Amalgamation: a critical issue in British-American command relations, 1917-1918
DeFrancisco, Joseph Emil
Vandiver, Frank E.
Master of Arts
War is a function of autocracy. How, then does a democracy fight a war? In the final analysis each democratic government must find its own answer. World War I provides an example of how two democracies, fighting on the same side, chose different solutions. In Great Britain direction of the war initially was in the hands of the Cabinet. Acting on advice from political and military leaders, the Cabinet dictated military policy. When this system proved inadequate, Britain was forced through a series of governmental changes in order to find an effective instrument of war direction. The machinations of David Lloyd George provide a vehicle to study the evolution of the British Government throughout the war. His quest for control of strategic policy, both before and during his premiership, underlines the mutual distrust that existed between Britain's politicians and her generals. Only after a bitter struggle did Lloyd George succeed in wresting control of strategic policy from his military advisers. Circumstances in America were quite different. Under the constitution of the United States, policy and strategy are vested essentially in one man, the president. Determined to keep the political ends of the war distinct from its military prosecution, Woodrow Wilson delegated complete authority in military affairs to his Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. Baker in turn delegated the same authority to General John J. Pershing. Hence, the direction of America's strategic efforts was placed squarely on the shoulders of the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. Throughout the first fifteen months of America's participation in the war, no problem caused Pershing greater concern, or took up more of his time, than the controversy over the use of American troops. Pershing was determined to follow his orders to constitute an independent army. The British were convinced that before Pershing could form an army, the war would be lost. The basic problem was simple. To build an American Army Pershing needed British shipping; to defeat Germany Britain needed American manpower. Early in the debate Pershing learned that dealing with British generals was only a preliminary step. Though they might outrank Pershing, they did not have power commensurate with his authority from Washington. Consequently the American field commander had to negotiate with Britain's leading political officials as well as her leading generals. Tainted by his relationship with his own generals, Lloyd George resented and misunderstood Pershing's massive authority. The British Prime Minister continually appealed to Washington to overrule Pershing's decisions on the use of American troops. Pershing, meanwhile, with the full support of his Government, followed strictly his design to build an independent American Army. The controversy over amalgamation, therefore, becomes a prism through which to view the spectrum of British-American command relations.