by Chris Dickon
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. Pp. vi, 234.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 0786471905
American Mercenaries, Adventurers, and Volunteers in the Era of the World Wars
Dickon, author of The Foreign Burial of American War Dead and other works, gives us an overview of Americans who served in foreign forces during the wars of the first half of the twentieth century.
Dickon opens with the story of Lafayette, the French volunteer for American liberty, and at several points during the book harks back to others, such as Pulaski, who served the American cause, thus stressing the common idealistic thread linking Lafayette and these others to the twentieth century Americans who fought in French, British, Canadian, Spanish Republican, Chinese, and other ranks.
Dickon then gives us little profiles of many of the men who served or abetted such service, such as the poet Alan Seeger, sometime U.S. ambassador to France Myron Herrick, African-American fighter pilot Eugene Jacques Bullard, ambulance driver Richard Hall, and more. The account of men who served in the Canadian armed forces in the two world wars, the largest number of Americans ever in foreign service, is particularly good.
Dickon’s account of Americans in the Spanish Civil War is focused wholly on those who served the Republic, omitting a handful of men who served the Nationalists, and his account shies away from the persecution of volunteers who didn’t adhere to the Stalinist line. In addition, he fails mention of efforts by African American to fight for Ethiopia during Mussolini’s invasion of 1935-1926, or of the surprisingly numbers of Italian-Americans and German-Americans who served their ancestral homeland during the world wars, or the Japanese-Americans who did so in World War II.
Despite these omissions, Dickon’s book tells a largely untold story, and is very much worth reading for that reason.