By Michael McCarthy
By 1916 the Wilson administration was ambivalent about the war in Europe. Its members and the president knew they might be sucked into hostilities but were determined to hold on to neutrality. Contingency planning was discouraged. However, the prospect of being drawn into the war stimulated "bottoms up" discussions between American Army and Naval officers and British officials and officers. These became intense during the spring of 1916. They generally did not have much impact and there was little follow-through. However, it is clear by this time the British had made a high-level decision to woo America and convince her to join the war. It was Horatio Kitchener who seems to have made the opening approach.
On 24 March 1916 a German U-boat torpedoed the French steamer Sussex, injuring several Americans. Greatly angered, Wilson sent a note to the German government demanding that they renounce their submarine policy. Germany finally acquiesced on 4 May but not before this event had further tarnished that nation in Wilson's eyes. Meanwhile, the British secretary of state for war, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, was meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Charles O. Squire, the American military attaché in London. Kitchener suggested that a break in diplomatic relations between Germany and the United States would inevitably lead to war, either through a German declaration or through some overt act that would force Wilson's hand. The two discussed the possibility of committing an American expeditionary force to European soil. Kitchener claimed that American involvement would hasten the war's conclusion and, when pressed, even claimed that it would do so "at least by the end of the year." Either Kitchener's assessment of the American military was grossly unrealistic, or, more likely, he was hoping to entice the Wilson administration into joining the fight through the promise of a hasty finish. Kitchener also suggested that American troops be trained in France instead of in the United States so that they could enter combat "in the shortest possible time."
Newton D. Baker, easing into his new position as secretary of war, received this memorandum with little interest. Again, no evidence exists that Baker briefed Wilson on this meeting between Kitchener and Squire, probably for the same reason that Acting Army Chief of Staff Scott had kept his earlier mobilization questions to the War College Division hushed. In addition, Wilson was apparently kept ignorant of discussions to mobilize U.S. shipping to carry an American army to Europe in the event of war. This proposal, prepared on 4 April by American naval and military attachés in London and Paris and by two American officers assigned with the British Expeditionary Forces, warned that "any system adopted at the moment and operated without previous study and experience is more than apt to bring discredit on the Navy, and useless danger to the army and the Nation."
|In 1916 the Challenge of Building a Huge Army and Transporting It |
to Europe Was Only a Year Away
[However] even the military planners ignored this recommendation until November 1916. [Kitchener, of course, was no longer available to lend a voice of encouragement. He was drowned at sea on 5 June 1916.] Again, coordinated military planning was forsaken and once more American military leaders neglected realistic contingencies, leaving the consideration of such ideas to the very eve of the American declaration.
Excerpted from: "Lafayette, We Are Here": The War College Division and American Military Planning for the AEF in World War I by Michael McCarthy