The American Army in France, 1917-1919

by Major General James G. Harbord
[Little, Brown, $5.00]
GENERAL HARBORD’S volume deals with pretty much the whole field traversed by the A. E. F. Beginning with the appointment of General Pershing, it carries the story through to the return of the American divisions in 1019, and touches on almost every aspect of that vast operation which the author happily terms ‘the greatest round-trip that mankind has ever undertaken.’ The book is in part a memoir — a recollection of personal experiences or a record of the wide range of things in which the author took part at first hand. It offers a survey of the rest of the field, with occasional discussions of more or less controversial points which have come forward in the publication of post-war memoirs. The criticisms of the War Department in the Pershing memoirs brought lively replies in General March’s book and in Colonel Palmer’s life of Secretary Baker; in these matters General Harbord now speaks forth vigorously on General Pershing’s side. We still have but. fragmentary evidence on the general question, but the author’s comments bring out strikingly the sharp antagonism that prevailed at times between the Department and the Command in France.
What comes under the general head of Memoir is perhaps the most interesting part of the book, and at times one wishes it had a more directlypersonal approach. The author was Chief of Staff to General Pershing for more than a year; he commanded troops at the front during the liveliest moment, in the summer of 1918; he was then put to the vast task of straightening out the tangle in the S.O.S. at a most critical period; and after the Armistice he was called again to Headquarters as Chief of Staff. As a last task abroad, he was sent on a mission to ‘Constantinople, Batum, and other places in Armenia, Transcaucasus, and Syria’ — with instructions ‘to investigate and report upon political, military, geographical, administrative, economic, and other considerations involved in possible American interests and responsibilities in that region.’ This was a large order, and one vividly recalling a onetime attitude of the American mind that can hardly be conceived to-day— those who remember it will regret that the Armenian mission has been omitted from the present volume.
Apart from the variety and the importance of his own work, General Harbord has the peculiar advantage of having seen the A. E. F. grow up by slow degrees from the smallest beginnings, and of having been an inside observer from the very first. He was present not only at Soissons and the Victory Parade, but also at the rue Constantine, at 73 rue de Varennes, and at Chaumont from the earliest days of moving in, when the American Army in France was still a most conjectural hypothesis. All this gives his book a certain quality of perspective such as could never emerge from official records, and which may too easily be lost by later historians.