[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Folse on Lamay Licursi, 'Remembering World War I in America'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Fri Oct 19 11:15:26 MDT 2018



Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: October 19, 2018 at 8:40:11 AM EDT
> To: H-REVIEW at LISTS.H-NET.ORG
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]:  Folse on Lamay Licursi, 'Remembering World War I in America'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> 
> Kimberly J. Lamay Licursi.  Remembering World War I in America.
> Studies in War, Society, and the Military Series. Lincoln  University
> of Nebraska Press, 2018.  294 pp.  $55.00 (cloth), ISBN
> 978-0-8032-9085-3.
> 
> Reviewed by Mark Folse (University of Alabama)
> Published on H-War (October, 2018)
> Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
> 
> Kimberly J. Lamay Licursi's Remembering World War I in America is a
> welcome addition to the growing scholarship on memory of the Great
> War. She joins the ranks of Steven Trout's On the Battlefield of
> Memory_: The First World War and American Remembrance, 1919-1941
> _(2010) and Lisa Budreau's Bodies of War: World War I and the
> Politics of Commemoration in America, 1919-1933 (2010) in
> illuminating why World War I failed to elicit a consistent and
> unified memory within popular American culture the way the Civil War
> and World War II did. Based on her examination of state war
> histories, combat memoirs, war novels, and motion pictures, Licursi
> argues that the collective memory of World War I suffered from
> Americans' conflicting understandings of the war's larger meaning.
> Most Americans, she asserts, either saw the war as a patriotic
> crusade or a tragic waste of men and resources. This failure to agree
> on the war's legacy, mixed with a strong undercurrent of apathy,
> precluded the formation of a consistent memory in popular culture in
> the 1920s and beyond. Instead of commemorating the veterans'
> sacrifices in the Great War, Americans chose instead to simply put
> the war behind them.
> 
> Efforts from state governments to produce comprehensive war histories
> usually resulted in one of several outcomes that ranged from projects
> never getting off the ground to those that fell short of their aims.
> Based on research from the state archives in New York, Virginia, and
> Kansas, Licursi asserts that some communities never put much effort
> into their projects. Researchers encountered people, including
> veterans themselves, who took umbrage at government-led efforts to
> commemorate the war in the first place. Many people did not cooperate
> and either ignored or chose not to provide information. Numerous
> communities published some sort of commemorative volume but very few
> could gather enough information from local veterans and their
> families to create comprehensive lists of those who served. She
> concludes that apathy is the culprit here. "The experiences in New
> York, Virginia, and Kansas," Licursi argues, "establish a pattern of
> behavior that demonstrates a pervasive apathy, if not disdain, for
> war remembrance in postwar America" (p. 5).
> 
> In her chapter on war memoirs, Licursi contends that even though
> veterans of the Great War published hundreds of books about their
> experiences, the public largely ignored their work. Despite often
> being compelling and well-written works, many veterans' war memoirs
> became victims of postwar Americans' disinterestedness. Albertus
> Catlin's _With the Help of God and Few Marines_ (1919) and Hervey
> Allen's _Toward the Flame_ (1926) received good reviews but sales for
> both were very low compared to other more popular genres, such as
> Western novels. The literature itself, however, reflected many
> Americans' views of the war in that most memoirs were saturated with
> themes of patriotism and glory or unnecessary slaughter. For example,
> Catlin had a much more positive view of the war than Allen who is
> associated with being anti-war. Bereft of any consensus,
> "Biographical war writing was simply not engaged with on any level by
> most Americans during the interwar years" (p. 90). Within a
> generation, the voices of America's Great War veterans would be
> drowned out by a new, larger war.
> 
> This discord over the war's meaning pervaded war-related fiction as
> well. The war either "wrecked an entire generation of American youth
> or made them stronger as they passed through its trials" (p. 146).
> Booth Tarkington's _Ramsey Milholland_ (1919) and Ernest Hemingway's
> _A Farewell to Arms _(1929) tended to romanticize the war in varying
> degrees. Willa Cather's _One of Ours _(1922), whose protagonist found
> courage, confidence, and even redemption in battle, won the Pulitzer
> Prize in 1923. Other books, such as John Dos Passos's _Three Soldiers
> _(1921), Thomas Boyd's _Through the Wheat _(1923), and William
> March's _Company K_ (1933), were devoid of romanticism and
> glorification of war. Battle and killing had no rejuvenating effects
> for American youth, according to these authors. On the contrary, war
> brutalized and dehumanized them. Licursi argues that the relatively
> weak sales of _all_ these books around their release further reveals
> the apathetic attitudes people had toward the war. Rather than argue
> over its meaning, "Americans were content to agree to disagree about
> the war and put the whole affair behind them," Licursi concludes (p.
> 146).
> 
> Motion pictures probably had the most potential to instill a
> consistent and popular collective memory of the Great War, but they
> also failed in this regard. Licursi analyzes the top-grossing movies
> (based on ticket sales) of the interwar period, such as _Sergeant
> York _(1941), _What Price Glory_ (1926), and _The Four Horsemen of
> the Apocalypse_ (1921). Unlike war-related fiction or combat memoirs,
> which often came across as either anti-war _or_ overly romantic,
> movies about the Great War veered into both realms. In movies one
> could find scenes of tragedy, death, and destruction while also
> seeing more wholesome elements of patriotism, comedic relief, and
> friendship. As a result, audiences could find themes in movies that
> validated their point of view. Hollywood tried to appeal to as many
> viewers as possible. "This is probably why ... the message about war
> in many films was malleable," Licursi suggests. "War could be
> presented as patriotic, adventurous, and tragic all at the same time"
> (p. 149). The dichotomous nature of these films, however, attenuated
> their ability to foster a collective understanding and memory of the
> war in American minds. The opposing views on the war remained
> unreconciled.
> 
> There are a few points of contention that bear mentioning. A book
> about war and memory should be more exact regarding
> military/historical information, but Licursi's handling of the basic
> military command structure is clumsy at times. For example, she
> claims that Colonel Albertus Catlin was the commanding officer at
> Belleau Wood, when, in fact, it was Army Brigadier General James G.
> Harbord (p. 60). Then, it appears she confuses two separate branches
> of service. To support her claim that the US Army loved King Vidor's
> _The Big Parade_ (1925), Licursi provides a quotation from a 1974
> issue of the _New York Times _that reads "the marines 'had more
> recruits after that picture than they'd had since World War I'" (p.
> 160). How marine recruiting proves the army liked the movie is not
> clear to me. These instances are sloppy but minor and do not detract
> from the greater value of the book, however.
> 
> Licursi succeeds in recounting why the Great War failed to garner the
> commemorative efforts and the cohesion of popular memory that exists
> in other larger American wars. But, more than that, and this is the
> book's greatest value, she uncovers a glimpse of how Americans _felt
> _about the war. It is important to remember that Americans were never
> of one mind about fighting the Germans in 1917. Popular opinion swung
> incrementally toward war with the sinking of the _Lusitania_ and the
> Zimmerman Telegram. By war's declaration, George Creel's Committee of
> Public Information whipped up even more popular support for the
> conflict. But there remained a significant portion of the population
> that believed war to be tragic and wasteful. These Americans balked
> at pro-war claims that war would rejuvenate American manhood, arguing
> instead the opposite view. Licursi demonstrates how, after the
> armistice, public opinion about the war swung back their direction.
> Her analysis of state histories, memoirs, and fiction reveals the
> effects of this swing.
> 
> Licursi adds not only to the growing scholarship of World War I
> memory but also to larger works on the war itself and the Progressive
> Era, such as David M. Kennedy's _Over Here: The First World War and
> American Society _(1980), Robert H. Zieger's _America's Great War:
> World War I and the American Experience _(2000), Jackson Lears's
> _Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920
> _(2009), and Michael McGerr's _A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall
> of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 _(2003). Licursi
> demonstrates that the Americans written about in these books, both
> veterans and civilians, many of whom were swept up by the
> Progressives' appeals to national honor and promises of the
> rejuvenating powers of war, became disenchanted about a conflict that
> did not live up to its description as a crusade. This is reason
> enough for scholars interested in the impact of the Great War on
> American history to become familiar with this book.
> 
> Citation: Mark Folse. Review of Lamay Licursi, Kimberly J.,
> _Remembering World War I in America_. H-War, H-Net Reviews. October,
> 2018.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51727
> 
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> 
> --



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