- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001

John Eisenhower's "Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I," written with Joanne Thompson Eisenhower, is an outstanding account of the American combat effort in World War I. Mr. Eisenhower is an experienced military historian, a veteran of World War II and a retired brigadier general. He gives us a brilliantly organized, exceptionally well-written narrative. There is not an excess word in this book.

Mr. Eisenhower's purpose is to examine how the American Experditionary Force was brought about, to describe the extraordinary efforts needed to create, supply, train and use it in battle, and "in so doing show how the modern American Army was born." He succeeds admirably.

Although the book, as the title indicates, is primarily about the substantial contribution the American Army made to the Allied victory in WWI, Mr. Eisenhower provides the essential context for readers to understand the total United States contribution. He begins his story with the fateful decision that Kaiser Wilhelm and his military advisers made in late 1916 to prosecute unrestricted submarine warfare, to starve the British and drive them out of the war. They knew such a move would bring the United States into the war against Germany. It was a terrible decision (favored by those in uniform but opposed by civilian government leaders), and it led to Germany's downfall.

In 1916, the United States was one of the most populous countries in the world, was the most urbanized of the major nations, produced much more iron and steel than Germany and all its allies combined, produced more than 30 percent of all the world's manufactured goods, and had the world's fourth largest Navy (bigger than France's). Well before the war was a year old, all belligerent leaders - even those in uniform - recognized that WWI was a war of total societal mobilization, especially industrial. Germany largely ignored the might of the United States and paid dearly.

Mr. Eisenhower knows that strategy has four components - economic, diplomatic, informational, and military - and although his emphasis is essentially on the military tool, he pays attention to all four. I already mentioned economics. The author also pays attention to the efforts of George Creel, who directed the Committee on Public Information, the man who turned mere acceptance of the war effort to an attitude of zeal. Creel organized a gigantic propaganda effort to garner popular will, so that the American people would sacrifice for the cause. The author also describes the diplomatic efforts of ambassadors in allied countries, and also those of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and other American leaders.

Still, Mr. Eisenhower's main theme is the role played by the Army and he tells this largely from the top down. The ordinary soldier is less the focus than the generals, such as John Pershing, and future generals like George Marshall and Douglas MacArthur. Through their eyes we get a complete picture of the creation, build-up, and combat role of the American forces.

We learn how central was the role played by Gens. Pershing, Tasker Bliss, Peyton March and others in taking an army that had last fought Mexican bandits (and before that an undermanned, undertrained, undersupplied Spanish Army) and making it equal to the veteran German forces it faced in 1918. In the process we also learn of Pershing's persistence in keeping the American Expeditionary Force fighting under its own flag instead of being dribbled out as replacements for badly depleted British and French units.

Mr. Eisenhower surveys the initial assault by the 1st Division (the first major American unit to be sent to France) at Cantigny in the midst of the Erich Ludendorff final offensive in the spring of 1918. He moves from there to 2nd Division at Belleau Wood; then to the defense on the Marne River; and next to the attack at Soissons, all of which blooded the Americans and gave them the necessary confidence to progress to a major offense.

The narrative moves us then to the truly independent actions of Pershing's forces at St. Mihel and later the Argonne. The Americans were the major force in rolling up the German army and their attacks were the major reason for the German field marshals and generals calling on Kaiser Wilhelm to end the war on the best terms he could get. The French, British and German troops were exhausted by this point, and the well-fed, well-led, well-supplied American force was fresh by comparison, and it made a decisive difference.

The German admirals and generals were confident in December, 1916 that unrestricted submarine warfare could defeat Britain and ensure that American troop ships would be sunk and no United States soldiers appear on the Western Front, but in 1918 Germany faced an American Expeditionary Force more than 2,000,000 strong. Mr. Eisenhower tells a great story and he tells it well.


Alan Gropman is the chairman of the Grand Strategy Department at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.


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