Tasker Howard Bliss to Newton D. Baker


Tasker Howard Bliss to Newton D. Baker


Bliss, Tasker Howard, 1853-1930




1917 May 25


Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Papers, 1786-1957




Dear Mr. Secretary

It is very refreshing to read such sound and well-considered views as those expressed by Mr. Moore in his letter, herewith, to Colonel House, and which you have permitted me to see.
Of course, you know what has been the consistent and oft-repeated view of our General Staff. Until the arrival of the English and French Missions it was not assumed by anyone that we would do anything else than be guided by what, up to that time, had been the repeated recommendations and hopes expressed by many high officials, both civil and military, in England and France. These hopes and recommendations were to the effect that we would avoid what proved to be the grave error on the part of the English in attempting to take a decided part in the land warfare before they were ready. They sacrificed their regular army, – their only means for training raw levies, – in the early days of the war, – and perhaps this was a necessity. But you can imagine what a helpless mob a body of a million or more of men is when it has not an ample leaven of trained officers and veteran troops to organize and train it and England found herself with such a mob on her hands after the practical destruction of her regular forces. It caused the larger part of the long delay which ensued before this mob could be gotten into shape for field service.
We assumed that, taking advantage of the experience of the English and believing that it would not be necessary to send away a part of our small regular army needed for the training of raw troops at home, we would have a considerable period for careful and intensive training and that none of our troops would go abroad until next spring. We did not assume that the Entente Allies were in such a condition as to make any other course desirable or necessary. As you know, all our estimates, carried in the pending large appropriation bill, were based on the assumption of this somewhat prolonged period of training. They did not include the huge expenses that will be incurred when we actually begin to engage in the war with its corresponding enormous loss and waste of expensive materiel of all kinds.
Our knowledge of what seems to be the real situation began to clarify shortly after the arrival of the English and French Missions. The gentlemen belonging to these Missions at first were very reserved in their conferences with us. At first they laid stress only on the desirability of having a small body of troops go to the European theatre of war for the mere purpose of producing a moral effect. At first they spoke of this moral effect as being one to be produced on the troops and people of the Entente Allies. As they began to speak more unreservedly they let it appear that they wanted also to produce a moral effect upon our own people. They did not seem to think that we, as a nation, were interested enough in the matter, and that we needed something to wake us up. It was not long before they said quite openly that we would not feel that we were in the war until we were well “blooded”; that what we needed was to have a large casualty list telegraphed home and that that would stir our fighting blood.
As you know, these views did not change the belief of our General Staff that we should properly train and organize and thoroughly equip and prepare for war a real and formidable force before we attempted to go across the water, but as the foreign gentlemen spoke more and more freely it became evident that what they want and need is men, whether trained or not.
They have urged us to send small organizations, even companies, as rapidly as they can be organized, and allow them to be trained abroad. They have told us that while it requires a long time to train a large army so that it will play its part properly on the firing line, the recruits that must be fed in order to keep that line at its full strength do not require so much training. This, of course, is quite evidently true; an untrained man between two veterans will soon get to do his work well, whereas if all three are untrained they are helpless.
It seemed to most of us that what both the English and French really wanted from us was not a large well-trained army but a large number of smaller units which they could feed promptly into their line as parts of their own organizations in order to maintain their man power at full strength. General Bridges told us that the French man power has for some time been steadily going down and that it will never reach its former strength unless it is reinforced in some such way as indicated above. He also told us that the English man power will never exceed its present strength and that with the present campaign it will steadily decline. He told us that if the French receive no such reinforcements they will now have to consolidate two divisions into one in order to obtain one of reasonably full strength. He said that England and France could keep up their supply of materiel but not men; that in fact they were sure to have an excess of materiel because new rifles were unused for lack of men to fire them and batteries of artillery were going out of action not for want of field guns but for want of men to serve them. His idea seemed to be that we could feed in large numbers of oragnizations, going to Europe unarmed and using materiel already there for which they had no men and for which in the near future they would have still fewer men.
All of these considerations raise a very grave question in my mind; shall we wait to train, equip and arm our troops, or shall we feed them in as reinforcements to the English and to the French, taking with us such arms as we have and such as we may be able to manufacture and also using such as we can obtain in Europe? If we follow the latter course it will be at a greatly disproportionate sacrifice of life and suffering on our part and it is problematical whether it will, after all, produce a decisive result. When the war is over it may be a literal fact that the American flag will not have appeared anywhere on the line because our organizations will simply be parts of battalions and regiments of the Entente Allies. We might have a million men there and yet no American army and no American commander. Speaking frankly, I have received the impression from English and French officers that such is their deliberate desire. I do not believe our people will stand for it.I and many other General Staff officers have expressed, in our discussions, the same view as that held by Mr. Moore in his letter to Colonel House; to wit, that the time has come for the English and the French to stand fast and wait until our reinforcements can reach them in such a way as to give the final, shattering blow. I doubt if the Allies will contemplate with satisfaction such a course so long as they can hope to get our men rapidly, whether trained or not, but I think it is a course which our Government should urge upon them with all the force at its disposal.

Original Format



Baker, Newton Diehl, 1871-1937





Bliss, Tasker Howard, 1853-1930, “Tasker Howard Bliss to Newton D. Baker,” 1917 May 25, WWP21424, World War I Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.