Until the Last Trumpet Sounds: The Life of General of the Armies John J. Pershing

Gene A. Smith, Author, Brenda Smith, Author John Wiley & Sons $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-471-24693-0
Best known for When the Cheering Stopped: The Last Years of Woodrow Wilson, Smith has a solid and well-deserved reputation as a writer of popular biography. Here, he reprises the WWI period with a more challenging subject. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force during WWI, is familiar as a stern, remote figure whose insistence on rifle marksmanship in an age of firepower cost American lives; whose insistence on maintaining an independent American army came close to costing the war; and whose ineffectiveness in high command had him on the brink of being relieved when the Armistice was signed. Without modifying those interpretations, Smith uses personal correspondence and the general's uncompleted memoirs to construct a kinder, gentler Pershing. In sometimes overblown prose, Smith describes the cadet at West Point, the lieutenant on a rapidly vanishing frontier and the ROTC instructor at the University of Nebraska. In each situation, Pershing emerges as able to synthesize a masterful performance of duty with an understanding of people, lifting him above the level of a gifted martinet to that of a capable field commander and talented proconsul. But the 1915 death of his wife and three of their four children in a fire left Pershing irrevocably changed. And it is here that Smith's biography falls short, by failing to address the rationales behind Pershing's behavior as head of the American Expeditionary Force, a position in which he demonstrated little of the humanity apparent in his earlier career. Donald Smythe's Pershing: General of the Armies is a more thorough guide to the general's ways and means, but Smith's book offers a worthy introduction to this complex man. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/13/1998
Release date: 04/01/1998
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