Book Review: My Life before the World War, 1860-1917: A Memoir


by John J. Pershing, edited and with an introduction by John T. Greenwood

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Pp. xii, 728. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 978-0-8131-4197-8

Pershing’s Reminicensces of Life and Service in “The Old Army”

At his death, John J. Pershing left several drafts of a memoir dealing with his life and career before the First World War. Army historian Greenwood prepared this version by carefully editing the various drafts together, adding a number of important documents plus and supplying missing detail in a biographical appendix and extensive footnotes, which together take up about 200 pages. 

The result is a surprisingly frank look at life in the “Old Army” from the waning days of the Indian Wars to the eve of the Great War. We find Pershing standing up for Native Americans, criticizing USMA practices, bucking the brass, and more. For contemporary readers, perhaps the most interesting and valuable parts of the book are his accounts of service in the “Moro War” in the Philippines, where the practices he adopted in the pacification of the historically unbowed Moslem peoples of the southern Philippines, which paid careful attention to their traditions and religious practices, quite the opposite of what many who have commented on the subject have claimed. 

A volume in the UPK “American Warriors Series,” My Life Before the World War is a valuable work not only for those interested in the last years of the frontier army and long forgotten campaigns on the frontier, or in Cuba, the Philippines, Manchuria (where Pershing served as an observer), and Mexico, but also for students of pacification and nation building.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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