Armistice Day

An American study of WWI on Western Front, using French sources and placing the French Army in the center of the narrative, appeared in 2005: Pyrrhic Victory by BG Robert A. Doughty. For 20 years, Doughty was the head of West Point's history department and it's a loss for us that he did not study and publish ACW work (although he does appear in a compilation with Mark Grimsley). This marvelously analytical weaving together of doctrine, strategy, and operations is a page-turner that brings clarity to the chaotic disorder we associate with the war in France.

It followed by four years the adventurously revisionist John Mosier's Myth of the Great War, which colored its arguments in gaudy polemic. Mosier viewed the British and French as tactical imbeciles outclassed by their German counterparts, who consistently used less to accomplish more. This part of his treatise causes the most offense, as you'd expect, and is less interesting than his deep analysis showing the overwhelming quantitative and qualitative superiority of the Central Powers' artillery on the Western Front. For Mosier, America's arrival on the field is absolutely decisive, as was Pershing's obstinate commitment to his doctrine of "Open Warfare."

In The AEF Way of War, Mark Ethan Grotelueschen takes Pershing's "Open Warfare" doctrine as his starting point, then charts how division commanders either followed Pershing to ruin or creatively made their own private doctrines to cope with war fighting in France. Very analytical, very simple, consistently interesting. The same author also has published a revisionist artillery study of the AEF. Grotelueschen teaches history at the USAF Academy.

Collapse at the Meuse Argonne traces "The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division" (as the subtitle says) in 1918. It's an extensive treatment of a signal American failure on the Western Front that steers clear of doctrine or strategy but focuses on lack of training, lack of leadership, lack of organization, and supply shortages that will surprise readers new to AEF history. Pershing comes off poorly here.

If we broaden the day's readings beyond WWI, let me recommend the arresting works of Jonathan Shay, one of those many literary M.D.s. He wrote two books that present - this sounds far fetched - Homer's epic poems as explorations of PTSD. Moving and convincing, this is the best introduction to "shell shock" I know of and it helped me understand a few odd quirks of my own post-military behavior.

For physical shock - what it means to be wounded and to recover - Nick Popaditch's Once a Marine (written with Mike Steere) has garnered 13 five-star reviews out of 14 votes cast at Amazon.

For a completely unexpected and unpredictable reading experience, I suggest a free electronic government publication called The Gulag Study, a compilation of sightings of U.S. servicemen in Soviet concentration camps. The cumulative effect on the reader of each fragment presented builds slowly and is hard to describe.

By the same token, if you want to know what all those black MIA flags represent to the flags' fliers, have at An Enormous Crime: The Definitive Account of American POWs Abandoned in Southeast Asia by Hendon and Stewart. It runs to 487 pages of text with 74 pages of notes.

A final recommendation: should you want to explore the rhetoric that leads men to risk all, see Richard F. Miller's new In Word and Deeds: Battle Speeches in History. He presents a systematic approach to classifying and analyzing this form of speech that establishes a new paradigm. You'll note the many Civil War speeches here but will see few from WWI.