Pershing and the AEF

Wed Jul 30 23:54:07 2008
Donald Smythe’s article “General of the Armies John J. Pershing” (The War Lords, 1976), supposedly defending Pershing, condemns him with faint praise, equivocation and excuses. He calls him “careful rather than brilliant” and “unnecessarily obstinate and failed to see the gravity of successive crises.” Pershing’s positive contribution appears to be that he “guessed correctly.” Smythe points out “the British advanced further and faster than the Americans” and “captured three times as many prisoners.” He even admits that if the war had continued Pershing might have been “removed from command for ordering foolhardy assaults entirely incommensurate with the ground gained.”(266-7)

On the other hand, David Trask’s The AEF and Coalition Warmaking 1917-18 puts together a strong, well-documented case with very specific, tangible, measurable details showing Pershing’s failures, misdirection and ineffectual leadership. The results of an independent American command were “less impressive than the amalgamated divisions.” (273) The numbers clearly show that the American contribution, while important, was still a mere fraction of the British and French results. (275) “Delay in committing American divisions to battle and the brevity of American operations tended to obscure the bitter truth” and “the sudden end of the war headed off what might have become serious criticism of the AEF.” (274) Even our own Gen. George Marshall refers to the AEF as “partially trained” “wholly inexperienced” and “seriously mismanaged.” (The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, Vol. 1, pp. 360-1) (260)

It is often argued that Pershing helped to create and define a modern American way of war. But what I see is no model for a great and strong military tradition. 1) Lack of forethought and preparation for contingencies. Although the war started in 1914 the US was still completely unprepared for intervention even in 1917 and took more than full year to get ready once we declared our intentions 2) Undemocratic military service. Recruitment was not drawn from volunteers or even universal conscription but a selective draft that almost certainly places the most dangerous burden on the underprivileged and provided special treatment for the wealthy and well-connected. 3) Lack of cooperation with Allies and a single unified command. Can anyone seriously think the US would put up with this from their Allies today? What would happen if we took the field today with the same lack of coordination and common purpose?

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~ by severalfourmany on July 30, 2008.

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