Americans All! Foreign-Born Soldiers in World War I

Americans All! Foreign-Born Soldiers in World War I

Americans All! Foreign-Born Soldiers in World War I

Americans All! Foreign-Born Soldiers in World War I


During the First World War, nearly half a million immigrant draftees from forty-six different nations served in the U.S. Army. This surge of Old World soldiers challenged the American military's cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions and required military leaders to reconsider their training methods for the foreign-born troops. How did the U.S. War Department integrate this diverse group into a united fighting force?

The war department drew on the experiences of progressive social welfare reformers, who worked with immigrants in urban settlement houses, and they listened to industrial efficiency experts, who connected combat performance to morale and personnel management. Perhaps most significantly, the military enlisted the help of ethnic community leaders, who assisted in training, socializing, and Americanizing immigrant troops and who pressured the military to recognize and meet the important cultural and religious needs of the ethnic soldiers. These community leaders negotiated the Americanization process by promoting patriotism and loyalty to the United States while retaining key ethnic cultural traditions.

Offering an exciting look at an unexplored area of military history, Americans All! Foreign-born Soldiers in World War I constitutes a work of special interest to scholars in the fields of military history, sociology, and ethnic studies. Ford's

research illuminates what it meant for the U.S. military to reexamine early twentieth-century nativism; instead of forcing soldiers into a melting pot, war department policies created an atmosphere that made both American and ethnic pride acceptable.

During the war, a German officer commented on the ethnic diversity of the American army and noted, with some amazement, that these "semi-Americans" considered themselves to be "true-born sons of their adopted country." The officer was wrong on one count. The immigrant soldiers were not "semi-Americans"; they were "Americans all!"


You could not imagine a more extraordinary gathering than this american
sic] army, there is a bit of everything, Greeks, Italians, Turks, Indians, Span
ish, also a sizable number of boches. Truthfully, almost half of the officers
have German origins. This doesn’t seem to bother them….Among the Ameri
cans are sons of emigrated Frenchmen and sons of emigrated boche. I asked
one son of a Frenchman if these Germans were coming willingly to fight their
brothers and cousins, he squarely answered me: “yes!”

—A French soldier referring to American troops in France, 1917

During the First World War, the U.S. government drafted into military service nearly half a million immigrants of forty-six different nationalities, creating an army with over 18 percent of its soldiers born in foreign countries. In addition, thousands of second-generation “immigrants” also served. This new influx of Old World soldiers challenged the cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions of the American Army and forced the military to reexamine its training procedures. The military invited Progressive reformers and leaders of various ethnic groups to assist them in formulating new military policies. As a result, these policies demonstrated a remarkable sensitivity and respect for Old World cultures while laying the foundations for the Americanization of these immigrant soldiers. Cooperation between military officers, Progressive reformers, and ethnicgroup leaders allowed the military to avoid a conformist path of “100 percent Americanism” and helped foster an atmosphere in which immigrants could express both pride in their ethnicity and patriotism to their newly adopted country.

Prior to World War I, the United States military experienced an unprec-

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