America and the Great War
Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2017, 384 pages
Book Review published on: December 22, 2017
Margaret Wagner, author of The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War, The American Civil War: 365 Days, and World War II: 365 Days, chronicles the events, arguments, calculations, and tragedies that brought the United States into the first modern war. America and the Great War is a welcome addition to the study of the America’s involvement in World War I, resulting from the author’s meticulous research of the World War I-era collections in the Library of Congress. It goes beyond traditional literature that focuses on battles, military forces, and governments in providing a more comprehensive view of U.S. involvement.
Among Wagner’s many significant observations and reflections, three stand out. First, America’s involvement in World War I started long before Gen. John Pershing and his American Expeditionary Force arrived 1917 in France. Americans organized the Commission for Relief in Belgium to provide aid to some eight million Belgian citizens living under German occupation. Their success inspired many Americans to organize their own ad hoc relief efforts in raising money and supplies for Belgian and French citizens impacted by the war. American volunteers in Europe, supported by individuals and organizations back home, were also assisting wounded and ill soldiers of both sides, as well as their dependents.
Second, Germany’s plans to divert U.S. attention from the war by creating chaos in Mexico actually had the opposite effect. The Wilson administration in early 1917 still held hopes of bringing the belligerent nations to the negotiating table. This would change on 24 February, when the British forwarded an intercepted telegram from Foreign Prime Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador to Mexico. Zimmermann instructed the ambassador to propose to Mexico that if the United States entered the war, Mexico and Germany should become allies with promises of generous financial support and an understanding that Mexico would regain Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The telegram created a tsunami of indignation throughout the United States when it appeared in newspapers on 1 March 1917. American opinion quickly changed toward confronting Germany for its conspiracy against the United States. Events would quickly accelerate, resulting in Congress declaring war on 6 April 1917.
Finally, the anti-German hysteria in the United States is largely forgotten. Wagner describes the detestation of all things German that had reached a high mark in April 1917. Millions of German Americans felt the increasing anti-German sentiment that included the forced closure of German language newspapers. She describes the lynching of Robert Prager, a German immigrant in Collinsville, Illinois, who was hung despite the fact that he had attempt to enlist in the Navy but was turned down for having a glass eye.
America and the Great War’s strengths are Wagner’s use of illustrations, vignettes, and in-depth analysis of key battles, opposing strategies, and the militaries involved. It reminds us that America’s involvement started from the beginning of the war. Wagner reminds us that wars are more than battles. There are home fronts, groups, and politics. This work is highly readable and provides a comprehensive examination of America’s role in World War I. America and the Great War would be an excellent addition to the library of any historian or student with an interest on the subject.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas