Academic journal article Military Review

Optimism at Armageddon: Voices of American Participants in the First World War

Academic journal article Military Review

Optimism at Armageddon: Voices of American Participants in the First World War

Article excerpt

OPTIMISM AT ARMAGEDDON:

Voices of American Participants in the Fst World War by Mark Meigs. 269 pages. New York University Press, New York. 1996. $40.00.

Recently, social history has dominated historical writings. Researching and writing about the lives of common folk-their families, their occupations and their communities-has become the focus of modern historiography. Military history is both victim and beneficiary of this emphasis. For instance, the study of military history suffers when college history departments emphasize social history to the exclusion of all other disciplines. Yet, the social historian's interests and methods open new areas of study in military history. For example, the history of World War I has been enlarged by such books as Death 's Men, by Denis Winter, and Between Mutiny and Obedience, by Leonard Smith, in which the authors use social history methods to examine the private soldier's experience. In the process, Winter and Smith tell us something important and new about the war on the Western Front.

Mark Meigs uses a similar approach in Optimism at Armageddon. His topic is the experience of doughboys, nurses and others who served in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France from 1917 to 1919. Meigs examines the meaning the participants gave to the "war to end all wars" and, in doing so, explores their experience of combat and their contact with French culture, both sentimental and sexual.

The author juxtaposes official and private attitudes and pronouncements as he attempts a "snapshot" of America on the verge of becoming a mass culture. He uses as his chief sources both contemporary letters and journals, as well as the 1970 Military History Institute's survey of World War I veterans. …

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