Allan Kent Powell, ed. Utah and the Great War: The Beehive State and the World War I Experience. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016. Illustrations. x + 421 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-60781-510-5.
Reviewed by Michael Van Wagenen (Georgia Southern University)
Published on H-War (May, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)
The centennial anniversary of the United States’ entrance into the First World War has inspired a number of initiatives across the nation that commemorate local contributions to the war effort. Allan Kent Powell’s edited collection, Utah and the Great War: The Beehive State and the World War I Experience, brings together the diverse voices of soldiers, nurses, industrialists, American Indians, children, immigrants, pacifists, and other Utah residents during America’s first great trauma of the twentieth century. Taken as a whole, the collection of seventeen essays succeeds in casting light on “how the world-changing event played out in the Beehive State” (p. ix).
In his introductory essay, Powell establishes what made the Utah experience unique in American World War I history. Upon entry into the conflict, Utah had only been a state for twenty-one years. The fifty years prior to statehood largely pitted the federal government against a quasi-theocracy under the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a territory that valued isolation. The state’s participation in the war, therefore, became a critical part of the process of the “Americanization of Utah” and its emergence as a modern social and economic powerhouse (p. 3).
The chapters fall into three general categories: military experiences, home front challenges, and the aftermath of the conflict. The military story begins with two essays by Richard C. Roberts, which document the mobilization of the Utah National Guard for Mexican border service in 1916 and its eventual mustering for European service in 1917. Brandon Johnson’s analysis of Utah soldiers in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918 rounds out the combat contribution of the state. Miriam B. Murphy’s “If Only I Shall Have the Right Stuff” broadens this battlefront experience by exploring the role that Utah women played as volunteer nurses, ambulance drivers, and other combat support personnel. Particularly interesting is Murphy’s discovery of hundreds of letters from a Utah ambulance driver who was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star for her bravery under fire.
The majority of the volume is dedicated to the state’s home front stories. Powell drew from a wide variety of topics, including community histories, immigrant experiences, and conscientious objectors. Among the more fascinating contributions is David L. Wood’s “Gosiute-Shoshone Draft Resistance, 1917-1918.” After decades of abuse and neglect, Utah’s native peoples became eligible for military draft, prompting several near-violent confrontations in and around the federal reservations of the region. The resulting strife heightened racial tensions in the West while establishing precedence for American Indians to eventually become citizens.
The collection ends with five chapters about the lasting impact that the war had on Utah itself. Two chapters explore the 1918-19 influenza outbreak in the state. Additional essays consider the Red Scare and the controversies surrounding Woodrow Wilson’s proposed League of Nations, which revealed a growing political divide among the highest levels of leadership of the Mormon Church. The last contribution is William G. Love’s “A History of Memory Grove,” which documents efforts of Utahns to join in the conflict’s national commemoration trend in the 1920s. Particularly interesting is the popular movement to create a memorial park on a historic Mormon pioneer campsite, effectively replacing past religious rebellion with symbols of national loyalty and patriotism.
Utah and the Great War is a collaboration between the University of Utah Press and the Utah State Historical Society. All but one of the essays were previously published in the Utah Historical Quarterly during the last forty years. Powell cast a wide net across decades of interpretive changes. Indeed, the greatest strength of the volume is the breadth of its essays. Diverse collections can also be a double-edged sword as editors struggle to stitch together disparate essays into a cohesive theme. Powell faced all of these expected challenges but did so with the skill of a seasoned editor who knows his state’s history. The focus, while local, is not insular, and provides several small studies that add to our understanding of larger trends in the war.
One advantage of working with contemporary studies is that it gives the editor the ability to labor alongside the authors to shape the material. Powell was working with essays that were sometimes decades old and with contributors who, in a few cases, had died. Nonetheless, he was able to create a surprisingly cohesive collection that does, in fact, accomplish its stated purpose of conveying “the complexity, enthusiasm, patriotism, and sacrifices of an earlier generation” in the state of Utah (p. ix).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-war.
Michael Van Wagenen. Review of Powell, Allan Kent, ed., Utah and the Great War: The Beehive State and the World War I Experience.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
|This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.|