Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, September 30, 2013

The October 2013 ST. MIHIEL TRIP-WIRE Now Available Online

The October issue of our sister publication, the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire is now online at:

If you haven't visited the Trip-Wire before, imagine a full month's entries of Roads to the Great War in a single, easy-to-read issue. Pictured here are some of the sites, battles, and personalities featured in the latest issue, including: British tank models, George M. Cohan and "Over There," the MacArthur Memorial's centennial preparations, first and last ships sunk in the war, the Albanian crisis of 1913, the 10th Battle of the Isonzo–precursor to Caporetto — and much more!

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Remembering a Veteran: Sgt. Alan L. Eggers, 107th Machine Gun Company, 27th Division, AEF

Contributed by James Patton

Yesterday, Roads to the Great War featured cartoonist Raeburn Van Buran of New York's 7th Infantry from the National Guard. Today we feature another alumnus of the "Silk Stocking Regiment." Alan Eggers was born in 1895 at Saranac Lake, NY. His youth was spent in Summit, NJ, and he attended Cornell University from 1915 to 1917, leaving before the end of his second year to join the 7th Regiment NYNG. He was one of the group called The Summit Gunners, which became the nucleus of the 107th Machine Gun Co. Three men from this unit — Eggers, Sgt. John Latham and Cpl. Thomas O’Shea — received Medals of Honor after the only instance in the war where three medals were awarded for the same action.

On 29 September 1918 the 107th MG Co. was part of the assault on the Hindenburg Line at the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel. From the start things didn’t go well. The Medal of Honor citation reads:

Becoming separated from their platoon by a smoke barrage, Sgt. Alan L. Eggers, Sgt. John C. Latham and Cpl. Thomas E. O'Shea took cover in a shell hole well within the enemy's lines. Upon hearing a call for help from an American tank, which had become disabled 30 yards from them, the 3 soldiers left their shelter and started toward the tank, under heavy fire from German machine-guns and trench mortars. In crossing the fire-swept area Cpl. O'Shea was mortally wounded, but his companions, undeterred, proceeded to the tank, rescued a wounded officer, and assisted 2 wounded soldiers to cover in a sap of a nearby trench. Sgt. Eggers and Sgt. Latham then returned to the tank in the face of the violent fire, dismounted a Hotchkiss gun, and took it back to where the wounded men were, keeping off the enemy all day by effective use of the gun and later bringing it, with the wounded men, back to our lines under cover of darkness.

It is heroic to risk your life to rescue a comrade, especially under fire. For this reason alone the deeds of these three warranted consideration for the Medal of Honor. Moreover, Latham and Eggers made more than one trip under fire to the disabled tank.

Furthermore, for several hours the left flank of the attack was held by the M1909 Hotchkiss manned by Latham and Eggers. By effectively deploying this gun and manning it under heavy fire, all the while out of contact with their own forces, they played a key role in the eventual success of the attack, which was another act of heroism.

Finally, they managed to extract themselves, three wounded men (two of whom couldn’t walk without help) and the 27-pound machine gun (presumably with ammunition), and somehow found the stabilized positions, in the dark. This was a third act of heroism.

Eggers returned to the Cornell Law School, graduating in 1921. He worked on Wall Street until 1959. He married in 1935 and had two sons. He died in 1968 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Doughboy Cartoonist: Raeburn Van Buren

Contributed by Stephen Harris

My great uncle was Raeburn Van Buren, a private in the 107th Regiment, the "Old Seventh" National Guard of upper-crust New Yorkers from Manhattan's East Side, where its great armory stands on Park Avenue.

Van Buren was a magazine illustrator when he enlisted in the 7th, which was incorporated into the 27th Division of the AEF that was attached to the British during WWI. He was assigned to the 27th's HQ as art editor of Gas Attack magazine, which had been started in 1916 when the National Guardsmen were posted on the Texas border. Then it was named the Rio Grande Rattler. When the 27th Division was in training later at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, SC,  it temporarily held the cumbersome name of Camp Wadsworth and the Rio Grand Rattler, before settling on Gas Attack.

The New York Times called Van Buren the American Bairnsfather, after the British illustrator, Bruce Bairnsfather. After the war Raeburn edited 300 stories for the Saturday Evening Post and a like number for Collier's. He then, in 1937, created the comic strip Abbie an' Slats with Al Capp, the originator of Li'l Abner. If you haven't seen his wartime work, I'll hope you get a kick out of some of Raeburn's personal art, Gas Attack covers, and cartoons.


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Raeburn (upper right) often added charming illustrations to his personal correspondence.

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A selection of Gas Attack covers. These seem to be the most formal of his military drawings.

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In the cartoons he prepared for Gas Attack, Raeburn had several themes he returned to regularly. Here are three from the overlapping "dreams of the enlisted man" and "returning home" series. Above we share a buck private's impossible dream: a fabulous meal in a fancy French restaurant with a beautiful sophisticated woman.

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The homecoming dream feast.

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Getting out of that uniform.

Stephen Harris told the story of Raeburn's old outfit, the New York 7th Infantry, in Duty, Honor, Privilege from his outstanding trilogy on representative regiments of the AEF.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Captain Charles de Gaulle,
Military Historian, Political Philosopher and More

Since 2002 a fine translation of Charles de Gaulle's 1924 analysis of Germany's defeat in the Great War, La Discorde Chez l'ennemi (The Enemy's House Divided) has been available in English. It was the first literary effort of the wounded veteran and one-time prisoner of war. It was recognized as a brilliant effort, yet has always been impossible to pigeonhole. Like the writings of T.E. Lawrence, De Gaulle's ideas were wide-ranging, far beyond typical military history works. Here, for example, his thoughts begin with the pitfalls of leadership and end in a French garden:

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The German military leaders, whose task it was to guide and coordinate such immense efforts, gave proof of an audacity, of a spirit of enterprise, of a will to succeed, of a vigor in handling resources, whose reverberations have not been stilled by their ultimate defeat. Perhaps this study—or, more precisely, the disclosure of the events that are its object may make evident the defects common to these eminent men: the characteristic taste for immoderate undertakings; the passion to expand their personal power at any cost; the contempt for the limits marked out by human experience, common sense, and the law.

Perhaps reading this will cause the reader to reflect that the German leaders, far from combatting these excesses in themselves, or at least concealing them as defects, considered them instead as forces, and erected them into a system; and that this error bore down with a crushing weight at the decisive moments of the war. One may perhaps find in their conduct the imprint of Nietzsche's theories of the elite and the Overman, adopted by the military generation that was to conduct the recent hostilities and which had come to maturity and definitively fixed its philosophy around the turn of the century.

The Overman with his exceptional character, his will to power, his taste for risk, his contempt for others who want to see him as Zarathustra—appeared to these impassioned men of ambition as the ideal that they should attain. They voluntarily resolved to be part of that formidable Nietzschean elite who are convinced that, in pursuing their own glory, they are serving the general interest; who exercise compulsion on "the mass of slaves," holding them in contempt; and who do not hesitate in the face of human suffering, except to hail it as necessary and desirable.

Perhaps, finally, in meditating upon these events, one may wish to measure with what dignity we should clothe that superior philosophy of war which animated these leaders and which could at one time render futile the harshest efforts of a great people and at another constitute the most universal and surest guarantee of the destinies of the fatherland.

Professor Robert Eden of Hillsdale College did a wonderful job with this translation.

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This study will have attained its object if it helps in a modest way to induce our military leaders of tomorrow, following the example of their victorious models in the recent war, to shape their minds and mold their characters according to the rules of classical order. It is from those rules that they may draw that sense of balance, of what is possible, of measure, which alone renders the works of energy durable and fecund.

In the classical French garden, no tree seeks to stifle the others by overshadowing them; the plants accommodate themselves to being geometrically arranged; the pond does not aspire to be a waterfall; the statues do not vie to obtrude themselves upon the admiring spectator. A noble melancholy comes over us, from time to time. Perhaps it comes from our feeling that each element, in isolation, might have been more radiantly brilliant. But that would be to the detriment of the whole; and the observer takes delight in the rule that impresses on the garden its magnificent harmony.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Part II:
Victory Commemorated

Yesterday, we presented a review of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as it was fought in 1918. Since it was America's largest battlefield in the war, every effort was made afterward to honor the effort and sacrifice of the participants. Here are the major memorials and a selection of the unit, state, and individual memorials that can be found there today.

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Montfaucon (Mount Falcon) was the most important opening objective of the operation and is, today, the location of the national memorial to the battle. It consists of a massive granite Doric column, surmounted by a statue symbolic of Miss Liberty, which towers more than 200-feet above the war ruins of the former village and an abbey. The observation platform on top of the memorial affords magnificent views of the battlefield. The photo on the left, taken from a B-17 shortly after VE-Day in 1945, shows why the position was so important. It gave the German defenders a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. Behind Montfaucon can be seen the open country that would have allowed the U.S. assault a rapid advance had the hill been taken quickly. Montfaucon, however, was held through the second day, allowing reinforcements to be called in to slow the American advance.

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A number of monuments are concentrated in the early zone of the American advance. From the top left: the Lt. Frank (Balloon Buster) Luke memorial near Murvaux, just east of the Meuse, where he crashed and had his fatal gun battle with German soldiers; a plaque honoring the 16th Infantry, 1st Division, at Fleville; the 80th Division Monument at Nantillois. Below: the enormous Pennsylvania Monument at Varennes; and the nearby Missouri State Monument.

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Chatel-Chéhéry in the Argonne Forest was the location of one of two great legends of the battle: Alvin York's Medal of Honor feat on 8 October 1918. The town hall is the site of the main commemorative plaque. To the north of the village is the new commemorative trail that follows York's activities that day. The Boy Scouts photographed at the trail's dedication are sons of American military stationed in Europe, who volunteered to help restore the trail.

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Nearby, at Charlevaux Mill, is the site of the Lost Battalion incident of early October 1918. The actual site (one of the rifle pits is shown in the middle) has become more difficult to access in recent years but can be viewed from the distance near the new roadside monument (right image) dedicated on the 90th anniversary of the event.

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There are fewer markers commemorating the last stage of the battle, since it involved a very rapid advance. On the left side above is a view of Sedan taken from the hill near Pont Magus, which was the farthest northern point of advance for the offensive. Below is a view of  the River Meuse, site the last attack of the war. The first has no U.S. commemorations. A small 2nd Division marker on the Meuse indicates the crossing point, while small divisional and corps markers can found on the ridge above, marking the extent of the advance by the Armistice. On the right are shown two memorials close to the farthest easternmost point of the American advance: top is the new monument to Henry Gunther of Baltimore, Maryland, and  the 79th Division, who was the last man killed in action during the Great War; and below is an impressive tower above the village of Sivry honoring the 318th Infantry of the 80th Division.

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The military cemetery at Romagne is the nation's largest in Europe. It covers 130.5 acres and has a total of 14,246 burials. The cemetery lies adjacent to last level of the Hindenburg Line, the German Army's main defensive position in 1918. The left image is an aerial view in which the shield-like shape of the cemetery can be discerned. The right view from the visitor's center toward the chapel and memorial complex. Panels on either side of the chapel contain the "Tablets of the Missing" with 954 names, including those from the U.S. expedition to northern Russia in 1918–1919.

Sources: Steve Miller, ABMC publications, and American War Memorials Overseas

Thursday, September 26, 2013

26 September 1918:
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive Opens

Quick Facts About the Meuse-Argonne Offensive:

Where: Northwest and north of Verdun

When: 26 September 1918 – 11 November 1918

Allied Units Participating: U.S. First Army commanded by General John J. Pershing until 16 October; then by Lt. General Hunter Liggett. Three U.S. corps plus one French corps; 23 American divisions rotating were involved.

German Forces: Approximately 40 German divisions from the Army Groups of the Crown Prince and MH General Max Carl von Gallwitz participated in the battle, with the largest contribution by the Fifth Army of Group Gallwitz commanded by General Georg von der Marwitz.

Memorable for:

  • Largest battle in American history by casualties and ground forces involved.
  • Learning ground for American military for the rest of the 20th century. Numerous future Army Chiefs of Staff and Marine Corps Commandants participated in the battle.
  • Gave America its largest overseas cemetery.
  • Source of many legends and traditions, including the Lost Battalion, Sgt. York, Balloon Buster Frank Luke.

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    Left: Area of the Offensive 
    Right: Opening Attack

    Brief Operational Description:

    The area between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest was chosen for the U.S. First Army’s greatest offensive of the war because it was the portion of the German front which the enemy could least afford to lose. The lateral communications between German forces east and west of the Meuse were in that area and they were heavily dependent upon two rail lines that converged in the vicinity of Sedan and lay within 35 miles of the battle line. The nature of the Meuse-Argonne terrain made it ideal for defense. To protect this vitally important area, the enemy had established almost continuous defensive positions for a depth of ten to twelve miles to the rear of the front lines. The movement of American troops and materiel into position the night of 25–26 September 1918 for the Meuse-Argonne attack was made entirely under the cover of darkness. On most of the front, French soldiers remained in the outpost positions until the very last moment in order to keep the enemy from learning of the large American concentration. Altogether, about 220,000 Allied soldiers were withdrawn from the area and 600,000 American soldiers brought into position without the knowledge of the enemy.

    Following a three-hour bombardment with 2,700 field pieces, the U.S. First Army jumped off at 0530 hours on 26 September. On the left, I Corps penetrated the Argonne Forest and advanced along the valley of the Aire River. In the center, V Corps advanced to the west of Montfaucon but was held up temporarily in front of the hill. On the right, III Corps drove forward to the east of Montfaucon and a mile beyond. About noon the following day, Montfaucon was captured as the advance continued. Although complete surprise had been achieved, the enemy soon was stubbornly contesting every foot of terrain. Profiting from the temporary holdup in front of Montfaucon, the Germans poured reinforcements into the area. By 30 September, the U.S. First Army had driven the enemy back as far as six miles in some places, but the advance was bogged down due to inexperienced units and commanders, poor logistics due to lack of transport, and non-existent roads and a lack of coordination between artillery and infantry.

    The First Army had to learn while continuing the attack. General Pershing brought in experienced divisions and more combat engineers, and eventually appointed his best senior general, Hunter Liggett, to command First Army. George Marshall was giving the job of operations officer and new corps commanders were brought in. A new approach was prepared and a renewed general offensive was prepared.

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    U.S. Troops in the Early Stages: Under Fire and Advancing in Villages; Advancing Down a Forest Road; Traffic Jam in Esnes

    End Game of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

    The final chapter of the great offensive by the U.S. First Army began at daybreak on 1 November after a two-hour concentrated artillery preparation. It would be the most important and successful American operation of the Great War.

    The key roles in the assault were played by the III and V U.S. Corps, commanded by two future Army Chiefs-of-Staff, John Hines and Charles Summerall, respectively. They were supported by more artillery than ever assembled by the United States military. Tactics emphasized mobility and supply techniques were improved to support a rapid advance. The lessons of the earlier battles had been absorbed and corrections made. Its progress exceeded all expectations.

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    Last Phase of the Offensive as Executed
    Note: Units on Right Shifting Axis Eastward

    By early afternoon of 1 November, the formidable last Hindenburg Line position on Barricourt Heights had been captured, ensuring success of the whole operation. That night the enemy issued orders to withdraw west of the Meuse and the battle turned into a rout, sometimes with U.S. forces racing north faster than the retreating Germans. By 4 November, after an additional crossing of the Meuse by the U.S. First Army, the enemy was in full retreat on both sides of the river. Three days later, when the heights overlooking the city of Sedan were taken, the U.S. First Army gained domination over the German railroad communications there, ensuring early termination of the war.

    Attention was shifting to the next U.S. strategic objective, Metz to the northeast, as the entire First Army began shifting their axis of attack in that direction. Meanwhile, the Second U.S. Army was renewing action down on the temporarily quiet St. Mihiel Sector. The Armistice ensued, however, before further major offensives could be mounted.

    Firsthand Account – Thursday 26 September 1918:
    That evening, about dusk I saw an unforgettable sight...I am lying down in the field...In front of me to my left I see the Hill and the battered town and fortress of Montfaucon. An attack is in progress. Soldiers are advancing up the hill with rifles and fixed bayonets in hand. They are filtering through the ruins, slowly but steadily. Shells are falling and crashing among them. Smoke and flying debris dot the hill. It is a gripping scene, a dramatic war picture, and here I am actually seeing it.
    Sgt. Maximilian Boll, 79th Division

    Firsthand Account – Tuesday 15 October 1918:
    On October 15th, 1918, we were charging machine guns and men were being cut down like grass all around me. Then I was hit and fell, and couldn't get up. I laid there on the battlefield for three days and was assumed dead. Some man came by and said: Fields, what the hell are you doing laying there? The man picked me up, put me on his shoulder, and carried me three miles to the aid station.

    Gangrene had already set-up, and they amputated my leg just below the knee. I was passing in and out of consciousness during the whole time and never recognized the man that carried me to safety. How he recognized me I'll never know because I was unshaven and was a mess. I've always regretted never knowing the man that saved my life.
    Pvt. Clifton R. Fields, 32nd Division

    Firsthand Account – Monday 11 November 1918:

    While we were getting ready to take our wounded man to the rear, a runner appeared with the official news that an Armistice had been signed. Most everybody let out a few healthy yells, but I did not. For one reason, didn't feel much like yelling. I had some difficulty getting three more fellows to help me carry the stretcher.
    Pvt. Clarence Richmond, 5th Marines, 2nd Division
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    American Column Advancing During Last Phase; German Prisoners; 11 November Celebration.

    Sources:  ABMC, Doughboy Center Website

    Wednesday, September 25, 2013

    Cigarettes for Soldiers:
    How the Tobacco and Advertising Industries Seized an Opportunity

    Contributed by Tony Langley

    If ever there was proof that war is a filthy business, then the Great War proved it by virtually creating the vast modern market for cigarettes. Prior to the Great War cigarette smoking – as opposed to manly cigars and the traditional pipe – was considered, somewhat contradictorally, to be a bit on the effeminate side for real men and generally too inappropriate an activity for ladies..

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    In the USA, cigarettes were not looked upon with much sympathy by various state legislators, in some cases there were even outright bans. But the war changed all of this almost overnight. Cigarettes proved to be just the thing to keep soldiers occupied during the long stretches of relative quiet and boredom at the front. They created a sense of camaraderie when shared out among mates, and by an odd quirk of reasoning, they were also thought to help keep the men away from hard liquor and loose ladies. General Pershing was quoted as saying that for the troops cigarettes were more important than bullets. Even associations like the YMCA and the Red Cross, which prior to war had been opposed in principle to smoking, ended up collecting vast quantities of cigarettes for the boys "Over There."

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    Naturally, all nationalities provided smokes for their troops, daily rations of tobacco being generous in most cases. While U.S. and British producers were the leaders in cigarette production, German firms often stressed the Turkish element in tobacco, as a sort of aside to their war-time ally. One German brand was called "Salem Aleikum," a proper Oriental form of greeting ("Peace Be Unto You"), which, all things considered, was somewhat ironic during wartime. But when was the advertising industry anything other than naively single-minded and apt to ignore the realities of the real world?
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    Most tobacco firms needed little advertising to keep sales at record highs during the war. Bull Durham in the U.S., for instance, sold the whole of its cigarette production to the War Department in 1918. Families were encouraged to send extra smokes to the troops, and here homefront advertising came into play. Soldiers rarely needed any advertising, but civilians could be enticed by the appropriate style of cigarette ads to choose a brand that fit their view of relatives in the service. Officers were thought to prefer a different brand than "other ranks" and this was reflected in British tobacco advertising.

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    After the war, the habit of cigarette smoking among all layers of society persisted, quietly but relentlessly, taking a toll of premature death among the men who learned to smoke in the trenches. The smoking habit would be further reinforced by the experiences of yet another world war a generation later.

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    (This one is my favorite, Tony. Apparently some advertisers had not discovered irony yet. MH)

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    A late addition from regular Roads contributor Stephen Harris, showing American National Guard Officers deployed along the U.S.-Mexican border in 1916.

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013

    Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War
    Reviewed by Ron Drees

    Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War

    By Robert K. Massie
    Published by the Ballantine Books, Reissued 2012 

    This thick but not ponderous book leads up to the Great War by recounting much of nineteenth- century European history through the biographies of many of its leaders, some obscure. We learn about the dysfunctional family that ruled the great powers of Britain, Germany, and Russia: the bellicose, immature, insecure, arrogant, adviser-dominated, and frequently irrelevant Kaiser, a King who gradually ate himself to death, a prime minister reluctant to make decisions, and a German secretary of state whose lies almost caused a war over a worthless piece of beach in Morocco.

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    The recounting of European history of that period is vital background to understanding the isolation of Britain that yielded to the necessity of relationships: a treaty with France that transforms a former enemy into an ally that England supports during the Moroccan crisis. By way of further background, Massie also covers the impact of the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war and the effects of the reparations of that war.

    The title implies, but the book does not fulfill, the significance of HMS Dreadnought and its class of battleships. The word does not appear for several hundred pages. The ships are discussed at length in the chapters concerning First Sea Lord Jacky Fisher and the naval arms race of 1910–1914, but are not really considered a factor in the opening of hostilities. Yet the building of the dreadnoughts reveals much about the changes wrought by technology, such as greater firepower, conversion of coal to oil, and growing German nationalism. While Jutland is not mentioned, the discussion of the design, construction, and deployment of battle cruisers does much to explain that fiasco.

    Many of the leaders of the time were very dedicated hardworking office holders, a few were fools, and some were just colorful. Churchill's parents ignored him until he was an adult, but he shamelessly used his mother's contacts from among her numerous lovers to advance his career — or at least his fame and fortune, which were much the same.

    Finally, the chain of events leading to the great catastrophe began with a small revolutionary group killing the Archduke, which in turn provided an opportunity for one nation to punish a weaker nation. The pace quickened as events spiraled out of control, with Germany's leaders pushed aside by generals who were sure they knew best. Those generals, however, other than Moltke, were not named, much less discussed.

    You can enjoy reading Dreadnought as I did to learn about the personalities that created the events leading to the Great War. The book is excellent background material to the war and ends with Foreign Minister Grey's famous line as the war began about the lamps going out all over Europe. The book concludes effectively with a sense of the great oncoming tragedy.

    I believe this book would be great preparation for the 2013 WW1HA Symposium because the subject matter fits the Symposium theme very well. Start reading now, though, because of the length of the text.

    Ron Drees 

    Monday, September 23, 2013

    HM The Queen Mother in the Great War

    Contributed by Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester

    Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother [late mother of Queen Elizabeth II], Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, was born in 1900, by a twist of fate on 4 August. Her adolescence was overshadowed by the Great War in all the ways of those less privileged than she: a brother was killed, dear friends lost, her youth spent in sorrow. But her spirit was a sunny one by nature, and she persevered beyond the Great War — and triumphed in the Second World War at the side of her husband, King George VI. 

     Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon and younger brother Lord David Bowes Lyon, sometime in 1915

    Below is a letter, recently published, she wrote to her governess, companion, and confidante since childhood, Beryl Poignand, which I enjoy for its poignancy and detail. Her family’s house, Glamis Castle, was one of the many great houses that served as convalescent hospitals for the wounded. For four years, she grew from childhood to womanhood living the war through the soldiers who came to and left her home to uncertain fates.  

    26 November 1917 to Beryl Poignand

    Glamis Castle[1]

    My dear Medusa[2]

                Just back from a nerve racking and terrible experience — bidding good-bye to FOURTEEN men! It really makes me weep & lump in my throat. I can’t bear it ever. And there is such a nice dear Sergeant whom I took a violent affection to yesterday evening, he is so nice tho’ dreadfully ugly. I begged Sister to push him downstairs or give him a blister or something. I wish I didn’t take violent affections too late — it’s always the day before they go!!!! I always have to say goodbye after dinner now, because firstly they go at 7 A.M. and secondly Sister likes to show me off in evening dress, because they never have seen evening dresses which embarrasses me too dreadfully. They invariably look at my shoes, except the ones that gaze rapturously into my eyes sighing deeply all the while, which are nil, nowadays that I have my hair up etc!! Some of them are charming, but oh! the difference from Dec. 1914! I was just remembering this evening, that night when Mr Brookes, Harold Ward, Teddy, David[3] (in pyjamas) & I had a bun fight in the crypt, and David chased Nurse A round the Ward with cocoa & water to pour, & how it all got spilt on the floor, & her black fury!! It was fun — weren’t they darlings? I have been thinking so much between these lines that it is now 10.15 & I must go to bed. […]

                It’s so dreadful saying goodbye, because one knows that one will never see them again, and I hate doing it. Do you remember our goodbyes on the doorstep, & waving them all the way up the Avenue? […]

                We shall come down next week I expect, I’ll let you know the date later. Goodbye from your loving but at the moment depressed —


    I remember quite well thinking when I was seventeen I could never be happy again. I mean everybody was unhappy. Because one knew so many people. Every day somebody was killed, you see. It was a real holocaust. It was horrible. I remember that feeling quite well.

    [commentary by HM The Queen Mother over eighty years later]

    [1] Scotland. Ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore for over 600 years. Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon’s father was the 14th Earl of Strathmore.
    [2] presumably nicknamed this for her abundant hair and not a testy personality.
    [3] her younger brother, Lord David Bowes Lyon.

    Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon in November 1915 at fundraising stall for the Soldiers' & Sailors' Families Association


    The Queen Mother's letters (source of these entries) are a glimpse into another world. Recommended for Downton Abbey fans.

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    Sunday, September 22, 2013

    The U.S. Air Force Honors Its Great War Traditions

    The date of 22 September is an evocative one for your editor—it is the anniversary of the start of his six-year Air Force career, begun many years (decades!) ago. I'm proud to say, however, that since I've begun my studies of the Great War, I have found a number of ways that my old service honors and remembers its role in that early struggle. For instance, two of the squadrons that flew SPAD fighters in World War I are still active, still wear their original insignia, but now fly the F-22 Raptor. The squadron members, I've discovered, also work diligently at keeping the traditions of their predecessors alive.

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    At Langley AFB, Virginia, the 1st Fighter Wing of the U.S. Air Force includes two Raptor-flying squadrons that distinguished themselves in the Great War – the 27th Fighter Squadron (FS), now known as the "Fighting Eagles," and the 94th FS, now (and then) known as the "Hat-in-the-Ring Gang."

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    The present-day signage at the squadrons' headquarters shows their original insignia, recognizable to any WWI buff. In the middle above is the insignia of the parent unit, the 1st Fighter Wing – also inherited from WWI. It was designed for the 1st Pursuit Group of the AEF. Its five crosses represent the group's five original squadrons, and the five stripes, the air campaigns they waged in the First World War. The motto, "Victory or Death," is the original as well. Each of the squadrons at Langley also has a heritage room, where the pilots congregate to share stories, lessons learned, and even make toasts and sing songs like those aviators who served way back then.
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    27th Squadron: Tradition begins at the squadron operations desk, where Medal of Honor recipient Frank Luke is prominent; entrance sign at the Heritage Room, named after Luke; the squadron's traditional, "Balloon Buster" scarf; WWI section of the photo gallery with an original WWI reconnaissance report displayed.

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    94th Squadron: Heritage Room entrance sign: listing of WWI 94th Squadron aces and their victories; test specifications on SPAD XIII; display kiosks with flying gear; biography of Eddie Rickenbacker; flying scarfs, and a SPAD instrument panel.

    Photo Credits: Brian Laslie, Historian, 1st Fighter Wing; USAF National Museum

    Saturday, September 21, 2013

    Poland's Absent World War I Memorials:
    Fortress Przemyśl
    By Rodney Earl Walton

    Absent Polish Memorials: Fortress Przemyśl

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    Today, I conclude my discussion of historical, but neglected, World War I battlefields with a visit to a pretty industrial and trading center of 67,000 population near the Ukranian border in southeastern modern Poland. In 1914 Przemyśl, like Verdun was a city surrounded by fortifications, and, in 1914 and 1915, battles were fought at Przemyśl as grim and intense as those in 1916 around Verdun.

    Fortress Przemyśl

    A drive ninety miles east of Craców east to the town of Przemyśl  likewise fails to yield sightings of any significant Great War memorialization. Przemyśl, scenically situated on the hills above the strategic San River, was then a mighty fortress city protected by outlying barrier forts. The purpose of the fortress of Przemyśl was to guard the "gaps in the Carpathian chain where the Rivers San and Dniester rise to flow into the Polish plain..."

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    Located in at the time in Austro-Hungarian controlled Poland, Przemyśl guarded the passes in the Carpathian chain. The San River flowed through the center of the city.
    (Photo by REW)

    During the first few weeks of World War I its garrison of 150,000 men was twice cut off and surrounded by the Russians. Following the second siege (October 1914 – March 22, 1915), Przemyśl surrendered. The Russians captured 2500 officers and 117,000 Austrian soldiers – quality troops which Austria could not easily replace.

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    Russian officer at the site of a devastated fort. Like Verdun, most of the forts remain today in various states of repair.

    The popular Lonely Planet guide book for Poland reports that the local tourist office can provide information about how to reach the overgrown earthen fortification ramparts in the rural areas outlying the town. Otherwise, modern Przemyśl displays no apparent reminders of the two great sieges. Today's traveler would never guess that the still existing railway bridge had been demolished and collapsed into the River San. Nor is there any hint of the fact that captured Austrian officers once shared the cafes of the town with their Russian captors.

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    Russian troops arriving in the city: Fortress Przemyśl finally capitulated to the Russians on 22 March 1915, only to be reconquered on 3 June 1915 during the highly successful Allied Gorlice-Tarnov offensive.
    (Photo by REW)

    Rodney Earl Walton

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    Poland's Absent World War I Memorials:
    1914-1915 Battles for Galicia, East of Craców
    By Rodney Earl Walton

    Absent Polish Memorials: 1914-1915 Battles for Galicia, East of Craców 

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    As I discussed in two Roads to the Great War postings last month [14 & 15 August 2013], I believe Poland should provide historical markers or monuments to identify the locations of major World War 1 battles, like Tannenberg, and to acknowledge their historical importance. Today and tomorrow, I am going to suggest several more, all of which are located in Galicia, far south of the Tannenberg battlefield. Early in the Great War several key battles were fought in Galicia, east of Craców, that are often overlooked in histories of the war.

    Battle of Limanowa-Lapanów, 1-13 December 1914

    In December 1914 around the towns of Lapanów and Limanowa (see map),  a victory by Archduke Josef Ferdinand's 4th Army saved Austria-Hungary from disaster. Limanowa-Lapanow was the last battle of the war in which the Austro-Hungarian Army could claim a victory against the Russians based on its own initiative, its own commanders, and its own troops. The Habsburg force drove squarely into a weak spot created by a boundary line between two different Russian armies. The Austro-Hungarians promptly sent the Russians reeling back forty miles. Russian plans for both a drive south of Craców (toward Germany) and an attack through the Carpathians (onto the Hungarian plain toward Budapest) were preempted.  The Russian 3rd army was beaten and forced to retreat east, ending its opportunity to reach Craców. To avoid being surrounded, the Russian 8th Army also had to retreat, stopping its advance toward the Hungarian plains. The author, a casual tourist, could spot no monuments or cemeteries while exploring the area around Limanowa and Lapanów nor the thirty miles between them.

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    In Galicia:
    Austro-Hungarian Infantry Advancing, Russian Cavalry Withdrawing

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    Lapanów stood as the northern flank of the battle. This photo taken in the small village of Lapanów looks south in the general direction of Limanowa (which is too far away to be seen). Craców lies many miles behind the right shoulder of the photographer. The Austro-Hungarian attack would have been from right to left.
    (Photo by REW)

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    Limanowa stood in the southern sector of the December 1914 battle between the Austro-Hungarians and the the Russians. This picture looks east toward the town. The Austro-Hungarians would have been attacking in a generally eastward direction. The same road continues east beyond the town and in the direction of Gorlice, which was important for the German breakthrough on the Eastern Front in mid-1915.
    (Photo by REW)

    The Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive, 1 May - 19 September, 1915

    A similar lack of memorialization exists just to the east at Tarnow. After Limanowa-Lapanow it would be the German army, not the Habsburg army, which controlled all Central Power military operations in Poland (Keegan, 2000). Picking up in the narrow gap (between the Carpathians and the Vistula River) where the Limanowa-Lapanow victory had left off, the Germans launched an offensive on May 2, 1915 (Keegan, 2000). This Gorlice-Tarnow offensive drove the Russians not only out of recently occupied Austrian Poland but also out of Warsaw and the rest of Russian Poland (which they had occupied for a century). The German thrust even cost the Russians four of their traditional frontier fortresses (including the soon-to-be-famous treaty town of Brest-Litovsk). Despite the dramatic impact of this event, the modern visitor driving through the center of Tarnow along the road between Craców and the fortress city of Przemsyl [featured in tomorrow's posting] sees no reminders of these major events.

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    Tarnow was in the northern sector of this battle whereas Gorlice was in the south.  This photo looks east at Tarnow in the general direction of the German advance.
    (Photo REW)

    Rodney Earl Walton

    Two studies of the Galicia campaigns of 1914 and 1915

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    Thursday, September 19, 2013

    Weapons of War: Not Big Bertha

    The really long one below is the 210mm "Paris Gun," a terror weapon impossible to aim precisely, which had a range of over 75 miles and was used to shell Paris in 1918. It is misidentified in countless works as "Big Bertha," and—in all fairness, was probably called by that name during the war.  The problem is that by its 1918 battlefield debut another interesting heavy artillery piece from the same manufacturer had already earned the appellation.  The insert shows it: the 420mm siege howitzer, nicknamed "Big Bertha" by the troops, when it was used to great effect in reducing forts, such as at Liege and Antwerp, early in the Great War. Both were designed and built at the Krupp Works in Essen, wholly owned during the war by Bertha Krupp, who inspired the nickname.

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    The two best books on super-sized weapons in the war.

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    Wednesday, September 18, 2013

    A.J.P. Taylor's "War by Railroad Timetables" Theory

    When I first started studying the First World War, there was no bigger name among living historians, especially those who focused on the events of 1914–1918, than A.J.P. Taylor.  At meetings I attended of the old Great War Society, his theory about railroad timetables contributing to the start of the war was much discussed, considered to be on the "cutting edge."  A "revisionist" historian (especially regarding the start of World War II) and staunch leftist, his reputation seems to have faded badly today, and I haven't heard any discussion of his timetable theory recently.  His death in 1990 roughly corresponded to the fall of communism. This may have contributed to a decline in interest in his ideas. However, I don't think Taylor's thinking about the start of the First World War should be neglected.  Below are selections from his 1969 work War by Timetable that I've patched together from my notes and the Internet outlining his thinking. To better appreciate his argument, though, you might want to read the original full work.

    War by Timetable

    The Austrian declaration of war on Serbia was pure theory; no action followed it. Now this gives the essential factor in the outbreak of the First World War. All the great powers, of whom there were five, or six counting Italy, had vast conscript armies. These armies of course were not maintained in peace time. They were brought together by mobilization. This factor had already counted before in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, but this time there was a further complication.

    All mobilization plans depended on railways. At that time the automobile was hardly used, certainly not as an instrument of mass transport, and railways demand time tables.  All the mobilization plans had been timed to the minute, months or even years before and they could not be changed. Modification in one direction would ruin them in every other direction. Any attempt for instance by the Austrians to mobilize against Serbia would mean that they could not then mobilize against Russian because two lots of trains would be running against each other. The same problem was to arise later for the Russians and in the end for the Germans who, having a plan to mobilize against France, could not switch round and mobilize again against Russia. Any alteration in the mobilization plan meant not a delay for 24 hours but for at least six months before the next lot of timetables were ready.

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    French Troops Heading for the Front

    The Austrians could not mobilize against Serbia because this would mean that they were defenseless against Russia so they did not mobilize at all.

    The Russians then thought they ought to stake out some claim to prove that they were going to support Serbia so the Tsar and his advisers contemplated mobilization by only against Austria and this was actually ordered. Then the Russian generals who knew about the timetables pointed out that if they began to mobilize against Austria, they would then be totally defenseless against Germany because they could not then mobilize against Germany. Partial mobilization was scrapped. The next day the Russian generals said 'But this is terrible. We have done nothing.. Right, we will have general mobilization.' They were still hesitating and the chief of the general staff himself said that this was rather pushing things beyond what they wanted. They had no idea of a war against Germany or even against Austria. They wanted a threat, not a real preparation for war. Mobilization was a mere gesture.

    The chief of the general staff rashly said in the Tsar's presence 'It is very hard to decide.' The tsar who was one of the most weak-willed men there had ever been, was roused by this and said 'I will decide: general mobilization.' He then, according to his diary , having made this decision, went out, found a pleasant warm day and went for a bathe in the sea. His diary does not mention mobilization.

    Now with Russia mobilizing, the problem moved to Germany and here again this was entirely a matter of timetables. It was said afterwards that mobilization meant war. Technically for most countries this was not true; it was merely a step towards war. Mobilization after all took place within the country. The Royal Navy had mobilized as late as 1911. Russia mobilized 1913. There were occasions when other powers had mobilized and because war did not take place the armies could be dispersed. With one country, however, this did not apply. The Germany general staff ever since the creation of a united Germany in 1871 under Bismarck had contemplated the possibility of war on two fronts: France on the one side, Russia on the other.

    It is the function of general staffs to plan for wars. Germany had two great neighbors, France on the one side, Russia on the other. Moreover in 1894, France and Russia made an alliance which was technically defensive in nature, that each would help the other if attacked. Thus Germany might have a two-front war. Successive German chiefs of general staff, Moltke, Schlieffen, the younger Moltke, all laid down 'Germany cannot fight two great wars at the same time.'

    As often happens with chiefs of the general staff, they were quite wrong. In 1914 Germany fought a two-front war and continued to fight it successfully until 1918. This was a false alarm but it was an alarm which absolutely dictated their policy. If you are faced with war on two fronts and have not got the resources to conduct both wars, what should you do? By definition you cannot eliminate one of the dangers by diplomacy because if you did there would not be a two-front war, in fact there would not be a war at all. You must assume that diplomacy has failed.

    The German answer was to get in one blow first and so decisively that they would have eliminated one enemy. At first they thought of doing it against Russia, then decided that that was too difficult. Russia was too big; the German army would go rambling into far remote places. The other answer therefore was to eliminated France. Ever since they began planning this the idea had been 'We must beat France first.' But France had a strongly fortified frontier. After about 1890 the Germans decided they could not rush this frontier in the way that they had rushed it in 1870. A way round must be found and it must be through Belgium. The Germans arrived at this conclusion as early as 1893 although it took a long time before the full plan was developed. Its most detailed form was laid down in 1905.

    Two works by Professor Taylor recommended for your World War I library.

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    One essential part of this plan was to go through Belgium. The other essential part which was equally important was that there could be no delay between mobilization and war because if there were delay then Russia would catch up and the Germans would get the two-front war after all. So the moment that the Germans decided on mobilization, they decided for war, or rather the war followed of itself. The railway timetables which in other countries brought men to their mobilizing centers, in the Schlieffen Plan continued and brought the troops not to the their barracks, but into Belgium and Northern France. The German mobilization plan actually laid down the first 40 days of the Germans invasion of France and none of it could be altered because if it did all the timetables would go wrong. Thus the decision for mobilization which the German general staff made and which Bethmann endorsed on 29 July was a decision for a general European war.

    There was no deeper consideration in the background. Nothing was weighed except the technical point: if Russia mobilizes we must go to war. Serbia and Austria-Hungary were forgotten. The Germans declared war on Russia simply because Russia had mobilized.  The Germans were very stuck over France; they had no conceivable grievance against France. They demanded that France should promise neutrality, to which the French prime minister merely replied 'France will consult her own interests.' The Germans then invented an allegation that Nuremberg had been bombed by French plane. This was untrue. Whether there had ever been bombing I am not clear. It may be that a German plane had dropped bombs, but who did what did not matter; the thing was to get the war going. Thus the war came about mainly because of railway timetables.

    There was one further and in the long run perhaps the most dramatic and decisive consequence. The continental powers were at war; Great Britain was not. The whole trend of British policy or certainly the desire of the British people had been to stay out or war.  The Liberal government asserted that Great Britain had given no pledges. In secret the British had already arranged a railway timetable to take the British army to the left flank of the French army but this had been concealed from the British public. Assertions were made constantly by the prime minister and by the foreign secretary that no commitment had been made which would limit the freedom of Parliament and the British people to decide.

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    German Troop Train Departing for the Front

    Now this was very awkward because the French had been told over and over again 'Yes, yes, we shall stand by you if you are threatened by Germany' and the cabinet was divided. It looked as if the Liberal government would break up, perhaps the Conservatives would take over, there would be even more controversy than there had been during the Boer War, more than there had been during the revolutionary wars against France. Then came the news that the Germans had demanded the right to through Belgium.  It is often said that this had been known for a long time beforehand. That the Germans had such military plans was indeed known, but the diplomatic consequences were not realized. Indeed Bethmann Hollweg himself, the German Chancellor, had no idea until 29 July that he would be setting his name to a demand that the Germans should go through Belgium.  British Liberal ministers later on claimed that they had hung back and said 'Don't worry' because they knew Belgium would solve the problem. However it came as a complete surprise to most people and produced a tremendous reaction. Great Britain it seemed went to war, not in order to play a part in the balance of power, not in order to aid France or to destroy Germany as an imperial rival or to destroy the German navy. Great Britain went to war, in the phrase used from the very first, 'to fulfil her obligations to Belgium and in defense of the rights of small nations'. This did the trick in the House of Commons. It did the trick with the British public opinion. In a sense it has done the trick with people ever since.

    Very few people looked at the Treaty of 1839 which established Belgium as a neutral country. The guarantor countries were given by this treaty the right to intervene in order to defend the neutrality of Belgium. There was no obligation laid on them to do so. I am not saying for a moment that there was no obligation of a moral kind. Belgium was a small country and it was very wrongfully invaded, just as for instance in 1916 France and Great Britain invaded Greece in exactly the same way, though with less fighting than when the Germans invaded Belgium, but the treaty obligation was something invented for the sake of public opinion.

    Tuesday, September 17, 2013

    The Great War and Modernism Series
    The New Death: American Modernism and World War 1
    Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

    The New Death: American Modernism and World War 1

    By Pearl James
    Published by University of Virginia Press, 2013

    The final summer and fall of World War One witnessed a faster rate of death among American soldiers than during any other period of American history. After the war, Americans were preoccupied with death as never before; its sheer physical horror gradually resulted in their talking and thinking about death with an unprecedented intensity. The naked intimacy with the fact of death necessitated a new term, the New Death, which was first used by the popular religious writer Winifred Kirkland in 1918.

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    American Dead Awaiting Burial After Battle of Cantigny, May 1918

    Each of the countries whose soldiers fought in the war had to decide how best to deal with the men who died, and although the number of Americans killed in action was significantly less than those of most of the other nations, in many ways the problems were more difficult. The precedent of grand Civil War cemeteries, the government's promise to bring home all American soldiers killed on foreign soil, and the great distance to the European battlefields combined to make the task particularly difficult.

    Building on Kirkland's The New Death (1918), James's study identifies modern, mechanized, mass death as one of the major preoccupations of American "modernist" writing, disrupting as it did people's ability to prepare for, witness, and ritualize death in the traditional manner of deathbed attendance, funerals, and burials. Soldiers died a long way from home and often instantly. The New Death: American Modernism and World War 1 explores how in the aftermath of World War One novels considered modernist reveal, re-figure, or omit the violent death of young men.

    James shows how Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner responded to the New Death by writing with melancholy about damaged men and mechanized violence; these writers' plots are traumatic — violence constantly recurs, often without apparent effect, and it is often sanitized. New notions of masculinity arose, which limited the means available to male characters to express themselves. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner struggled to depict wounded bodies and psyches in ways that would satisfy their editors' demands for realism and marketability. This is perhaps why, suggests James, that in A Farewell to Arms (1929) and The Great Gatsby (1925), female bodies suffer more elaborately than male ones. Some horrors were "unspeakable" and were omitted. This is very noticeable in Cather's and Hemingway's novels. The New Death: American Modernism and World War 1 explores how injury is "disguised, evoked, sanitized, and regendered in modernist writing" (p. 25). The book discusses in detail some of the taboos about representing male wounds and death. In Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, for example, James argues that although Frederic Henry is wounded and killed, the primary act of violence in the novel is Catherine's caesarean section; her body is the site of the novel's most damaging, wasteful, and shameful wound.

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    The conclusion suggests an intriguing connection between American representations of the New Death in modernist literature and another literature of violence, the increasingly popular genre of crime fiction, particularly in the representation of the soldier-turned-gangster. According to James, new crime novels "recall, in both inexact and gruesome ways, the unfinished business of New Death" (p. 206).

    While its focus is on literature, New Death. American Modernism and World War 1 is also accessible to general readers who are familiar with the works of Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. Written in a refreshingly approachable language and illustrated with numerous examples from these works, James's study offers a new view of how World War One changed the cultural meaning of death and how this meaning continues to be dealt with in popular novels today.

    As you will find as you read Pearl James's book, she also introduces her readers to the notion of modernism in a most palatable way. This concept will be explored and explained in greater detail in my coming reviews that address the connection between modernism and World War One.

    Jane Mattisson