AMERICA’S GREAT WAR by Robert H. Zieger


World War I and the American Experience
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A traditional history of WWI, viewed typically as a major tragedy of the 20th century.

Although the US didn’t enter the war until 1917, Zieger (History/Univ. of Florida) reminds readers that American neutrality was never impartial. Businessmen and the educated elite tended to be Anglophiles, stirred up by floods of English propaganda accusing the Germans of outrageous acts, many fictional. The Germans helped by committing genuine outrages (burning the Louvain library, sinking the Lusitania, executing Edith Cavell), as well as by blunders reminiscent of the Keystone Cops (clumsy attempts at sabotage, the harebrained Zimmerman telegram). When the U-boat campaign finally goaded the US into war, initial response was less than spectacular. In contrast to the avalanche of American production that swamped the Nazis and Japanese, the Yanks fought in 1917–18 with artillery, transport, planes, and helmets supplied by their allies. American finance contributed more to victory than American troops. The war’s depressing aftermath has been chronicled many times, but Zieger retells the story well. The Versailles Treaty was vindictive, he acknowledges, but no more so than other treaties forced on prostrate enemies. He also asserts that President Wilson’s naïveté has been exaggerated. Wilson knew the Allies’ vengeful demands made nonsense of his idealistic Fourteen Points but believed their acquiescence to a League of Nations justified all compromises. (Ironically, the US Senate failed to approve the League.) The war provided great benefits to American labor, women, and blacks, Zieger points out. Peace cancelled most benefits, but the good times planted seeds that bore fruit later: blacks began their migration to northern cities; women got the vote; labor savored its first experience of a friendly government.

Nothing new here, but the author knows his subject, and his lucid prose is a pleasure to read.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8476-9644-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2000


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