- from 'the War Illustrated' 1st December, 1917
- 'Growth and Grit of the U.S. Army'
- Our Famous War Correspondent, at present in U.S.A.
the Way a Peaceful Nation is Responding to the Great Call
the build-up of the US Army - pages from 'Leslie's'
I do not suppose there is any danger of the American people becoming militarists, but they are certainly learning to take far more interest in military spectacles than they ever did before.
It is true that before, they came into the war they scarcely ever had a military spectacle to take an interest in. Their Army was a very small one. Their Militia, also small, was not taken with much seriousness. In the last few weeks that is, since September came in American cities have seen more soldiers than have marched through them in the whole course of American history.
The Regular Army, brought up to its full strength of 300,000, and the National Guard, transformed from State Militia regiments into regiments of the line, and numbering 400,000, these alone provide the United States with nearly three-quarters of a million soldiers. The men are not yet fully trained, but they are soldiers. They wear uniform. They have begun to see that discipline matters. Some of them are in France already. Others are still in the training camps in this country. All will be fit to take the field by early spring.
Contrast in Characteristics
These are a fine lot of young men. I have seen the best French, British, Russian, Italian, and Rumanian troops under war conditions. The Americans I have only seen as yet in the stage of preparation. But, in my judgment, these men of the National Guard and the Regular Army will compare very well indeed with the armed men of their Allies.
It is still an open question which makes the better soldier the peasant, whose intelligence has not been cultivated, or the man whose faculties have been developed by education. I have known Russian soldiers go forward to meet odds which would have daunted any troops capable of understanding how heavy they were. But, on the other hand, the Russian is dependent upon being capably led. Give him poor leading or kill his officers, and he is as a sheep without a shepherd.
The French troops were those who had their intelligence quickened to the highest degree, so far as my experience goes, before the Americans joined us. The British soldier is distinguished by a quality which is, I think, even more useful than intelligence. This quality is best expressed by the clumsy but useful compound "don't-care-a-damn-ativeness." It is not bravado ; it is not careless, foolish courage. It is partly humour, partly fatalism, partly absence of nerves in the troublesome sense. It is a quality peculiar to men who have never set too high a store by comfort; never taken life too seriously, who are capable of feeling deeply, but who have never thought a great deal.
The Americans, it seems to me, will be noted for a combination of the French and the British soldiers characteristics. I am speaking now, it must be understood, of the men whom I have seen and studied as soldiers. What the draft armies will be like we cannot yet tell. The men who compose them have only been seen as yet in their civilian clothes. They have not yet learned the rudiments of soldiering. There is no reason why they should not be licked into shape I feel sure they will be but I fancy the process will be more difficult than that of making soldiers out of the Regular Army and the National Guard recruits.
Here is one reason which makes me believe this. The Regular Army and the National Guard contain few men who are not of American birth. The draft armies arc largely composed of men whose names and speech and habits betray their recent arrival from foreign parts.
Confusion of Tongues
Many of them do not understand the English language. In one big camp I know the one on Long Island, near New York a staff of interpreters is employed to keep up communication between the officers and a large number of the men. Even the interpreters were puzzled the other morning by a certain conscript named Ali Yolef.
One after another they tried to talk with him. The blank expression on their faces when he poured out a flood of eloquence in reply to their questions showed plainly that they were baffled. Some humorist suggested that Professor Garner should be fetched. Professor Garner is the man who claimed to have learned how monkeys talk.
At last came forward a private named Morris Moucatel. He said he was a native of the Near East. He talked fluently in Greek, Italian, French, and certain dialects of the Bedouin Arab tribes. He was able to speak with Ali in one of these dialects, but then arose another difficulty. Morris had not enough English to explain in that language what Ali was saying. He had to make this explanation to an Italian interpreter in Italian, and the interpreter turned it into English for the benefit of Ali's company officer.
I looked over a list of the men drafted for service in one of the districts of New York and found that three-quarters of the names were foreign. I examined the names of the cadets who passed out of West Point Military College a few weeks ago, and received commissions in the Army, and I found that the foreign ones among them were very few. That was an instructive comparison. The American rank and file may be largely of alien extraction. The officers will be almost entirely of British stock.
They have a quiet, businesslike air about them these American officers, an absence of self- consciousness which makes them very like British officers. I think they are keener on their jobs than our men, or perhaps it is only that they are not haunted by the fear of showing their keenness and being guilty of bad form. The men, too, are ready and even eager to learn. They did not at first altogether like their camp quarters under canvas. The nights got cold, and they shivered. They complained that there was nothing to do after dark. But in the winter camps, which consist entirely of huts, the men will be kept warm and the Y.M.C.A. will provide them with reading-rooms and entertainments. Already in one New England camp arrangements have been made to send companies from the Boston theatres to give performances on Sunday evenings.
Some of the new soldiers come from remote parts of the country, and are astonished at the comforts and conveniences which they find in their barrack quarters. A conscript from the State of Maine had his first ride in a railway train when he joined up. He had never been in a motor-car, nor seen electric light, nor been to a moving-picture show. Yet men like that are not of necessity unintelligent. They have been to school. They have probably had some, at all events, of their faculties sharpened by their work. I would sooner have such men to make soldiers of than townsmen who might be. quicker-witted, but whose nerves would likely not compare for steadiness with those of the country-bred boy.
This young man from the back blocks of Maine was bewildered by the sights and sounds of Boston; and no wonder. The city turned out and gave its first batch of recruits a farewell they will remember all their lives. No great demonstration was even expected. The authorities were taken by surprise. Traffic was stopped not only in the streets but on the railway lines running into the station whence the troops departed.
Short Way with "C.O.'s"
Some said that the first few parades would cause excitement, and that people would tire of them and let them pass without turning their heads. That has not been proved a correct forecast. In New York there are parades now every other day almost, and the interest in them grows instead of decreasing.
I was amused one day to see a conscientious objector and to compare the way in which he was treated, and the way in which he maintained his objection with the methods prevailing at home. He was lifted into a railway carriage, quite good-naturedly, not roughly, and he sat, on the floor clutching a New Testament to his breast, contented apparently with the protest he had made, and ready to do what he was told so long as a show of violence was offered to make him do it.
The Americans would take a quick way, I think, with any "objector" who gave real trouble. They have settled the "soap-box" orators who preached pacifism at street-corners, and several who know their fellow-countrymen well have told me that as soon as American casualty lists begin to arrive there will be short work made of anybody even suspected of being pro-German or of not wholeheartedly hoping and working for victory.
There is no doubt about the United States being in the war with all its heart and with all its soul and with all its strength. I have been travelling about the country and find the same spirit, everywhere. It is a spirit which becomes more warlike and determined every day.
the build-up of the US Army - pages from 'Leslie's'
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