14 August 2010
The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War
I just finished David Laskin's book The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War.
Laskin tells the story of America's involvement in the Great War through the stories of 12 men who immigrated to the United States not long before the conflict began. It is a perspective that we don't hear enough about when learning about that war. It is easy to forget how the nation was still being formed and molded into what we know it as today. Laskin illustrates how immigrant experience cannot be untangled from America's experience in the war.
I enjoyed how he weaved the stories of these men together with their place in their family histories as well as the greater American history. He clearly shows how the draft brought together all these men of different nationalities, ethnicities, and histories who before did not interact with those outside of their neighborhoods or enclaves. The war takes these men and makes them suffer together, bleed together, and die together until their differences are less important than their commonality as soldiers. Post-war Laskin shows that this did more for integrating immigrants into America long term than perhaps anything else.
In the words of their relatives these men "came home American." Most were proud of their service and it was a touchstone throughout their lives. For many, that legacy of military service continued in their families and still continues through the wars we fight today.
Great read that further illustrates that suffering in war is the same kind of hell be it in Ypres, Normandy, Chosin, Khe Sahn, Kuwait, Fallujah, or Marjah. It always leaves its mark, both positive and negative, on the men, women, and families it touches.