Allied associates: the relationship between Field-marshal Sir Douglas Haig and General John J. Pershing
Cavin, Deborah C.
Vandiver, Frank E.
Master of Arts
Born less than a year apart, Douglas Haig and John J. Pershing were destined to command the armies of their respective nations during the largest conflict the world had yet witnessed. The American seemed an unlikely candidate for such a high position, since he was not the scion of a prestigious or wealthy family, and since he came to soldiering only that he might obtain a college education. Haig, on the other hand, as a younger son of wealthy parents, followed a typical British pattern in choosing the military as a career. Both men served with distinction as young officers in a number of posts throughout the world. They were promoted because of ability and hard work, but each one managed to make influential friends and a helpful marriage along the way. Upon assuming command of the American Expeditionary Forces, Pershing was troubled by jealousy among his rivals, particularly Generals Leonard Wood and Peyton March. But he was steadfastly supported by his superiors, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and President Woodrow Wilson. They gave him the backing necessary to establish the American Army as a "separate entity" in France, when the Allies continually pleaded for the amalgamation of U. S. troops with British and French units. Replacing Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief as 1916 dawned, Haig also faced enemies at home. Lord French became friendly with Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Haig's bitterest critic, who would gladly have replaced him if he had felt it possible to do so. In George V, however, Sir Douglas had a loyal friend, and the Chief of Imperial General Staff Sir William Robertson was also a staunch ally who guarded Haig's interests against political backbiting. That Britain and the United States emerged closer than before from World War I was due in no small measure to the cordial relations that existed between their army commanders. The friendship which developed between Pershing and Haig was based on several factors: similar ideals about proper professional behavior, discipline, and duty; pride in a common Anglo-Saxon heritage; trust in one another and a joint distrust of the French. Each man thought the other sincere, if sometimes misguided, so that they were able to rise above disagreements concerning not only amalgamation, but also training methods, British shipping plans, supreme command, and the withdrawal of American troops from the British sector as the final offensive began. After the war, the two commanders continued their correspondence, and each worked to cement the friendship between their two nations. Haig, retired but busy with his work for veterans, died in 1928, while Pershing, as Chief of Staff, reorganized the American Army and even lived to see their war "re-fought." At the Great War's end, Pershing and Haig had said, respectively, that the Allies should either push for unconditional surrender or else construct a lenient peace that would not totally humiliate Germany. World War II was due partly to the shortsightedness of the politicians in ignoring the advice of the two commanders. Britain and the United States were not spared another war, but the efforts of the military men nevertheless bore fruit. Pershing had learned much about organization from his British mentor, and he incorporated that knowledge into the post-war U. S. Army structure. And unity of command was not a foreign concept in World War II, since the commanders had struggled with it twenty years earlier. Finally, the friendship between Haig and Pershing served as an example for the two democracies which needed all their joint resources to defeat an aggressive Germany once again.