The Last Days of Innocence:: America at War, 1917-1918

Meirion Harries, Author, Susie Harries, With Random House (NY) $32.5 (592p) ISBN 978-0-679-41863-4
The Harrieses (Soldiers of the Sun) combine anecdote, narrative and analysis in this well-written account of the U.S. experience in the Great War. They effectively use French reports to illustrate the operational strengths and weaknesses of an American fighting force that was far more a product of improvisation than its WWII successor. The authors highlight race and gender issues as well, stressing the social and military consequences of anti-black hostility while affirming the war's positive effect on women's emancipation. The Harrieses insist that the war interrupted and distorted processes of domestic reform and national integration in the wake of massive immigration. Power became centralized; the country surrendered to repression and conformity; emotions evoked against the ""Hun"" were turned inward, against minorities, immigrants and dissenters. This argument lacks nuance, however. The rhetoric of propagandists is conflated with actual behavior, and particular excesses are presented as normative behavior. The Harrieses also seem to contradict themselves by depicting these processes as consequences of the war, after having taken pains to demonstrate that the U.S. was anything but an ""innocent"" society before 1917. Indeed, the book makes a strong, albeit unintentional, case that homogenization as an alternative to multiculturalism was accelerated rather than generated by American involvement in WWI. Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/03/1997
Release date: 03/01/1997
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Paperback - 592 pages - 978-0-679-74376-7
Hardcover - 978-0-517-36981-4
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