Soldiers, Civilians and 'The Great War'

By Carafano, James Jay | Army, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Soldiers, Civilians and 'The Great War'


Carafano, James Jay, Army


Soldiers, Civilians and 'The Great War' The Great War and America: Civil-Military Relations During World War I. Nancy Gentile Ford. Praeger Security International. 194 pages; index; $49.95.

By James Jay Carafano

Civil-military relations are back in the news. There could not be a better time for fresh views on this vital subject. Nancy Gentile Ford's The Great War and America: Civil-Military Relations During World War I is a welcome contribution. Ford, a professor of history at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, provides a broad historical survey of the critical issues that confronted the United States leading up to, during and after World War I. In The Great War and America, Ford argues that this period of American history is worthy of particular attention-and she is absolutely right. The dawn of the 20th century was a turning point for how America's military and American society are interwoven. Many of the fundamental military institutions that we rely on today, from recruiting military officers from civilian universities to relying on the National Guard, emanate from this era.

The United States has traditionally enjoyed a remarkably resilient and healthy civil society. When civil society is strong, relations between soldiers and the state tend to remain pretty stable. The Great War and America supports this thesis. America's sudden entry into World War I and the rush of transforming a constabulary force scattered throughout the United States into a mass citizen army to fight on the world's first "high-tech" battle-field raised innumerable concerns and challenges. America survived them all-and helped win the war.

While the bonds between civil liberties and citizen-soldiers may not be overstrained, there is still plenty on the subject of civil-military relations worth considering. One of the great virtues of The Great War and America is that it does not limit the topic of soldiers and civilians to issues about wartime dissent and controversy. Rather, Ford surveys the ripple effect of military service throughout the political, economic and cultural life of a nation at war.

In workmanlike fashion, Ford covers the antiwar movement and conscientious objectors, but she also examines issues such as segregation, civil liberties, Selective Service, the great flu pandemic of 1918 and demobilization.

Ford focuses on the breadth of issues that really affect who we are and how we think about military service.

If there is one shortcoming, it is that Ford gives scant coverage to the role of senior civilian and military leaders in wartime. She does a fine job sketching the complicated relationship between President Woodrow Wilson, the reluetant warrior, and Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, the Army's zealous proponent of military preparedness.

There is, on the other hand, no detailed discussion at all of Gen. Pershing or senior combatant commanders and how they interfaced with Washington. …

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