My digital project is an expansion of my omeka site detailing how the Mexican Border Crisis of 1916-1917 helped prepare the United States Army for service in Europe during World War I. With this year representing the 100th anniversary of the American entry into World War I, this topic is timely with many scholars and organizations presenting material examining this many-faceted war and its impacts on the United States. The site is geared towards a college audience but also provides resources for high school honors or similar courses. Any visitor to the site should come away with a deeper understanding of both the Border Crisis and its seldom-considered impacts on the Army.
Essentially, I argue that the crisis materially contributed to the Army in four ways. First, it allowed a de facto rehearsal of the National Guard mobilization process with this uncovering myriad issues. Second, the crisis created an opportunity for large-scale training that was absent in the widely dispersed Army with this having its greatest benefits on National Guard units. Third, new technologies were employed with the Army learning how to most effectively use trucks, airplanes and tactical wire and radio communications systems. Finally, leaders gained valuable experience in training and employing larger units. While the Army that went to France had problems and was in many respects a fragile instrument, it would have been far less capable with the result being a longer–and more expensive–war.
The site is organized as a series of exhibits including background, mobilization, leaders, training, technology, and, resources. Exhibits include text products, photographs and video obtained from a number of different sources.
Background provides a generalized overview of the crisis and includes a statement of the core arguments, a timeline of major events, details on some of the historically significant actors, and, some elements of material culture. The relationship between Mexico and the United States and the role of that relationship in the crisis and preparing the Army is presented.
Leaders highlights several important officers of both general and company grade, to include General Pershing who moved from command of the 1916-1917 Punitive Expedition to command of the American Expeditionary Force only a few months later.
Mobilization highlights the National Guard’s mobilization and includes a map identifying training and outpost locations used by units during the crisis. Mobilization for Mexico proved extremely problematic and the lessons learned were important in correcting systematic weaknesses in the mobilization process. The War Department and the states corrected many of these weaknesses and the result was a much smoother mobilization for service in France. Of note, not all the regiments mobilized were returned to state service with a number of regiments remaining in federal service through their return from France with this representing the longest-to-date mobilizations of National Guard units.
Technology outlines details of communications, aircraft and motorized/mechanized transport. It includes details of some specific items, to include the JN-3 airplane that was the Army’s first combat airplane. The airplane was woefully inadequate for the task at hand, but it created a cohort of leaders who had confidence in the airplane’s real potential. Similarly, the exhibit also illuminates the genesis of the Army’s truck companies, an organizational structure still found in today’s Army.
The training exhibit captures elements of training that took place during the crisis. With the Army relatively massed for the first time in many years, and the with the National Guard largely in federal service, new training opportunities were presented that benefit soldiers and their leaders alike. While bayonets, machine guns and artillery were of little use in Mexico, significant training with these weapons took place with the focus being on the demands of Europe. Though the United States did not declare war on Germany until after the Border Crisis’ end, senior leaders were very focused on that conflict and many believed American participation was inevitable.
Finally, the resources exhibit provides details on almost 100 different primary and secondary sources of use to scholars studying the Border Crisis, the Army of the pre-World War I period and the efforts to prepare for overseas service. Primary sources include War Department, State Department and Adjutant General reports from a number of the states providing troops. Secondary sources include both established and recent scholarship from a wide variety of scholars, writers and researchers.
The Army’s Mexican Border Crisis experience is often overlooked as it is overshadowed by the larger war in France. Understanding the French experience, however, is better enabled by understanding just how important the Mexican experience proved for an Army transitioning from a constabulary Army to one able to successfully compete against any modern Army in the world.
The site is available at http://paulcook.omeka.net/