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

Overview

In the Spring of 1917, America went to war with an innocent determination to re-make the world. When the smoke lifted in November 1918, the nation emerged with its sense of purpose shattered, its certainties shaken, and with a new and unwelcome self-knowledge. Seventy-five thousand American soldiers were dead, and back home a Pandora's box of suspicions and surveillance had been opened.

The Last Days of Innocence reveals how the fight to preserve freedom abroad led to the ...

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Overview

In the Spring of 1917, America went to war with an innocent determination to re-make the world. When the smoke lifted in November 1918, the nation emerged with its sense of purpose shattered, its certainties shaken, and with a new and unwelcome self-knowledge. Seventy-five thousand American soldiers were dead, and back home a Pandora's box of suspicions and surveillance had been opened.

The Last Days of Innocence reveals how the fight to preserve freedom abroad led to the erosion of freedom at home. Drawing on American, British, and French archival material, the authors reveal unplanned and uncoordinated field efforts, as well as the unsavory activities of anti-dissent groups, from the Committee for Public Information to the Anti-Yellow Dog League, including a posse of children organized to listen for antiwar talk among families and friends. Here is the story of the fifty-billion-dollar war that gave birth to the Selective Service Act, threatened labor rights, stoked the fires of racial and religious intolerance, and concentrated the nation's wealth into fewer hands than ever before. The Last Days of Innocence tells the untold story of the war that rudely thrust Americans into an uncertain future--a war whose effects remain with us today.

"Well-crafted in every way...a vivid and authoritative history."--Cleveland Plain Dealer

"A neatly plaited narrative...rich in detail. A splendid history."--Washington Times

In just 17 months, the U.S. federal government grew from one cog in the machinery of American life into a colossus. The Great War proved to be the gateway through which our grandparents passed from the relative innocence of the 19th century into our own troubled, uncertain era. The Last Days of Innocence combines archival material to present a fresh and modern evaluation of America's performance. Photos. 592 pp. National ads. 15,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
On the 80th anniversary of America's entrance into World War I, the Harrieses (Soldiers of the Sun, Random, 1992) present a fresh evaluation of the country's role in the war. The opening of French, British, and U.S. archives provides grist for this very readable book, which is kept alive and interesting by short, concise chapters. In the first half, the authors treat the details of America's entrance into the war and the agonizing months of war preparation; they then visit the fighting and the peace efforts. In the final chapter, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," the authors effectively bring their thesis full circle: "the cost [of the war] was immense in money, ecological damage, a fragmented society and the disillusion of a dream gone sour." Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Harry V. Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. System, Iola
School Library Journal
YA--An examination of American participation in World War I and its impact on the social fabric of the country. The book not only provides a readable account of the military campaigns and battles, but also focuses on the home front: what America thought about the war and why we avoided becoming entangled in it initially; how unprepared we were when we did become involved; the steps taken to mobilized our resources to build a five-million man army; and how society was forced to make radical changes to cope with these demands. The book is well organized and has chapters that cover specific issues such as race relations, the expansion of the powers of the federal government, integration of numerous ethnic groups into an effective military force, and how society coped with hundreds of thousands of returning veterans. This format turns a complex subject into a fascinating read. Although the authors do not provide a formal bibliography, the book contains 98 pages of notes, in which they cite their numerous sources.--Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A lively and persuasive history of America's experience in WW I, stressing the impact of that immense struggle on the nation's identity, by a prolific husband-and-wife writing team (Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army, 1992, etc.).

America had assumed a crucial role in the war, the authors argue, long before a single American soldier reached the front lines. From 1914 on, America supplied the "rifles, howitzers, shells" desperately needed by the hard-pressed Allies. American money propped up the depleted treasuries of the French and British; all told, they note, the US spent the staggering sum of $50 billion on the war effort. The swift arrival of hundreds of thousands of American troops blunted and then broke the last German offensive and decided the war's outcome. During their relatively short but ferocious time on the front, American forces, earning a reputation for reckless courage, suffered a quarter million casualties, including 50,000 dead. The authors spend roughly half the book describing the home front, including the long, bitter debate over entering the war, growing labor and social unrest, and a resulting massive growth of government powers. Their descriptions of these matters, and of the experience of American soldiers in battle, are handled with clarity and force. The British and French, determined to impose their terms on Germany, relentlessly downplayed America's contribution to the war, and undercut President Wilson's attempts to insure the peace. Many Americans, feeling that America had been manipulated and misled by her allies, turned away from Europe. At home, unrest had created "wide rents . . . in the social fabric. . . . Rudely, the war had thrust Americans into the uncertain future of the twentieth century."

A sad, gripping account of one of the defining moments in our history.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679743767
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: Forgotten Sacrifice 3
Pt. 1 Forced Toward Armageddon 11
Pt. 2 Building the Army 87
Pt. 3 Mobilizing the Nation 143
Pt. 4 The Winter Crisis 191
Pt. 5 Into Battle 225
Pt. 6 The End of Innocence 273
Pt. 7 The Reality of War 309
Pt. 8 The Death of Innocents 337
Pt. 9 Losing the Peace 403
Epilogue: The Cost 433
Acknowledgments 461
Notes 463
Index 561
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