Another interesting facet to the book is its contrast from works by French historians such as Y.H.Nouailhat and A.Kaspi. Written from a Franco-centric perspective, the emphasis in these works was laid on broader aspects of the war, with American involvement given only moderate coverage. In the case of Kaspi, the focus is on official developments and military strategies with respect to American participation. In other words, one of his treatises is on the success of the “amalgamation” between the American Expeditionary Force and its French and British counterparts and the extent to which these erstwhile separate entities co-operated and coordinated with each other so as to win the war. Bruce takes up this facet of the war in his book as well and deals with it in much greater depth. But as opposed to Kaspi, Bruce peruses personal letters of American soldiers, etc, and presents the war from their perspective. The employment of this conceptual framework – sometimes classified together with subaltern studies – is a distinctly modern phenomenon in terms of historiography. And Robert Bruce does justice to this genre of history writing through detailed and coherent accounts of the Great War from bottom-up.
In the prevailing diplomatic strains between the two great democracies, it is easy to forget that they were once best of allies. And reading the book in the backdrop of the fall-off between the two sides in the wake of Iraq War, adds new perspectives to the current situation. For example, the former French Premier, Jacques Chirac openly expressed his displeasure with America’s decision to unilaterally engage with Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship. Chirac’s sentiments were typical of many leaders in Europe, excepting Britain (which is reflexively and perpetually in agreement with the only superpower). Following this fall-off, many jokes were circulated on both sides, criticizing and mocking the other. For example American fast food joints renamed ‘French Fries’ as ‘Freedom Fries’, suggesting that somehow France was against freedom and civil liberties. If anything, by violating the sovereignty of a country that was not a realistic threat, it is the United States which has undermined freedom. So, Fraternity of Arms radiates optimism in these present despairing times for the Franco-American alliance. Upon assimilating the contents of the book, especially the spirit and camaraderie shared by soldiers from two sides of the Atlantic, one can start seeing the present impasse as temporary.
Professor Bruce also deals with controversial aspects of the amalgamation. Indeed, one of the merits of the book is its sustenance of an element of intrigue and suspense as events unravel in the war. During the early months of 1918 the amalgamation controversy assumed its peak and it became uncertain whether Britain would receive any American help at all. As reviewer David Watson neatly observes,
“British reserves of manpower had not been as completely exhausted as had the French, but British preponderance in shipping gave her government a strong hand of cards: was it reasonable that British ships should transport over half of the American forces to Europe, only for them all to be devoted to supporting the French army? Nevertheless, apart from small-scale emergency relief to the British forces, it remained the case that the American Expeditionary Force worked with the French, and not with the British armies. It is one of the major contributions of this book to state this so clearly and unequivocally.”
Bruce also takes pains in explaining that the ultimate victory for the Western powers was ‘only’ made possible due to their superior cohesion and coordination – something which their enemies could not achieve. So, despite America’s Navy being very weak, its supply of troops to the Western cause was a decisive factor. And their successful integration under British and French command had what made it possible. Also, it is the mark of a good researcher to not take sides in his analysis and to abstain from making moral judgments about agents in conflict. This is certainly true of Robert Bruce, whose book does not in anyway emphasise the moral superiority of the Western cause. The same cannot be said of the accounts of the war that emerged from Germany.