A Spirit of Sacrifice Cover

A Spirit of Sacrifice

New York State in the First World War

Aaron Noble, Keith Swaney, and Vicki Weiss

Excelsior Editions, Albany, New York, 2017, 378 pages

Book Review published on: October 22, 2021

A Spirit of Sacrifice: New York State in the First World War is a catalog of an exhibit of the same title shown by the New York State Museum from 15 April 2017 to 17 June 2018. Authored by historian and curator Aaron Noble, archivist Keith Swaney, and librarian Vicki Weiss, the publication is rich with imagery and numerous narratives about the Empire State during the Great War. The authors provide an excellent overview of how the international conflict affected New York and how the state contributed to U.S. efforts to help win the war.

Despite President Woodrow Wilson’s position from 1914 to 1917 to keep the United States neutral, the battlefields did not seem far away from New York. New York had a large population of immigrants, and many New Yorkers returned to their families’ homelands to fight for the Allies and the Central Powers. The state’s substantial industry won lucrative contracts to supply the Allies with arms, rations, and other numerous supplies. In addition, the movement of people and materiel in support of the war often passed through New York City’s seaport. After Wilson declared war on Germany in 1917, over five hundred thousand men and women from New York joined the U.S. military forces, which surged from a peacetime active strength of fewer than two hundred thousand to over four million by 1918.

The book presents a comprehensive, albeit brief, overview of the war, which provides context for much of the content that is focused on the home front in New York. Imagery of poster art, newspaper headlines, government documents, period photographs, and military equipment featured in the museum’s exhibit are abundant throughout. These are complemented with narratives about people and events across the political, military, economic, social, and information domains. The chapters are structured along a general sequence from 1914 to 1919 with the United States’ gradual entry into the war, New Yorkers’ call to arms and their exploits, and the state’s challenges with postwar recovery.

Historians and history enthusiasts will find this book engaging. While the authors dedicate a chapter to New Yorkers that fought valiantly on the battlefields in Europe, most of the book is focused on the state and the transitions it underwent before, during, and after the conflict. A significant theme is how World War I reached deeply into American society despite being fought several thousands of miles away on another continent. The book conveys the substantial measures New York undertook to mobilize people, industry, and infrastructure to enable the deployment and sustainment of American forces in Europe and addresses the difficult effort to reintegrate veterans after demobilization. Overall, A Sprit of Sacrifice is a worthwhile reading for anyone interested in learning more about America’s involvement in World War I.

Book Review written by: Dirk C. Blackdeer, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas