From Publishers Weekly
Slotkin (a National Book Award finalist for Gunfighter Nation)
examines the relationship between war and citizenship in this trenchant, gracefully written military and social history of the African-American 369th Infantry, known as the "Harlem Hellfighters," and the 77th Division, dubbed the "Melting Pot" for its ranks of Italians, Jews and other eastern Europeans. At the time of America's entrance into WWI, blacks and immigrants were deemed racially inferior—less than full members of the commonwealth. But total war necessitated national mobilization of these excluded minorities, so the government advanced an unwritten (and uncertain) bargain: acceptance and equality in return for loyal service. In an outstanding synthesis of operational analysis and unit dynamics, Slotkin shows the dilemmas of the elite, Anglo-Saxon officers leading the 77th and the 369th, and that the soldiers' performance in battle paid in full the blood price of their bargain. At an extraordinarily high cost, the 369th Infantry captured the French town of Sechault from the Germans, and the 77th Division fought in the Argonne, an ordeal that earned it the name the Lost Battalion. Slotkin smoothly telescopes from the trenches to the political and social implications for decades to come in this insightful, valuable account.
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Constructed as a military history of two American army regiments of World War I, Slotkin's narrative functions as an inquiry into the soldiers'racial and ethnic backgrounds. Both units were raised in New York City: one consisted of black soldiers, the other of recent immigrants. That description only begins the contextual social spectrum Slotkin covers in arguing his thesis: that white racial conceptions of Americanism after the war thwarted the expectations of blacks and Jews. Slotkin defines those hopes as a "social bargain" implicit in the support given to black recruitment by leaders such as W. E. B. DuBois: if we enlist, then after victory, you will abolish Jim Crow. The bargain's fate unfolds as Slotkin recounts the racial relations with the two regiments (often relating tension between named individuals) in the course of training and ferocious combat in France. The bargain's unraveling in the race riots of 1919, followed by the melancholy fates of some returning veterans, concludes Slotkin's scholarly analytic history. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved