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New Scholarship on World War I, 2000–2014: U.S. Entry & Participation

By Frederic Krome

U.S. Entry & Participation

In a 2012 lecture at Southern Methodist University, WWI and the Aftermath (available on YouTube), military historian Robert Citino argues that there are two questions about U.S. participation in World War I that dominate the historiography: Why did the United States enter World War I after three years of neutrality?  And what was the U.S. contribution to the Allied war effort?

In addition to the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917, conventional wisdom asserts that the revelation of the Zimmerman telegram (January 1917), in which the German Foreign Ministry tried to enlist Mexico into the Central Powers, was the major factor in bringing about U.S. entry.  Thomas Boghardt’s The Zimmerman Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy, and America’s Entry into World War I provides a fresh look at the conventional wisdom by examining the German archives for the genesis of the telegram and then the actual American response, in which the impact of the Zimmerman telegram is revealed to be less significant than previously thought.

It is often forgotten that in 1917, the closet European ally of the United States was France.  In A Fraternity of Arms: America and France in the Great War, Robert B. Bruce focuses on this relationship by examining such issues as the image of France in the United States during the war and the romantic notions that inspired thousands of Americans to join the French military effort prior to April 1917.  When the United States entered the war, it had not fought a war with a mass army in over fifty years.  When the First Infantry Division was created in the summer of 1917 to serve as the spearhead of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), it was the French Army that played a major role in its combat training.  James Scott Wheeler, The Big Red One: America’s Legendary 1st Infantry Division from World War I to Desert Storm, reveals the administrative and operational dilemmas faced by the nascent AEF as it was organized, shipped to France, and then sent into battle.  Wheeler reveals what long-term impact World War I had on American tactical doctrine, and how some of the iconic figures in U.S military history (such as George C. Marshal) learned their trade.  Marl Ethan Grotelueschen, in The AEF Way of War: The American Army and Combat in World War I, provides a more detailed analysis of the evolution of operational concepts and their tactical implementation during the eighteen months the United States actively participated in combat operations.

Works Cited