A new history of World War I, viewed through the lens of America, where it “was an enormously contentious issue.”
Peck (Walt Whitman in Washington, D.C.: The Civil War and America's Great Poet, 2015, etc.) denies the biographical bent of his book, but Woodrow Wilson figured massively in the avoidance, eventual entrance, and especially the disastrous results of the war. One-third of America’s population was first- or second-generation immigrants from the belligerent nations. Many disliked England or Germany, but seemingly everyone loved France, and they were the beleaguered nation. Other than the Navy, the American armed forces were in no shape to fight any war, let alone one thousands of miles away. The debate about whether to enter continued for more than two years. Ultimately, the U.S. decided to enter due to Germany’s unrestricted U-boat warfare and the Zimmerman Telegram inviting Mexico to invade. Wilson first assumed a lofty position of arbiter trying to end the war without success. After American entry, he trampled on civil liberties, censored mail, and forbade Germans from owning guns or approaching military facilities. He stifled freedom of speech and basic civil liberties with the Sedition Act, Espionage Act, and Trading with the Enemy Act. American troops were young, poorly trained, and poorly armed. Gen. John Pershing insisted that his doughboys would not be co-opted, but the French and English had counted on incorporating that army into their own. Pershing also insisted on training for open warfare rather than the established trench warfare. The Battle of Château-Thierry put that idea to rest as Americans were mowed down by German machine guns. Furthermore, Wilson’s rigid Fourteen Points caused more problems than solutions. The worst road blocks were Wilson’s presence in Paris and his insistence that the League of Nations be included in the punitive, catastrophic Treaty of Versailles, but that’s another book. Here, Peck proves a reliable guide to “a nation that was rapidly growing up—and yet not mature enough to accept its global responsibilities.”
Students of 20th-century American and European history will enjoy this American view of the war and its long-term consequences.