Pershing's Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I
by Richard S. Faulkner
University Press of Kansas, 2017
Not surprisingly, a recurrent theme throughout is the extent to which the military and the country were unprepared to fight in a world war. The situation necessitated an explosion of haste, often with unfortunate results. Although not everyone was enthusiastic about the war, millions of men eagerly reported to draft boards and were processed to training camps that were being rapidly constructed. It was impossible to organize these men and train them all without some pitfalls. Medical exams were cursory and resulted sometimes in passing unfit recruits for training. The most startling example given by Faulkner is of the recruit who was sent on to training camp where he was found to have only one hand. As in Britain in 1914, many recruits trained in their own clothes, uniforms being in initial short supply. Training was often, as the author puts it, "wildly uneven and woefully incomplete" (p. 326). Sometimes this resulted in green young soldiers finding themselves at the front without having fired their rifles, let alone being prepared for the smells, sounds, and sights of trench warfare.
Doughboy experience, from fighting to drinking to venereal disease to relationships with chaplains and the British and French soldiers, all is covered with intriguing statistics in this book. It's interesting to find that the Doughboys had little respect for their French or British comrades (excepting the Scots) but liked the ANZACS and Canadians. On the other hand, the British Tommy tended to "look with contempt on the striplings who had come in to win the war" (p. 291), and the French could be quite impatient with the newcomers—"One Frenchman told his American charges that their failure to grasp trigonometry left him dumbfounded that they held commissions in artillery" (p.287).
By the time I finished this book I felt there was little left to know about the various experiences of the American soldiers in the Great War. This includes their interactions with YMCA, Knights of Columbus, and other civilian volunteer groups plus the impressive array of educational opportunities offered to our soldiers in France. Faulkner also provides the sad details of racism, wounds, death, mutilation—including the legend of a "basket case"—and the impact of the influenza epidemic on the army. And true to his statistical style, the author reminds us that 4,452 members of the AEF are still missing today (p. 598).
David F. Beer