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Jim Lacey’s Pershing: A Biography Essay

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Updated: May 5th, 2021

In this book, Pershing is portrayed as a brilliant soldier who managed to build an army of over one million soldiers just one year after entering World War I in 1917. His efforts addressed the inadequacies of the forces that had preceded him in the battle field. He was to face the forty battle-hardened German divisions with just one million soldiers. His pragmatism always shone through and he chose his wars carefully and fought with passion to win in all cases, especially in the final battles of World War I. His other efforts that are detailed in Pershing include the fight against the Indians and the guerrilla war.

The American army was at the forefront during World War I and World War II. According to Jim Lacey, Commandant John Pershing was the face of World War I who served as a five-star general of the armies. In the book Pershing, Jim Lacey provides a biographical analysis of the General’s work, his detailed preparations, and situational awareness that created a winning team. He might not have been a great captain, but John Pershing is documented as a first-class General. He was one of the first modern Commanders of the American army.

Lacey’s books under the Great Generals’ series, particularly Pershing, are dedicated to the swift transformation of the American army during the first year of World War I. The book also outlines other wars fought during Pershing’s time. In addition, Jim Lacey details Pershing’s brilliant contribution to the war in the way he organized his fighters, selected the commanders, and built the army that won World War I. For example, in this book, the author shows how the Meuse-Argonne became the defining moment in the career of Pershing. The book’s explanation of the change of tactics during the third week of war portrays Pershing as a fast thinker who was able to make decisions swiftly depending on the envisaged outcomes. The ability is captured vividly when Jim Lacey writes: “In just hours, the remade American first army broke through the German line” (p. 162). In addition, by the end of the second day of the attack, “it (the army) was moving so fast it was running off the maps posted at Pershing’s headquarters” (p. 162).

The thesis of the book is clearly articulated to bring about the qualities of a brilliant soldier who is not appreciated in the American history. Jim Lacey develops this thesis by highlighting Pershing’s achievements and major impacts on the military during his tenure as a General in the US army. The major focus of the book is Pershing’s achievements during World War I. Lacey is an expert in global conflict and wars. The book Pershing is full of historical events that took place before and during World War 1. Most importantly, the biography provides accurate timelines involving the life of General Pershing.

As already indicated, a number of General Pershing’s achievements are outlined in the book by Lacey. According to this book, Pershing provided a strong foundation for the American army. His achievements helped to address the training problems inside the army units, which were fixed in the 1990s following the recommendations made by Pershing during World War I. The issue of ‘bottom-up’ approach to army organization was also addressed with the help of the recommendations made by the General. Another achievement of General Pershing involves improving the leadership of the American army. To this end, prior to his departure from the army, General Pershing picked and groomed various individuals for leadership positions. Such people include MacArthur, Marshal, and Eisenhower. In addition, he left a system of schooling that was used as a blueprint to take the army through Vietnam. It is important to note that the system is still used in today’s army.

In this biography, Lacey shows how Pershing was praised during his time in the war as a result of his efforts and determination, which saw him build a strong army from virtually nothing. According to Lacey, “The Meuse-Argonne campaign was Pershing’s defining moment. He had withstood the political and diplomatic pressure, and endured the heart-sickening casualty reports” (p. 132). Lacey highlights how the General was recognized for his diplomatic skills that helped him build alliances. He was also admired for his tactfulness and ability to accurately judge his team and opponents. His resilience and ability to stand for what he believed in brought him victory and admiration. His peers described him as “Pragmatic, duty driven, fit and demanding” (p. 201). At the time, he was one of the best paid civil servants in the US, an indication of the fact that even the government recognized his major contributions to the army.

Lacey outlines the faults of the hero, but tries to justify his failures in the fight against the Germans. In Pershing, Jim Lacey writes that if the General had any faults, they were represented in his assessment of the training needs of the Americans. Another fault of the General that is detailed in Pershing is his lack of sufficient understanding regarding the tactical dynamics in the battlefield, his judgments regarding the use of guns, cannons, poisonous gas, and aircrafts. In addition, the “bottoms-up” warfare tactics were regarded as a failure by his critics and detractors. In spite of these faults, the biography explains that Pershing was a man of favored spirits whose toughness helped him to push on amidst the negative publicity and reports regarding the losses incurred by the US army.

General Pershing’s life in the American army was characterized by a number of challenges. Some of these issues informed his dedication to the American people. However, some were setbacks affecting his professional and civil work. Some of these problems are traced back to the General’s childhood years. For instance, in 1863, Pershing witnessed the civil war in Missouri when he was just a young child of three years. The year marked the beginning of his urge to join the army, especially considering how he was affected by the loss of what he knew as a home. When his wife and three children were killed by a fire, he was devastated. The memories of these terrifying encounters at an early age had a profound influence on his adult life in the army. Growing up from a humble background made him work hard to achieve success in later years. For instance, to pay for college, he worked as a teacher before getting the opportunity to join West Point.

Pershing encountered a lot of rebellion during his tenure as a Commander especially due to the bloodshed and loss of over 100,000 Americans. President Wilson was the first to denounce the war plans mooted by Pershing, as a result of which he transferred all the officers involved from Washington. The allied Generals and politicians increased the threats and heaped blame on him. Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch even tried to divide the army to weaken the operations of Pershing’s team. The series of attacks were followed by daunting reports from the press and the calls for “Pershing must go!”, which weere all over the US. Even the French allies, senior Generals, and politicians called for Pershing’s dismissal from the army. It was only General Philipe Petain who supported him.

The perspective from which Lacy tells their story about Pershing creates a picture of a work that is well researched. The biography highlights the personal experiences of the General. There is certainty in the conclusions made by Lacey in this book. The arguments and accounts presented in the book are dependable and verifiable. The use of pictures of the General from the Congress Library highlights the kind of research that went into the writing of this biography. A case in point is the picture showing the warm welcome the General received during his address to the Congress on September 1919. Letters and memoirs from Pershing are also used as sources of information in the book, creating a vivid picture of a loving father and brother. An example is the emotional letter sent to his sister in Nebraska and another one written to Micheline Resco. In the latter, Pershing regrets that he was unable to take Micheline with him even after they had been in a relationship for two years.

Lacey also uses information from Symth’s “Until the Last Triumph” to provide information about Pershing’s childhood. Other sources from Smith are the letters Pershing wrote to his classmates when he started serving in the army. The use of external sources of information to write the biography is made evident when Jim Lacey notes: “According to Pershing’s biographer, Gene Smith, Louise suggested she and the General should marry. Pershing knew better than to think she would ever settle down” (p. 140). The biography also uses information on Pershing’s life during the guerrilla war, which is drawn from a book by Symth. Using Smyth’s book as a source, Lacey is able to access information on Pershing’s early life and other notable achievements outside America. In this biography, Lacey also uses information from Vandiver to write about Pershing’s life. The information from Vandiver provides a new twist to the General’s dedication and shows who Pershing the person was. The source of his nickname, Black Jack, is explained using the book by Vandiver. Lacey uses other published works about the General as sources of information, including Pershing’s personal accounts of his experiences in the war and archives from museums and libraries. Jim Lacey makes use of these sources to write a well-researched book that tells the story of an honored General who is regarded as a brilliant and calculating soldier able to make the right decisions for his team and staff.

Jim Lacey’s biography of General Pershing is significant to both the American people and the readers who find it inspiring. The audience can identify with the life of this dedicated civil servant, making the book a celebration of one’s dedication to service to humanity and the sacrifices endured to achieve success. The tragedy of Pershing losing his family, his wife, and children to fire and still not relenting in his duties is a sign of commitment and professionalism. His life as an American soldier and the battles he won on behalf of Americans is an honor to the people he served and the government. Jim Lacey shows how the General was ridiculed during his tenure as a commander in World War I. However, he remained steadfast and focused on his mission. Jim Lacey’s story of Pershing as a child and as a young adult shows the importance of persistence and hard work. When Pershing’s parents lost their property during the war in Missouri, the family was devastated. However, Pershing persevered and led a dignified life. As a young teacher, he worked hard to save money for his college education, using teaching to hone his leadership skills. For instance, he used to tell bullies “I am here to run this school, you will obey me or face the consequences” (p. 5). The book shows that resilience, leadership, and determination can help one overcome challenge in life. Pershing overcame various challenges to become one of the most popular Generals in the American army.

With regards to the description of the great General, Jim Lacey accurately cites the strengths and weaknesses of the war veteran, his achievements as a soldier and a father, and his ability to make friends. The letter from Frankie shows that the General was a loving husband. It is used by Jim Lacey to provide the reader with an opportunity to take a look at Pershing’s personal life. His tactics and skills, which were crucial to the success witnessed during wars, are also made clear. However, at times, Jim Lacey appears to exaggerate the faults and weaknesses of Pershing. For example, the author writes about the General’s lack of training on modern weaponry and technologies, weaknesses that made the American forces incur huge losses. He was also unable to use the “bottom-up” managerial style, a strategy that could have saved his life. The exaggerations make the book appear biased. Similar embellishments are evident in the description of the General’s achievements during the war. Regardless of whether the exaggerations are deliberate or not, it is a fact beyond doubt that they give the book a ring of personal biasness.

In conclusion, it is evident that Jim Lacey’s Pershing: A Biography gives the American people and the larger audience a sense of hope in life. It also goes a long way in appreciating the heroes of the American military. In addition, the biography can be used as a reference to provide information on the evolution of militaries, their efforts, and sacrifices to protect countries from enemies. As a result, it is evident that Jim Lacey does a good job in writing a book that is a source of inspiration to all readers. It is a well written biography that documents the life of a forgotten hero. Jim Lacey uses an articulate and coherent writing style that is enjoyable and comprehensible to the audience. In spite of its various shortcomings, the biography is rich in history, especially the detailed analysis of the American army during World War I. However, Jim Lacey could have done more to illustrate the shortcomings of Pershing, not just as a soldier, but also as a person who lived within a social setting. In addition, the involvement of the American government in the war is not clearly highlighted. Generally, Jim Lacey did a great job in this book. His writing style, the delivery methods, and the sources cited gives the book life and credibility.

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