week. We expect soon to have every Jewish audience in a motion-picture house or a Jewish playhouse addressed by a Jewish playhouse addressed by a Jewish speaker.”

German-American communities were asked to take “The Pledge” (a pledge supporting the US against the Huns). Progressive era groups, such as the American Protective Association, targeted homes with German sounding names to ensure that there were no pictures of the Kaiser on their walls. American flags blossomed all over the country, like tulips and daffodils in the spring. A new group, the Boy Scouts of America, sold war bonds and collected money, rubber, and tin in support of the war effort. German groups and clubs were banned, closed, and at times burned by those liberty and justice-loving Americans.

Robert Prager, a German-born American refused to sign the Pledge. One evening members of the local “Council of Defense” (an ultrapatriotic group self-tasked with routing out all anti-American, as they defined anti-American, Americans) knocked on his front door. They gave him one final chance to sign the Pledge. When Prager refused someone in the crowd shouted “Get the rope!” According to Prager, “The first I knew was when the rope was about my neck and around my body under my arms.” He escaped being lynched.

Women also joined in the preparation efforts. Women took jobs in US weapons factories (a precursor of things to come in the 1940s), they sold Liberty Bonds at church, school, and social functions; they led clothing drives for soldiers and immigrants; they ran canteens for American service men in England, and over 10,000 American women volunteered as Red Cross nurses in France. Women’s organizations put their work on the back burner in order to help in the total war effort. For example, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) sponsored mobile field hospitals in France and England and urged their female workers and supporters to go to western Europe to staff those hospitals. NAWSA leaders were even concerned that Jeannette Rankin’s “no” vote would cast a pall on the organization because Rankin was a well-know member as well as an activist in the NAWSA. Yet, these were volunteer organizations and thus were not mandated by the federal government.

The Draft

Congress reluctantly passed the Selective Service Act on May 15th, 1917. Also known as the draft, this Act required all men between the ages of 18 and 30 to register with the federal government. The federal government also advertised. One poster, from the Tank Corps Recruiting Office in Washington, DC, took a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to attracting the attention of patriotic men:

Wanted: Husky Young Americans, College or University Training Desirable, Though Not Essential to Tour to Berlin Via France and No Man’s Land … :

Join the Tanks.

Hello Girls”

The federal government needed thousands of people to work directly for the US Army in the Signal Corps or as civilian telephone operators presumably women to free up civilian male operators to enter the ranks of the Signal Corps. “Amateur wireless operators, women typists, and all other young men and women possessing the fundamentals of grammar and high school education” were urged to heed the call of the War Department. Western Union, the largest US telegraph company, was training 2,500 people to meet the domestic needs of the communication giant in order for the company’s more seasoned operators to join the war effort in early May of 1917.

There were two jobs for women eager to serve in uniform: nurses and in the Signal Corps. Male members of the Signal Corps were stationed in the trenches, while female members performed communications duties primarily for the various US military headquarters in France such as the First Army, located in Verdun. Technically, women were not full members of the military and although they sported rank on their shoulders, they were not considered veterans. Not unlike women during other wars, the federal government was slow to recognize their work as sufficiently critical to the overall mission as to qualify these women as veterans. The US government did not bestow veteran status on the women of the US Army Signal Corps until towards the end of the Carter administration. To those who relied on their bravery, patriotism, and courage, the women of the US Army Signal Corps were known as “Hello Girls.”

The first group of women to join the ranks of the US Army had to be fluent in both English and French. Approximately 300 American women volunteered and after training that included self-defense (just in case their units were overrun by Germans) more than 75% of those original volunteers were sent to Europe with the rank of lieutenant (the same rank as female nurses). They were subject to the same military regulations (Court Martial) as their male counterparts, plus ten other rules supposedly to protect women’s virtue. Yet, those additional rules seem to have disappeared into the historical abyss, not unlike the details of the women who served this country as unequal citizens as American women did not enjoy universal suffrage, such as the nineteen-year-old Oleda Joure, from Marine City, Michigan. Of course, by the time Joure turned 21, the Nineteenth Amendment will be adopted and this veteran of the Great War will be allowed to vote.

Most of these telephone operators were stationed with Pershing at Chaumont, but they also served throughout France and England. Distinctions were far and few between but one decorated woman Signal Corps volunteer was Grace Banker, the chief operator for the First Army headquarters. She received a Distinguished Service Medal for her wartime efforts. This was a new award, authorized by Congress in the summer of 1918, went “to persons other than members of the Armed Forces of the United States for wartime services only.” In other words, this was a medal for civilians only.

Shortly after the Armistice went into effect, nearly all of the women of the US Army Signal Corps were rotated back to the United States. In 1919, the chief of the Signal Corp reported that “[t]he use of women operators throughout the entire war was decidedly a success…”. Although the federal government will not act on their advise, the American Medical Association and the US Surgeon General, Major General William Gorgas supported granting military rank to women who served as doctors and surgeons “engaged in war work.”

African Americans and the Great War

Over 400,000 African-Americans entered the ranks of the US military during World War I. As the US was a segregated society, so too was the military which consisted of all-white and all-black units. The latter included such famous and highly decorated units as the 369th Infantry known as the “Harlem Hell Fighters,” the 803rd Pioneer Infantry Band, No. 16, and the 370th Regiment, Illinois National Guard, to name a few. Most “all-black” units were under the control of white officers and such was the case of Col. William Hayward and the Harlem Hell Fighters. That unit was one of the most highly decorated US military units of the war. They were the first US unit to be awarded the French Croix de Guerre. Pershing “loaned” the 369th to France and thus this nearly-all-black unit saw some of the most brutal combat to include Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood where nearly 10,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded. They spent 191 days in the trenches (longer than any unit from either side) and they were the first allied unit to cross the Rhine.

Much of the 369th consisted of a popular band led by James Reese Europe. Europe was promoted to Lieutenant and this band leader was also the highest ranking black soldier in the unit.

The federal government created a new officer training school in Iowa where over 1,000 African-American men received commissions as officers for the war. The country’s first black graduate of the US Military Academy West Point, Charles Young who saw combat in Cuba, the Philippines, Haiti and Mexico was not allowed to command troops in Europe.

Many prominent African-Americans joined the military to include Napoleon Marshall, Spotswood Poles, and James Reese Europe. Poles was a well-known and very talented centerfielder for the New York Lincoln Giants (a Harlem-located baseball team in the Negro League). But Reese was probably the most nationally-known African-American. Reese was a Harlem bandleader and possibly the most popular song writer of the early twentieth century. His music inspired new dance steps, led to the creation of new night clubs, and almost single-handedly developed dancing as a popular form of entertainment among young people. In 1914, Europe’s orchestra (usually known as Europe’s Society Orchestra) became the first black band to record commercially in the United States. The orchestra’s benefactors, Vernon and Irene Castle, aligned the new dance steps in accordance with Europe’s syncopated music and thus social dancing was born. When the men of the 369th mustered out of the service in early 1919, Europe began writing and recording popular songs that capitalized on his war-time experiences. Songs such “On Patrol In No Man’s Land” evoked feelings of patriotism while under fire from a German mortar barrage.

Europe will not live long enough to capitalize on his post-war fame. In early May of 1919, just days after Reese and his band completed a grueling recording session for Pathe Records, the group was playing a live performance in Boston when an argument developed between Europe and one of his drummers, Herbert Wright. Wright whipped out a knife and stabbed Europe in the neck. Europe died at the hospital. Newspapers reported the loss with the banner “Jazz King is Dead”. Reese was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

It is unclear why Reese enlisted in the New York National Guard. Maybe it was patriotism. Maybe he heard the call from such black leaders as W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois believed that blacks had a duty to serve in the military as a way of demonstrating their intelligence, bravery, and patriotism to white Americans. Thus, Du Bois publicly called upon African Americans to enlist, fight and if necessary lay down their lives for the United States. “If this is our country,” said Du Bois, “then this is our war. We must fight it with every ounce of blood and treasure.”

African-Americans also supported the war effort as civilians, such as Emmett J. Scott. Scott spent most of his career working for the NAACP, to include eighteen years as the private secretary of Booker T. Washington. When the US declared war on Germany, President Wilson wanted a spokesman for Black troops in the War Department and thus Scott became a special assistant to Newton Baker, the Secretary of War, overseeing the recruitment, training, and overall morale of Africa-American troops.

None of these actions or personalities curtailed Jim Crow. For example, African-American troops from California and Wyoming had been sent a training camp in Houston, Texas. White and Hispanic Houstonians were not terribly happy to see the influx of black people. Houston, like most southern cities, supported a system of codified racism to include preventing blacks from riding trolleys, eating at certain restaurants, and gathering in most public places.

One hot, sticky August day a young African-American recruit tried to stop a Houston cop from beating an Africa-American woman. The cop, Lee Sparks, turned his club against the recruit, who was quickly dragged to jail. A non-commissioned officer named Charles Baltimore investigated the incident and for his troubles he too was arrested. While both troops were eventually released, an armed group of black troops launched an attack on the police station. In the ensuring melee, fifteen people died including five policemen and six blacks (four of whom were in the Army).

Sixty-three African-American troops will be arrested and charged with mutiny. At the first of several courts martial, thirteen African-American soldiers were found guilty and sentenced to death, including Corporal Baltimore. Seven more troops will be executed in the second trial, and dozens will be confined to jail raging from 24 months to life at the final court martial proceedings. Race riots were not limited to war-time America (New Orleans 1900, Atlanta 1902 and 1906, Springfield, IL 1908) yet their numbers and intensity increased between 1916 and 1923, especially evident when those tens of thousands of African-American troops started coming home from the war.

Sometimes Jim Crow was successfully challenged, even for the brief length of the US involvement in the war. For example, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina a white floor manager in a textile factory was accused by his black female workers of verbally abusing the women and so they walked off their jobs in protest. According to the Norfolk Journal and Guide, “[w]hen the superintendent learned of the trouble later in the day he immediately began to visit the homes of the operatives asking them to return to work. The offending white manager was discharged and the girls returned to their work with no loss of time.”

Finally, the war resulted in a major wave of African-American migration from the South. Blacks were certainly living in northern towns before World War I, however the sheer number of factories in support of the war effort was a powerful pull factor. For example, Gary, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan experienced an increase in black populations between 1910 and 1920 – nearly 1300% and 611% respectively. New York City, which already had a well-established black population of over 90,000 in 1910, witnessed its black population increase by 66% by 1920.

Sammee! Sammee! Vive Sammee!”

In 1918, a Yankee of Irish roots named George M. Cohan penned a patriotic ditty that played all over this broad land when young men were asked by President Woodrow Wilson to drop their plow shears, leave their factory jobs, and enter the ranks of the US military to prevent Germany from running roughshod over Europe. Cohan grew up entertaining Americans. His family consisted of vaudeville performs during the Gilded Age but settled down in the early twentieth century, which allowed George to focus his energies on writing songs for his adopted town of New York, specifically for Broadway. On the eve of the US entry into World War II, Congress presented Cohan with a Congressional Medal of Honor in large measure for both his body of patriot work as well as the unofficial US anthem during the Great War, Over There that included the famous chorus:

Over there, over there, send the word, send the word over there, that the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming, the drums rum tumming every where. So prepare, say a prayer, Send the word, send the word to beware, we’ll be over, we’re coming over, and we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.

Andrew Carp’s 1917 addition to patriotic war music I Have Come to Say Good-Bye includes specific reasons why the US is in the war to include fighting for freedom, in defense of American liberties, to make the world safe for democracy. Other songwriters such as William Hart and Eddie Nelson focused on the fringe benefits of serving overseas, such as in their 1918 song When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez Vous Francais: “He will call each girlie ‘Ma Cherie’, To every Miss that wants a kiss he’ll saw Wee, Wee On Ze Be, On Ze Bou, On Ze Boule, Boulevard, With a girl, with a curl, you can see him promenade When Yankee Doodle learns to Parlez vous Francais, ‘Oo La La, Sweet Papa’ he will teach them all to say.”

None of those reasons were evident in the letters written to Bess Wallace by her finance and officer in the US Army. In his first letter to Miss Wallace the thirty-four-year old Harry Truman gushed with pride over his recent military experience. I “fired five hundred rounds at the Germans . . . been shelled, didn’t run away . . . and never lost a man,” wrote Truman to Wallace on September 1st, 1918. Truman sent numerous letters home, keeping his fiancé up to date with the places where he fought, the people under his command, the fallibility of German soldiers as well as German bomb-making technology, and his hope that Bess will keep writing. “Please keep on writing because it helps put the pep into me,” he told her in early October. He also became more personal as the battles waged on. Truman arrived back in the US in early spring of 1919. Less than two months later the Trumans were married. They settled in Kansas City where Harry opened up a haberdashery with his Army buddy, Eddie Jacobson. Harry will die the day after Christmas in 1972. His wife, Bess, will live another decade, dying in 1982 at the age of 97.

American troops were known by many names, to include the pejorative “doughboy.” There are many theories as to how and when this term entered the American lexicon. Some historians believe the word is based in the US Civil War. Union officers, from the vantage point of their horses, looked down upon rows of Northern troops whose headgear suggested rising muffins or small loaves of yeast rolls. Others argue that “doughboy” was a synonym only for a soldier, not Marines or members of the US Navy.

Yet, when American troops officially began arriving under the command and control of Pershing, French citizens shouted their support for the “Sammees.” A line from a 1917 song with the geographically challenged title I Don’t Know where I’m Going, But I’m On My Way included the line “Uncle Sammy is calling me so I must go.” On July 2nd, 1917, Wythe Williams, a reporter for the New York Times noted this shift in terminology: “The ‘Sammees’ are American regulars,” reported Williams, “no longer are they ‘doughboys.’” Williams predicted that “Sammee” will one day be as synonymous with US soldiers as “Tommy” is for British troops or “Poilu” (“poilus” is the plural) for French fighters. Lazare Ponticelli, the last poilu of the trenches died in early March of 2008 at the age of 110. The last surviving Tommy to see combat in the trenches is Henry John Patch, who was born June 17, 1898.

One Sammee was named Frank Woodruff Buckles. He was born in rural Missouri in 1901. Sixteen years later he tried to enlist in the military. Buckles had dreamed of serving his country since he was a young boy. “When I was 12 or 13, I slept on the floor” to prepare for a soldier’s life, he said. Initially, Buckles tried to enlist in the Marines. He visited a recruiting booth at the Kansas state fair in 1917. “I said that I was 18, but the understanding sergeant said that I was too young. I had to be 21.” He returned to the recruiting booth and was rejected by another Marine recruiter. Determined to serve his country, he traveled to a Navy recruiting office in Oklahoma, where he was promptly denied enlistment. He tried enlisting in the Marines once more time before coming across an Army recruiter who did not press the age issue. Besides, said Buckles, he told the Army recruiter that his small town did not keep birth records and so the recruiter allowed the fifteen-year-old to enlist, believing he was eighteen. On August 14th, 1917, Buckles joined the US Army.

He drove ambulances and worked in various administration positions in England and France. He returned to the US onboard the USS Pocahontas in late 1919 and was discharged by January of 1920 after serving in a unit escorting German prisoners back to Germany. Buckles had $114 in his pocket and escaped all injury. As of February of 2009, Buckles is the last living US veteran of the Great War at the age of 107.

Very little was known a bout the arrival of the first American troops except that their supplies included plenty of tobacco. “The American censor was the first man on the job,” Wythe Williams reported. “Sammee! Sammee! Vive Samme!” shouted the French crowd as the first Americans arrived.

Known as the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), some five million men and women entered the ranks of the US military with a little over two million being sent to Europe under the command and control of Pershing and the AEF.

Although Americans fought under British and French control for years (such as the American pilots who flew with the French military, to include Eugene Bullard), the first official battle that Americans participated as the AEF was the battle of Chateau-Thierry when approximately 70,000 US troops (to include all-black military units under French control and US Marines under Pershing’s control) helped stop a German thrust. AEF and French troops then launched a counter-offensive, driving back German forces. With at least 250,000 American troops and a massive amount of military equipment entering English ports each month, the war was quickly coming to an end. In the early fall of 1918, Pershing and the AEF took control of the southern front.

The war came to an end on November 11th, 1918 at 11am. Although over 200,000 Americans were wounded and 113,000 troops died (around 52,000 in battle and 60,000 from non-combat issues such as disease), the relative short nature of the US role in the war saved the United States from experiencing the horror of trench warfare and the massive loss of lives which were the reality for Russian, German, French, and English people.

Military and civilian deaths for Great Britain topped one million, 1.7 million for France, 2.3 million for Russia, and 2.5 million for Germany. About 500,000 people were killed or wounded during the First Battle of Marne (1914), 230,000 at the Battle of Ypres (1914), and 700,000 at Verdun (1916). The massive destruction of human life would not be experienced by the United States, until the troops began returning home. Nevertheless, Americans will remain in Germany, as an occupying force, until 1926, when Germany is allowed to join the League of Nations.

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Textbook content produced by Dr. James Ross-Nazzal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 license.http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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