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Lost Battalions


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Lost Battalions, The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality. Richard Slotkin.

 

The author of this book has taken two microcosm units of the AEF and contorted them into representing the emerging problems of immigration and racism in the United States. The units are the "Lost Battalion" actually two battalions of the 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th (Infantry) Division and the 369th Infantry Regiment. The history of these units and the AEF is well researched and presented. If a reader is interested in the story of the so-called Lost Battalion and how they became "lost" and rescued (relieved) is interesting historically. The 369th Infantry Regiment was one of three colored regiments that were intended to be organized into the 92d (Infantry) Division. The later served with great distinction and valor with the French Army.

 

Mr. Slotkin then tries to make a case that the soldiers of the "Lost Battalion" originated within the most heavily recently immigrated and ethnic areas of New York City. Slotkin focuses on these soldiers lives and fortunes to try to express the crises in the American "identity" that apparently became more acute with the media attention to the "search" for the Lost Battalion and the revelation of the ethnic background of the soldiers.

 

Mr. Slotkin makes a "case" for referring to the 369th Infantry and by extension the 370th and 371st regiments as also "lost" because they served with or rather relegated to the French and were "forgotten."

 

The convoluted story of how these units came to represent the whole of the United States in its purported nationality crisis of the late and post WWI America. The case regarding the "Lost Battalion" is rather murky at best and I have to report I was not convinced.

 

The historical record of training, front line service and intended use in the AEF of the 369th Infantry is inaccurate and misrepresented in Lost Battalions. Mr. Slotkin relies on the activities of local black organizations angry over the "treatment" of the negro regiments, the 369th Regiment in particular. Slotkin is either ignorant of or ignored the historical documents that demonstrate there was no racist motivations for the loan of these units to the French. The record clearly indicates that headquarters AEF wanted and planned for every American unit deployed to be part of the American army. I am in no way trying to deny there were racist problems in America and in the Army. It just simply was not representative within the AEF and the three negro infantry regiments as purported by Mr. Slotkin.

 

In much the same way I reported the implausible association of the Marines at Bois Belleau and the modern U.S. Marine Corps previously, the connection of these two "lost" units to American national identity was an ill conceived contortion of history not convincing. The stories would have made splendid books, but combined fails to make logical (and unfortunately historically inaccurate) conclusions.

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