The Rise of the G.I. Army, 1940-1941: The Forgotten Story of How America Forged a Powerful Army Before Pearl Harbor

The Rise of the G.I. Army, 1940-1941: The Forgotten Story of How America Forged a Powerful Army Before Pearl Harbor

by Paul Dickson

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Overview

In September 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and initiated World War II, a strong strain of isolationism existed in Congress and across the country. The U.S. Army stood at fewer than 200,000 men—unprepared to defend the country, much less carry the fight to Europe and the Far East. And yet, less than a year after Pearl Harbor, the American army led the Allied invasion of North Africa, beginning the campaign that would defeat Germany, and the Navy and Marines were fully engaged with Japan in the Pacific.

The story of America’s astounding industrial mobilization during World War II has been told. But what has never been chronicled before Paul Dickson’s The Rise of the G. I. Army, 1940-1941 is the extraordinary transformation of America’s military from a disparate collection of camps with dilapidated equipment into a well-trained and spirited army ten times its prior size in little more than eighteen months. From Franklin Roosevelt’s selection of George C. Marshall to be Army Chief of Staff to the remarkable peace-time draft of 1940 and the massive and unprecedented mock battles in Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Carolinas by which the skill and spirit of the Army were forged and out of which iconic leaders like Eisenhower, Bradley, and Clark emerged; Dickson narrates America’s urgent mobilization against a backdrop of political and cultural isolationist resistance and racial tension at home, and the increasingly perceived threat of attack from both Germany and Japan.

An important addition to American history, The Rise of the G. I. Army, 1940-1941 is essential to our understanding of America’s involvement in World War II.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Risa Brooks

Dickson's book reveals some little-known history about the Army and American society in the 1930s and early 1940s…Reading about the birth of the country's citizen Army before World War II is a profoundly heartening experience. With all they are facing today, Americans need Dickson's reminder of this momentous accomplishment.

Publishers Weekly

05/04/2020

Historian Dickson (Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son) delivers an exhaustive chronicle of U.S. Army efforts to prepare for WWII. Noting that the army grew from less than 200,000 men to 4.5 million between the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the one-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor in December 1942, Dickson credits U.S. Army chief of staff George C. Marshall for tapping the Civilian Conservation Corps for seasoned officers, directing large-scale training exercises that tested the army’s expeditionary capabilities, and purging poor-performing generals from the ranks. Meanwhile, lawmakers overcame isolationist rhetoric to pass the first peacetime draft in American history, and then extend the minimum term of duty from 12 to 30 months. Dickson also documents the contributions of generals including Omar Bradley, George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower; preparations for the invasion of North Africa in November 1942; and frustrations of African-American soldiers fighting in a segregated army. Dickson marches readers through his voluminous research at a brisk clip, and makes a convincing case that if the army hadn’t been transformed, the war would have been lost. WWII buffs and military history readers will salute this stirring effort. (July)

From the Publisher

Praise for The Rise of the G.I. Army, 1940-1941:

“Reading about the birth of the country’s citizen Army before World War II is a profoundly heartening experience. With all they are facing today, Americans need Dickson’s reminder of this momentous accomplishment.”New York Times Book Review

In The Rise of the G.I. Army, 1940-1941, veteran author Paul Dickson resurrects a critical but overlooked period, recounting the remarkable story of American mobilization during the 828 days between the war’s onset and the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor . . . The best history is character-driven, and in this Mr. Dickson excels. He follows the fortunes of emerging Army stars such as Bradley, George S. Patton, Mark Clark and Eisenhower himself with verve and compassion . . . An indispensable account.”Wall Street Journal

“A must-read book that explores a vital pre-war effort ignored by many Roosevelt-era historians . . . Deep research and gripping writing.”Washington Times

“It now seems inevitable that the U.S. would win World War II, but in 1939, this was far from likely. Only the decisive action by statesmen such as George Marshall enabled the Army to awaken from its interwar hibernation and begin the long road to becoming the mightiest Army in American history. This book tells this amazing and improbable journey with all the near disasters, hard choices, and missteps that had to be overcome to get the military prepared for that fateful Sunday morning in December 1941.”New York Journal of Books

“Exhaustively thorough . . . Dickson, an indefatigable researcher, again demonstrates his talent for marshaling ground-level details and contemporary newspaper accounts into a coherent and engaging story . . . A remarkable work of historical scholarship, an eminently readable narrative crafted from a swarm of disparate and far-flung sources. The author plunges boldly into a saga that few other experts have explored in detail . . . A brilliant history. In the sad and dispiriting times we’re living through today, it shines a light on a saga that’s largely uplifting yet still shot through with elements counter to our ideals. It’s a long story we all need to see as our own, as characteristic of our nation today as ever.”—Bob Duffy, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Americans can accomplish amazing things when roused to action by strong leadership. Paul Dickson gives ample evidence of that in his fascinating new book The Rise of the G.I. Army, 1940-1941.”American Heritage

“The book is enjoyable and informative reading, filled with revealing anecdotes, oversized personalities and often pointed analysis. Dickson moves his narrative forward by deftly interweaving historical events with personal experiences. The book makes a significant contribution in showing just how near America came to dismantling its forces, and how important a few individuals, notably Marshall, were in preventing this calamity . . . The narrative is fast-paced, the personalities and events clearly detailed, the role of politicians, the press and public opinion all well developed.”Army Magazine

“Covers the buildup to conscription, the Louisiana Maneuvers, and even the nascent U.S. Army’s trial by fire in North Africa in one expansive, thoroughly researched, and compelling volume.”—Military.com

“A richly detailed history of the rebuilding of American military power in the run-up to World War II . . . The author provides a wealth of fascinating detail; even those familiar with the general history of the period will learn something new . . . One of the best treatments to date of America’s rapid transition from the Depression to the wartime power it became.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Dickson marches readers through his voluminous research at a brisk clip, and makes a convincing case that if the army hadn’t been transformed, the war would have been lost. WWII buffs and military history readers will salute this stirring effort.”Publishers Weekly

“Dickson, a prolific and precise writer, focuses on the troops, or G.I.s, as they came to be called in WWII. He does an excellent job of delineating the training shortfalls, and he’s especially thorough on the poor treatment of African American soldiers and sailors . . . An informative slice of military history.”Booklist

“A gripping study of a topic less explored, this work should appeal to readers interested in pre-World War II preparations and social and cultural aspects of U.S. Army history.”Library Journal

“Paul Dickson has discovered one of the last important untold stories of the World War II era, and he has told it as well as it can be told. He deserves great thanks for enriching our history.”—Laurence Leamer

“Paul Dickson’s The Rise of the G.I. Army is a deeply researched and well-written account about how FDR mobilized the American army in the years before Pearl Harbor. This is military history at its absolute finest. It’s impossible to think about World War II properly without reading this seminal work. Highly recommended!”—Douglas Brinkley, Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, and bestselling author of Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America and American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race

“Just when we think there’s nothing left to learn about World War II, Paul Dickson tells us more, much more. This is one of the most important books I’ve read that showcases the forces of isolationism and racism during one of the most consequential periods in American history. It belongs on the shelves of everyone who understands how fragile democracy is and why every American is worthy of fighting for it.”—Senator William S. Cohen, former United States Secretary of Defense

“A largely forgotten story brilliantly rectified by Paul Dickson in a book that lucidly and compellingly charts the rise of the US Army from the nonentity it had become by 1939 to the exponentially growing force of millions by the time of Pearl Harbor. From the corridors of Washington to pioneering manoeuvres to the shores of North Africa, and demonstrating how many of the leading players later in the war made their mark, Dickson recounts this astonishing progression and in so doing fills a gap in our understanding of the United States’ incredible contribution to victory in World War II. Utterly fascinating from start to finish.”—James Holland, author of Normandy ’44 and Big Week

“How did the United States Army transform from a fighting force barely able to repulse another Pancho Villa-like raid to taking on the mighty Wehrmacht? Through lively and engaging prose, Paul Dickson tells this largely forgotten but crucial story. Thoroughly researched and very readable, Dickson’s brilliant The Rise of the G.I. Army is destined to be the new standard for this period.”—Patrick K. O’Donnell, bestselling author of Dog Company and The Unknowns

“Paul Dickson’s compelling, focused and timely account of how America prepared to meet the challenges of the twentieth century’s second global conflict is history at its finest: it tells us a story we think we know but actually don’t. Dickson deserves enormous credit for his prodigious research, his deft handling of a complex subject, and his singular ability to tell a story.”—Mark Perry, author of The Most Dangerous Man In America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur

Praise for Paul Dickson:

“A prodigious research project . . . A revealing and bleakly fascinating account.”—Janet Maslin, New York Times, on The Bonus Army

“Recalls the subliminal force of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men with gaunt stories of character at the limits of dignity.”—Taylor Branch, New York Review of Books, on The Bonus Army

“A haunting, compellingly written and marvelously researched book, an important contribution to American history.”Los Angeles Times Book Review, on The Bonus Army

“[Debunks] many of the old myths and shine new light on this astonishing episode . . . Gripping.”Minneapolis Star Tribune, on The Bonus Army

Sputnik is a fascinating slice of useful social history . . . A serious book that is breezily written, Sputnik reviews the scientific history, the Cold War mentality and a media-driven crisis over what headline writers called ‘the Red Moon.’”USA Today, on Sputnik

“Paul Dickson skillfully puts the story of Sputnik and its aftermath into this new perspective in his informative and readable book.”Christian Science Monitor, on Sputnik

Sputnik should climb far up the lists, and have a long ride.”Baltimore Sun, on Sputnik

“A sharply focused snapshot of a nation caught with its jaw dropped, partly in fear and party in wonder.”Philadelphia Inquirer, on Sputnik

“Stunning . . . Captures the excitement and angst of the dawning of the Space Age.”Dallas Morning News, on Sputnik

Library Journal

06/01/2020

The years leading up to U.S. involvement in World War II included instrumental efforts in preparing military forces for the war. In October 1940, the first men were drafted into military service. Conscription prior to the Pearl Harbor attacks, and the various programs and training operations before and during this period, are the focus of Dickson's (Sputnik) latest work. During the Depression era, the Civilian Conservation Corps gave purpose to a considerable number of men, many of whom would later serve in the armed forces. The 1941 training maneuvers, in which large infantry and motorized forces squared off against one another in states, such as Tennessee and Louisiana, were vital in the education and preparation of American troops. Dickson notes the lessons learned about soldiers' levels of fitness and nourishment, morale, logistics, special operations, and even deaths caused by training accidents. Entertainment and the development of G.I. culture are mentioned, as well as a discussion of racial integration following World War II. VERDICT A gripping study of a topic less explored, this work should appeal to readers interested in pre-World War II preparations and social and cultural aspects of U.S. Army history.—Matthew Wayman, Pennsylvania State Univ. Lib., Schuylkill Haven

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-03-19
A richly detailed history of the rebuilding of American military power in the run-up to World War II.

In 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, the U.S. Army had fewer than 120,000 men in uniform; Gen. Douglas MacArthur said they all could have fit into Yankee Stadium. Recognizing that war was all but inevitable, President Franklin Roosevelt took steps to revitalize the nation’s military, and his most important move was likely the appointment of Gen. George Marshall as chief of staff of the Army. Marshall had been prepared for the job due to his leadership in the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, in which young men learned discipline and skills that coincidentally prepared them for life in the Army. The CCC, writes Dickson, “became a driving force for improving the Army and facilitating the education and professional development of key officers.” The establishment of a peacetime draft in 1940—against strong opposition from isolationists in Congress and elsewhere—was also a key element. Marshall gave the Army’s officer corps a vital shot in the arm with his creation of Officer Candidate School, allowing talented men to rise to command positions without a degree from a traditional military academy. Dickson also highlights the war games that took place in 1941, especially a large exercise in Louisiana just before Pearl Harbor where both Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton proved their abilities. The author provides a wealth of fascinating detail; even those familiar with the general history of the period will learn something new. Especially intriguing are Dickson’s discussions of the rise of the United Service Organizations, with shows headlined by Bob Hope and other stars, and the implications of a universal draft for black Americans.

One of the best treatments to date of America’s rapid transition from the Depression to the wartime power it became.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802147677
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 07/07/2020
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 33,580
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Customer Reviews