Prewar Period: U.S. Position

It is reasonable to say that America was ill-prepared to enter World War 1. The Army and National Guard together had only 370,000 men. By virtue of the draft and enlistments this figure was to grow dramatically to 4.8 million by the end of the conflict in Europe. Britain and France had been engaged in the war against Germany and Austro-Hungary since September 1914. Italy had joined the war on April 26, 1915. Russia had suffered from major upheaval and revolution and was effectively out of the conflict after the October revolution in 1917. The war had gone badly for Russia and the internal unrest including the overthrow of the Tsar meant it had only been a matter of time before she had to cease involvement in World War 1. This was a very significant event in that the war on the Eastern Front was over and thus Germany could deploy many forces back on the Western Front.

The Selective Service act in America was enacted in May, 1917 which gave power to the government to raise a national army through compulsory enlistment. This was resented by many soldiers who had no wish to be soldiers and was challenged in the Supreme Court, but the act was upheld and only rescinded at the end of hostilities. The American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) was created from existing units supplemented by soldiers fresh from training camps. There was a needy for speedy organization of this fledgling army and this was achieved in a limited time scale so that the force could make a significant impact for the allies in World War 1.

When America entered World War 1 the conditions of the French, British and Italian soldiers on the Western Front were appalling. A massive loss of life on both sides was suffered and the trench warfare associated with the Western Front meant little progress had been made by either side in conditions that were unimaginable in terms of hardship, cold and horrendous noise that sent even rats scuttling away from the trenches. Morale was poor on both sides with soldiers deliberately injuring themselves to return home and shooting for cowardice were all too common as soldiers desperately wanted some relief from their deplorable situation.