The Doughboys: America and the Great War (Penguin History)

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9780140264906: The Doughboys: America and the Great War (Penguin History)

More than three million American men, many of them volunteers, joined the A.E.F. in the first 20 months of US involvement in the First World War. Of these, over 50,000 were killed on European soil. These were the Doughboys, the young men recruited from the cities and farms of the United Sates, who travelled across the Atlantic to aid the allies in the trenches and on the battlefields. Without their courage and determination, the outcome of the war would have been very different. Why did America become involved in the First World War? what was the fighting experience of the A.E.F. in France and Russia? most importantly, why has the vital contribution made by the Americans been largely neglected by historians of the great war? Drawing upon the often harrowing personal accounts of the soldiers of the A.E.F., this book establishes the pivotal role played by the Americans in the defeat of the central powers in November 1918. Gary Mead brings together a selection of archive material in an engaging account that is part military history, part social analysis and memoir. This book records the events of the war exclusively from the perspective of the United States, highlighting the crucial part played by the troops of the A.E.F. and exposing the prickly, often turbulent relationship between the American and the allied forces.

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Review:

It is often said that Britain and America are two countries separated by a common language. As a glib one-liner this has a certain ring of truth, but as Gary Mead's excellent The Doughboys: America and the Great War points out, the differences run far deeper than language. Americans are often accused of being parochialists par excellence, with little concept of a world beyond their borders. Other countries exist only as satellite interests of the US. But Britain, too, is guilty--if not of Anglo-centrism--then certainly of Euro-centrism. Take the two World Wars. Ask any Brit who was responsible for victory in 1918 and 1945 and he or she will tell you, "We were". Even though the Americans fought on the same side their contribution has been diminished as being "too little, too late". Hell, we argue, if Britain hadn't fought alone from 1940 to 1941, there wouldn't have been a war for the Americans to fight and Europe would have succumbed to the Nazi empire. And there's an element of truth to this--if not to the notion that Britain could have proceeded to victory on its own. But the First World War is infinitely more problematic. Yes, America only joined the fray in 1917, but there wasn't exactly a moral imperative for them to get involved beforehand.

This war wasn't such a black-and-white affair between good and evil. Rather it was two imperialist powers slugging it out for supremacy. America only joined the war because President Woodrow Wilson ultimately believed it was the right thing to do, that Britain was more sinned against than sinning. But when Wilson did mobilise he did so in style, sending 2 million troops (the "Doughboys" of the title) to the Western Front. British histories have tended to underplay the American contribution, pointing out that their troops didn't see as much of the action in 1917-1918, nor did they suffer such heavy casualties. Mead sets out to refute this and provides an impressive body of evidence, including some powerful first-person accounts from veterans, to suggest that the war could not have been won without the Americans. The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle. The British, French and Germans were exhausted by three years of attritional stalemate, and the Americans did provide the catalyst for the final push to victory. But German defeat was also brought about by their own tactical errors during their spring offensive of 1918, as much as by the Allied firepower. So Mead's case is not totally proved. But what he has achieved in this well written and brilliantly researched book is to redress the balance and open the windows on a slice of history that has long been veiled. --John Crace

From the Publisher:

Allies born to blither
"One's breathe is taken away by [the] author's account of the blithering fools who begged the US to come into the first world war, and then proceed to launch a campaign of denigration and obstruction as soon as the American began to arrive in Europe." Cal McCrystal, "Financial Times", 3 June 2000.

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