- The AEF Way of War: The American Army and Combat in World War I
This is the first comprehensive work on the American Army in World War I since "Mac" Coffman's The War to End All Wars. It is focused on doctrine and doctrinal developments and deviations, something of a new trend in writing about World War I, and nicely explained by the author in his introduction. The base message is that the U.S. Army entered World War I intellectually unprepared. The most prominent evidence of this unpreparedness was the flaccid doctrine that had failed to keep pace with the "reality" of the war in Europe. The source materials employed are what one should expect in such an undertaking, but the author has mined an extensive collection of primary sources as well.
In light of the furor over a former Secretary of Defense's remark that "you go to war with the Army you have," it bears repeating that the U.S. Army had no expectation that it would become engaged in active hostilities in France anymore than it had in Manchuria or South Africa or the Balkans, all savage wars in their own context, none exerting any appreciable effect upon the American Army. The bulk of the U.S. Army not deployed to distant stations was gathered on the Southern Border engaged in operations not stylistically different from the campaigns of the Indian wars. The President and the Congress put paid to any glamorous notions the professionals may have had through penurious fiscal policies toward the Army. That the War Department was able to find enough funds to translate, reprint, and disseminate doctrinal material from British and French armies on a periodic basis was about as much the U.S. government was willing to afford.
As one must always expect, there is an early discussion of what Pershing's concept of "open warfare" meant and the author does a nice job of tying that concept to the infantry-centricity of American doctrinal thinking. He is properly critical of initial infantry training and of the deadening hand of stale doctrine in retarding the march of progress toward that end. That is followed by an excellent job of tying the eventual success of the infantry to the intelligent direction and use of adequate quantities of artillery eventually integrated with the capabilities of the air arm and when available, tanks.
The bulk of this book concentrates on four divisional case studies and it is the reviewer's opinion that the four selected were likely the best candidates. Let us be honest, one cannot discuss the AEF without dealing with the 1st Division. The choices of the 26th, and 2nd are fairly obvious, but the 77th is one division that has always intrigued me and I was personally delighted to see it as one of the case studies.
As a World War I scholar and doctrine reviewer, I find this to be an invaluable work that goes some distance toward explaining both the behavior and performance of the American Expeditionary Forces as well as the business of doctrine as it continues to develop in the American Army today. Pricey, yes. Worth it, yes, if you are an American military historian. The general [End Page 1260] reading public may balk at the price, but every military historian should be at least familiar with it.