Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why are there not more Great War books in the US?

For those of you who don't know me, I am the author of about 50 books and novels.  I write science fiction, military history, and business books (for the most part).  I really lead a double-life.  During my daytime hours I work for one of the Big Four accounting firms in their IT department.   It's like having a secret identity except it is no where as cool as being a super-hero. 
I am writing a blog to keep my writing skills polished, keep my creative juices flowing, and to enjoy myself a little bit. 
My first topic is one close to my heart:  Why are there not more Great War books in the US?
As a writer who has two published histories of the Great War and one coming out in a few weeks (Lost Eagles, University of Michigan Press); I have had to struggle to find the right publishers.  A number of mainstream publishers didn't weren't interested in doing books on WWI because they didn't believe there was as market for them. 
Wow.  Really?
There was over a million Americans involved in the St. Mithel offensive; despite being one of the last offenses of the war.  We didn't have a million troops involved in D-Day; so you'd think that it would have prevailed in our collective conscience. 
WWI introduced U-Boats, mines (on a large scale), Dreadnought battleships, rapid-fire artillery, flamethrowers, tanks, fighter and bomber aircraft, gas weapons, and countless other deadly innovations. 
There are several factors that drive the lack of interest (by publishers) in WWI books.  First, the Great War is overshadowed by events in WWII in the public conscience.  We still have veterans alive from WWII whereas all but a handful of WWI vets have "gone west."  There are grandfathers and great-grandfathers still able to tell their stories of combat from WWII whereas WWI is now a war that is dependent on the records and documentation left behind. 
Another factor that comes into play is that America's involvement in WWI was very late in the war and our combat operations were short-lived.  Oh sure, Americans were fighting starting in 1914; but they were volunteers in the French Foreign Legion and eventually the Lafayette Flying Corps and Lafayette Escadrille.  While iconic characters for sure, the rest of the United States didn't get involved directly with the war until April of 1917 when war was declared.  Even then we didn't have troops on the front lines and in battle until mid-1918.  With the war ending in November, America's contribution to the victory was noteworthy, but short compared to the time and losses suffered by our allies. 
Like the Korean War, the Great War is often overlooked or glossed over.  I was disappointed recently at the reopening of the Smithsonian's American History museum which had a single almost embarrassing display case on WWI.  While the artifacts were wonderful, it was sad to see it overlooked. 
But I would challenge that the Great War is making a strong comeback in terms of literature; and I hope the publishing world is taking note.  More books are coming out each year about the war and the subject matter is solid and offers new perspectives and directions.  Some of the books that have come out in the last year have really shed new light on topics and have broken the stereotype that the Great War was a boring trench war with great losses and little gains. 
The Great War laid the foundations not just for WWII but for the Cold War and the world we live in today.  The study of WWI and active research in this war helps us understand the context of policy and diplomacy now.