World War I

To many people, the U. S. experience in the World War I seems a rather brief and unimportant event in the broad expanse of the nation’s history. Though some historians of the event have succeeded and reached a broader audience, the World War I, generally, is not an important part of the nation’s historical memory. Such events as World War II, due to its nearness in time, and the Civil War, for perhaps obvious reasons, resonate with American people today far more than does the World War I. However, this is not to say that academic historians have not researched the conflict at all.

Indeed, literature over the past twenty five years concerning the experience in the war both in the home front and the battle front has been unusually rich. This paper will try to highlight the most important of this recent scholarship as well as answer the following question: What strategies have historians drawn upon to integrate understanding of the home front and the battle front in studying World War I. World War I was an all-out historical event. It mobilized the manpower both at home and abroad. For example, the French brought their colonial troops from North Africa to the Western Front.

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The British tried an Indian Army Corps briefly in the first year of the war on the Western Front. The Russians and Austro-Hungarians summoned and spread out their troops. The British even brought in Chinese labor on a contract basis. More than this, the war saw most countries mobilizing their women at home as well. What made history difficult was the destruction of documents at various times of World War I and from various causes. However, many participants themselves provided memoirs. Naturally the higher commanders wrote to state their cases not only in official reports, but also in memoirs.

Officers who had had prominent careers, been much decorated. Then more junior officers found themselves with fresh experience of high command enabling them to combine their tales in a saleable work. A new wave of autobiographies of the World War I began to appear in the 1960s and have dribbled on ever since. There is in no sense a complete guide in the war. However, historians used all the works, documentation, and archives available. In their works historians provided access to the events and facts that corroborate or challenge the picture of the war and understanding of the home front and the battle front in studying World War I.

In their works historians examined economic downfall in 1918, with emphasis on military concerns. Useful to understanding the role of the military is described in the excellent two-volume work Internal Front: Military Assistance, Resistance, and Subversion in the Danubian Monarchy 1918) (1974) by Richard Georg Plaschka et al. The book offers an examination of the waning months of the Habsburg army in the field, revealing precisely how poorly equipped it actually was.

Edward Coffman’s The War to End All Wars remains the best single-volume treatment of the U. S. military effort in th conflict, though Byron Farwell’s Over There is an important recent work due to its efforts to go beyond the traditional limitations of military history, especially in its treatment of the experience of blacks and of Indians. Significant general works on the American experience in the World War I include Russell F. Weigley’s History of the United States Army, Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski’s For the Common Defense, and Weigley’s The American Way of War. Geoffrey Perret’s A Country Made by War is a recent popular effort to describe the nation’s wartime experiences as a whole.

The mobilization of the nation’s resources is a subject rich in scholarship and debate. General treatments of the subject include Marvin A. Kriedberg and Merton G. Henry’s History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army, 1775-1945. The work is a valuable account of the 1914-1917 preparedness debate and provides important insights and details regarding preparedness and mobilization. The book is a successful effort to look at the U. S. Employment Service’s failed efforts to exert central control over the labor market. The nation’s railroad system was one of the larger problems encountered in the mobilization process.


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