Uncle Sam Wants You! American Soldiers in the Great War

Chapman University

Jennifer Keene is a professor of history and dean of the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Chapman University. Her books about the American experience in the world wars include Doughboys, The Great War, and the Remaking of America, and World War I: The American Soldier Experience. Professor Keene has been awarded Fulbright Senior Scholar Awards and a Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship, and was featured in the PBS documentary mini-series, “The Great War.”


The World War I veteran generation founded the American Legion, the GI Bill of Rights, and the modern civil rights movement, making the war a landmark moment in the nation’s political history. The war was also a pivotal personal life event for the men and women who served. Letters, memoirs, and diaries provide a window into the extraordinary experiences of those who left everything familiar behind to do their bit. Would military service be the jumping off point to a better life? Would love endure the test of time and distance? Could Black soldiers overcome the obstacles racial prejudice created? Would one meet the test of battle? Were their sacrifices worth it?


Recommended Reading:
The United States and the First World War, by Jennifer D. Keene
Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America, by Jennifer D. Keene
Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I, by Adriane Lentz-Smith
Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War, by Kimberly Jensen
Love and Death in the Great War, by Andrew J. Huebner


Discussion Questions:
1. What key commonalities versus differences are there in the soldiers’ experiences in World War I? How did class, race, or ethnicity factor in shaping one’s wartime experience?
2. Why did soldiers write letters home? Given that censorship existed, are memoirs most revealing?
3. The memory of war was powerful, and veterans left a strong mark on American politics. Why is their story and their impact so little remembered today?
4. Can you connect any of your own family members’ experiences to these stories–either relatives who served in World War I or in other conflicts?



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barbara ann.fields

Realities of War

Thank you for presenting the realities of war from different perspectives. I remember my father not talking about his experience during the war but I knew that he took advantage of all the benefits of being a Black veteran in spite of having to leave the south to avoid lynching. He had To go through a lot to get his benefits in but he was determined. He did not speak of his treatment from other American soldiers but he lived long enough to go back to Europe.

1 year ago
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