To The Homeward Bound Americans
By B. Van Vorst
Here is a document of World War I history that addresses problems all nations have faced (or ignored) whenever their forces have been on the victorious side in a war or military occupation. It’s especially true in cases where most of the forces are not professional soldiers, but, of course, even professional armies tend to deal poorly with the aftermath of victory.
If you’re on the losing side pamphlets like this one are, perhaps, less needed than when victory had been achieved. When the national ethos has been aroused, and the general populace is highly supportive of the war effort and of the soldiers, perhaps this sort of pamphlet is more needed than, for example, when U. S. forces returned from Vietnam to a hostile or indifferent population.
The underlying objective of To The Homeward Bound Americans is to try to make the boys behave themselves, difficult as that may be.
The design reinforces this message. Inside the front cover is a place where the soldier is to paste a photograph of himself, and a box below it where he is write his name. It’s a very clear effort at personalizing what follows. Drawings of President Wilson and General Pershing, as well as heads of allied forces and nations, together with quotations intended to inspire cooperation and good conduct, occupy the next few pages, followed by an inspiring passage by Field Marshal Foch of France.
Perhaps anticipating that returning troops, on their way back through France, would find themselves interacting with troops and civilians of allied countries, especially France, some history of American involvement in the Great War itself follows, beginning with a section about the American arrival in Paris, and continuing with material about the logistical support, both organic and French, the American forced initially provided.
The battles in which American troops were involved are then recited, with statistics where applicable (and one wonders whether these might not be included to aid in resolving barroom arguments before they turned nasty, as men of one unit might be expected to offer accounts of engagements that inflated the accomplishments of their unit and diminish those of other units).
In the Armistice chapter, the remarkable educational efforts, in which 6000 American troops took courses at French universities and 10,000 more at a hastily assembled American University at Baume. It continues to compare and contrast American culture versus French culture, in an effort to create at least limited understanding among American troops that while the French do not behave exactly as Americans might in any given circumstance, there are excellent historical reasons for the differences.
We suspect the next chapter, “The French Woman,” may have been one of the principal reasons the pamphlet existed. For American soldiers, who months ago lived in a relatively free-wheeling culture where women were steadily achieving something beginning to approach equality with men, the change to the then-rather traditional French culture with most young women kept closely monitored must have been a surprise, must have been jarring, and no doubt was responsible for social missteps that created ill-feeling – and worse, as well. The chapter is as delicate as the times dictated.
Again, to help American troops recognize that while they may have been critical to success in the final stages of the war, other countries suffered greatly, and were at this – on their own turf – for years before the American arrived, are chapters entitled “What Others Gave” and “What France Gave”.
All in all, To The Homeward Bound Americans is an effort to get troops to behave themselves, in our opinion, without providing a set of rules to follow. Military discipline ostensibly provides that, but this booklet hopes to offer justification for better behavior than might otherwise be expected of a conquering Army.
We think To The Homeward Bound Americans is potentially useful in better understanding the cultural differences between the American Expeditionary Forces and the French citizenry at a time when problems could be foreseen, and in some cases did occur.
Between the Lakes Group is happy to offer this addition to our Military History collection, and to the part of it devoted to World War I. We encourage you to visit our Military History page as well as our general catalog and consider which of our downloads might be useful to you.