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Monday, February 13, 2012

The General Who Saved France

Soon after General Pershing landed in France in 1917 he visited the tomb of Marquis de Lafayette. The Marquis had bravely fought in the War of Independence.  Pershing was accompanied by Colonel Stanton, who declared: “Lafayette, we are here!” Lafayette had helped America.  Now Pershing would save France.

When the general arrived France was in a desperate state.  The Germans were even close to invading Paris. Morale was low.  The French soldiers even mutinied against one of their generals.  The Allies were losing hundreds and even thousands of men over tiny amounts of land.  General Pershing found that he had to change the entire war strategy and fight against the British demands that the Americans should be under their control.  Even King George V visited Pershing to persuade him to place American soldiers over to standing armies already in the field.  He not only had to do this.  He practically had to build a suitable army from scratch.  The American soldiers were poorly trained and slip-shod, at first.  Pershing told MacArthur that: “We old First Captains, Douglas, must never flinch.”  He never did.

It’s a great pity that in spite of this wonderful achievement (and many other successes) hardly any Americans have heard of General Pershing.  Not many Australians have heard of him either.  Perry thinks that this is probably because Pershing was highly critical and disliked by many of his men.  He was regarded as a martinet by most of them.

Perry has done an excellent job of restoring Pershing’s reputation while pointing out his faults.  He has written a sympathetic biography which makes Pershing’s actions understandable.  He also tells the story of the terrible tragedy at the heart of the general’s life and the story of his other love affairs.

I find reading about war strategy a bit difficult, but Perry explained Pershing’s plans and actions simply and clearly.

This is a highly praiseworthy addition to this extremely interesting series.  As Stephen Mansfield, the editor of the series writes in the introduction, the generals “offer us lessons of manhood in an age of androgyny, of courage in an age of terror, of prescience in an age of myopia, and of self-mastery in an age of sloth.”

NB:  I reviewed this book as part of the Book  Sneeze program.  I have not received any inducement to write a favoreable review.  The review expresses my own opinion.