Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My Amazon Review of Michael S. Neiberg's "The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America"

Over There

Military historian Michael Neiberg history of America’s entry into World War I is the mirror image of Michael Kazin’s “The War Against War…” Where Kazin looks America’s entry from the point of view of the anti-war coalition, Neiberg tracks the views of the broad American public and the war proponents, especially former President Theodore Roosevelt who was incensed by Woodrow Wilson’s initial “Too proud to fight” slogan.  He notes that the American public was sympathetic to the Allies from the get go, but he doesn’t really explain why the neutrality sentiment was so strong and why it took so long for the public’s sympathy for the Allies to be realized.  

But when America entered the war the public went all-in and he notes how quickly George M. Cohan’s “Over There” became such a national hit. However to get the public it would take the German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Zimmermann Telegram and the abdication of the Russian Czar in the early months of 1917 to enter a war that was in the broad strategic interests of the United States.

Neiberg discusses how elite America with their Anglophile sympathies were especially important in bringing America into the war. Unlike today it was the Ivy League college students who were the most hawkish and many volunteered to fight for England and France before America’s formal entry into the war. Many of them would become disillusioned in the 1920's.

Where Neiberg is especially good is his deep sourcing on the changing attitudes of the hyphenated Americans. He discusses how German-Americans, Italian- Americans, Irish Americans, Jewish-Americans and African-Americans moved from initial ambivalence to full throated support for the war. In essence those groups identified more as Americans than their ancestry.  As a result the stature of the four White groups was much improved after the war ended. However African-Americans faced the revival of the Klan in the 1920’s.

Unfortunately Neiberg leaves out the role of the large banks, the munitions suppliers and British propaganda in pushing America towards war. Further his title over promises. He doesn’t say much about how the war created modern America. For insight into that I would recommend Adam Tooze’s “The Deluge…..” Thus for me it is hard to get too excited about the book.

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