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  • Axel Jansen (a1)


This essay investigates the motives by American volunteers during the neutrality period between 1914 and 1917 who decided to go to the war zone in Europe. Thousands of American men and women supported the Allies as nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, soldiers, or fighter pilots. Even though they had chosen to support one side in the war, however, even avid and well-connected supporters of the Allies rarely called for U.S. intervention. The absence of a political perspective was tied to peculiar personal motives. Calling for intervention in the war would have turned the fight into a national cause and public duty, reducing the value of a personal decision to go to war. When the United States entered the war in 1917, some volunteers joined the American war effort to support their flag, whereas others abandoned a war they no longer considered interesting. These responses were part of a significant shift in the role of American government.


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1 Recent literature on Americans during the neutrality phase of World War I include Keene, Jennifer D., “Americans Respond: Perspectives on the Global War, 1914–1917,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 40:2 (2014): 266–86; Irwin, Julia F., Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation's Humanitarian Awakening (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). May's, Henry F. study remains particularly relevant: The End of American Innocence: A Study of the First Years of Our Own Time, 1912–1917 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959). For a recent overview of groups of Americans in the war zone, also see Rose, Kenneth D., The Great War and Americans in Europe, 1914–1917 (New York: Routledge, 2017).

2 For efforts to come to terms with ongoing debates about citizenship, see the Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, eds. Shachar, Ayelet, Bauboeck, Rainer, Bloemraad, Irene, and Vink, Maarten (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

3 Jennifer D. Keene, “Deeds Not Words: American Social Justice Movements and World War I” in this issue of JGAPE.

4 Consider, for example, Irwin, Julia, “Taming Total War: Great War-Era American Humanitarianism and Its Legacies,” Diplomatic History 38:4 (2014): 763–75. Irwin proposes “a reperiodization of U.S. involvement in the war” since American “participation in the conflict entailed more than a three-year window of U.S. military intervention and postwar peace negotiations” (765).

5 Woodrow Wilson, Senate speech, U.S. 63rd Congress, 2nd Session, Senate Documents, No. 566, Washington, DC, 1914, 3f.

6 Americans in small numbers were involved in Russia, Italy, Germany, and in the Near East. Jansen, Axel, Individuelle Bewährung im Krieg: Amerikaner in Europa, 1914–1917 (Frankfurt: Campus, 2003), 220 n. 1. On German Americans in Chicago, see Holli, Melvin G., “The Great War Sinks Chicago's German Kultur” in Ethnic Chicago, eds. Holli, Melvin G. and Jones, Peter d'A. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), 462511.

7 Gaffen, Fred, Cross-Border Warriors: Canadians in American Forces, Americans in Canadian Forces (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1995); Haycock, Ronald G., “The American Legion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914–1917: A Study in Failure,” Military Affairs, 43:3 (Oct. 1979), 115–19. For Americans in British flying units, see Hudson, James J., In Clouds of Glory: American Airmen Who Flew with the British During the Great War (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990), King, Bradley, “Americans in the Royal Flying Corps: Recruiting in the British Government,” Imperial War Museum Review 6 (1991); Wise, Sydney F., Canadian Airmen and the First World War: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980). On a recent assessment of the phenomenon of foreign war volunteers, see the special issue, Foreign War Volunteers in the Twentieth Century,” Journal of Modern European History 14:3 (2016).

8 Most volunteers seem to have retained their U.S. citizenship but they could not be certain.

9 New York Times Magazine, May 28, 1916, V2.

10 Cook, Theodore, American and English Universities” in British Universities and the War: A Record and Its Meaning (London: Field and Queen, 1917), 35.

11 For a detailed consideration of a range of volunteers in France (men and women of different age cohorts and occupations), see Jansen, Individuelle Bewährung im Krieg.

12 William Gorham Rice, Jr. to Harriet Langdon Pruyn Rice (his mother), May 14, 1916, reel 1, William Gorham Rice, Jr. Papers, 1914–1918, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison.

13 Harriet Langdon Pruyn Rice to William Gorham Rice, Jr., July 8, 1916, reel 2, Rice Papers.

14 William Gorham Rice to William Gorham Rice, Jr., July 20, 1916, reel 2, Rice Papers.

15 Fouché, Nicole, Le mouvement perpétuel, histoire de l'Hôpital Américain de Paris des origines à nos jours (Toulouse: Editions Erés, 1991).

16 Bliss, Michael, Harvey Cushing: A Life in Surgery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

17 Seth Rotramel and William B. McAllister, “War, Neutrality, and Humanitarian Relief: The Expansion of U.S. Diplomatic Activity during the Great War, 1914–1917” (U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, 2017).

18 On ARCH, see Jansen, Individuelle Bewährung im Krieg, 29–81. On the American Red Cross in World War I, see Jones, Marian Moser, The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012); Irwin, Making the World Safe.

19 Price, Alan, The End of the Age of Innocence: Edith Wharton and the First World War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996); Jansen, Individuelle Bewährung im Krieg, 181–218.

20 On ambulance services in France, see Axel Jansen, “The Incorporation of Sacrifice: The American Ambulance Field Service and the American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance Corps, 1914–1917” (MA thesis, University of Oregon, 1995).

21 New York Times, Sept. 24, 1916, sec. 1, p. 20. Perhaps in line with such rhetoric, Roosevelt did not demand intervention. Doenecke, Justus D., Nothing Less than War: A New History of America's Entry into World War I (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 13.

22 When a driver tried to climb the fence of the Eiffel Tower on his first night in Paris, Andrew “promptly turned him over to the Paris Service where he perhaps belongs.” A. Piatt Andrew to Henry Sleeper, Jan, 30, 1917, RG1/001, American Field Service World War I Records, Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs, New York City.

23 Lathrop to Mrs. Ames, Apr. 27, 1918, box 6, Charles Wilberforce and Mary Lesley Ames Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

24 “Le Recrutement du Personnel des Ambulances Américaine,” document attached to a letter by Frank Mason, Apr. 28, 1915, box 16 N 2787, D.S.A.: Organisation Correspondence 1915, Archives de l'Armée de Terre, Vincennes, France.

25 Service, American Field, History of the American Field Service in France, Friends of France, 1914–1917, Told by Its Members (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1920), 1:43.

26 Between 300 and 1,700 Americans flew for the British. Wise points out that 1,736 pilots were not Canadian and are likely American. Wise, Canadian Airmen, 1:633.

27 Gordon, Dennis, The Lafayette Flying Corps: The American Volunteers in the French Air Service in World War I (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2000).

28 Nash, George, Life of Herbert Hoover. The Humanitarian, 1914–1917 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988), 94.

29 Guy, George I., Public Relations of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, Documents (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1929), 1:478.

30 Nash, Life of Herbert Hoover.

31 Woodrow Wilson, Message to Congress, 63rd Cong., 2d Sess., Senate Doc. No. 566 (Washington, DC, 1914), 3–4.

32 This limitation was particularly striking in the case of a debate at Harvard University about a proposed monument dedicated to the university's war volunteers. Should the monument be dedicated to Harvard men who had fought on both sides in the war, or only to those who had fought for the Allies? One father whose son died as a pilot in France in 1916 argued that a monument honoring all volunteers would be a “monument of zero” but he did not call for intervention. See Jansen, Axel, “Heroes or Citizens? The 1916 Debate on Harvard Volunteers in the ‘European War’” in War Volunteering in Modern Times: From the French Revolution to the Second World War, eds. Krüger, Christine and Levsen, Sonja (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 150–62.

33 Scott, James Brown, Robert Bacon: Life and Letters (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page and Co., 1923), 237.

34 Outlook, Dec. 6, 1916, 747.

35 See Ross Kennedy's contribution in this issue.

36 As an avowed “unneutral,” Robert Bacon in 1916 failed to secure a Republican nomination in New York. Doenecke, Nothing Less than War, 204–5.

37 See, for example, Jennifer D. Keene's essay in this special issue.

38 May, American Innocence.

39 One contemporary author estimated that at least sixty or seventy thousand Italian reservists left the United States to fight for Italy: Gino C. Speranza, “The ‘Americani’ in Italy at War,” The Outlook (Apr. 12, 1916): 861. Also see Choate, Mark I., Emigrant Nation: The Making of Italy Abroad (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 212 f.; and Ventresco, Fiorello B., “Loyalty and Dissent: Italian Reservists in America during World War I,” Italian Americana 4:1 (1978).

40 Letter by de Forest, Henry L., Fullerton, George Stueart, Garfield, H. A., and Williamson, James D. to Munich Mayor Dr. Wilhelm von Borscht, Aug. 24, 1914. Printed in American Notes in Munich, 13 (Aug. 25, 1914), 2.

41 Wüstenbecker, Katja, Deutsch-Amerikaner im Ersten Weltkrieg. US-Politik und nationale Identitäten im Mittleren Westen (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2007); DeWitt, Petra, Degrees of Allegiance: Harassment and Loyalty in Missouri's German-American Community during World War I (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012).

42 New York Times, Mar.16, 1916, pp. 4, 18.

43 A. Piatt Andrew to Arthur Gleason, June 22, 1916, RG1/001, American Field Service World War I Records, Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs, New York City.

44 Nouailhat, Yves-Henri, France et États-Unis: Août-Avril 1917 (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1979).

45 National Allied Relief Committee, The Allied Bazaar, Official Programme, New York, 1916, 4.

46 The Outlook, 113 (June 21, 1916), 394.

47 Axel Jansen, Individuelle Bewährung im Krieg, chap. 11, 283–99.

48 Edith Wharton's efforts are described in Price, The End of the Age of Innocence. For rare interviews with Henry James (on behalf of Richard Norton, organizer of AVMAC in France), see New York Times, Mar, 21, 1915, sec. 5, p. 3; and a pamphlet containing an interview with a British journal, Henry James, The American Motor-Ambulance Corps in France: A Letter to the Editor of an American Journal (London, 1914). My argument is in line with Elizabeth Piller's observations in her essay in this issue.

49 See Manuel Franz's essay in this volume.

50 Speech by Bacon, Robert in “Proceedings of the National Security Congress under the Auspices of the National Security League, Washington, January 20–22, 1916” (Washington, DC: National Security League, n.d.), 65.

51 Clifford, John Garry, The Citizen Soldiers: The Plattsburg Training Camp Movement, 1913–1920 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1972), chap. 7. For the case of Robert Bacon, see Wood, Leonard, “Robert Bacon and Preparedness” in Harvard Graduates’ Magazine 28 (Sept. 1919): 82 f. For a general overview over the preparedness campaign, see Kennedy, David M., Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 15–36, 144 ff.

52 Irwin, Making the World Safe, 73. For some of the consequences from the perspective of American volunteers in France, see Price, The End of the Age of Innocence.

53 Woodrow Wilson, Statement, May 18, 1917, printed in Link, Arthur S. et al. , eds., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 41:181. Also see Chambers, John Whiteclay II, To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America (New York: Free Press, 1987).

54 M. W. Ireland, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War, 8:231. Four hundred sixy-two out of 2,295 AAFS ambulance drivers (excluding drivers in the organization's truck division) joined the USAAS. American Field Service, History, 3:447–516.

55 Chief Accountant, Section Sanitaires, WRM/AVR, to Morrison, Aug. 20 1917, box 1, Richard Norton Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

56 Passos, John Dos, The Best Times: An Informal Memoir (New York: New American Library, 1966), 56.

57 A. Piatt Andrew to his parents, Sept. 1, 1917, A. Piatt Andrew Estate.

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