I mentioned the Joffre-Viviani Mission in a post the other day. Today on my way to visit a friend for lunch I began John S.D. Eisenhower’s Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War 1. One of my mantras is that time on the subway shall not go wasted. Yanks is a primer on the American experience during the Great War. It is funny how one mentions something–even something as obscure such as the French military mission of spring 1917–and then a few days later it appears again.
As if on cue Eisenhower begins his narrative with Marshal Joffre and Prime Minister Viviani’s trip. The trip was really Joffre’s, as he was the one most Americans were eager to see. The marshal was one of those great characters from history who blended charisma, intelligence, chutzpah, and just the right mix of shamelessness and hucksterism into an oversized package one could only love. Joffre had a little bit of Lionel Hutz in him.
The Frenchman in America is a theme I discuss in my tours at the the Roosevelt Birthplace. It comes up when I discuss famous people who came to the Birthplace. One individual was Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who came to East 20th Street in 1921 when the site was being being rebuilt. Going back there was Lafayette in the 1820s, Tocqueville in the 1830s, Joffre during the Great War, and Foch three after it ended. These are things they themselves would have grasped at the time. Indeed Foch’s 1921 trip was modeled consciously on Lafayette’s.
Joffre’s American excursion was more than casual however. He had business to conduct in addition to the goodwill aspects of his visit. For one thing the British were also in town too and competing for Wilson’s ear. This is a simplification, but Joffre won the public relations campaign over the Brits. One of the people he met first in the United States was the young Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like Theodore, Franklin had long been an advocate of preparedness. About a week into the trip there was that ticker tape parade up lower Manhattan. Joffre also visited Grant’s Tomb and Lincoln’s resting place in Springfield, Illinois.
(images/Grant’s Tomb. Library of Congress; Lincoln resting place, NYPL)