General Pershing’s arrival in first England and then France one hundred years ago this week is often understood to mark a turning point in American-European relations. The coming of the A.E.F. certainly signaled the arrival of the United States on the world stage, a process that had begun almost two decades earlier during the Spanish-American War. The evolving American relationship with Europe dates back to then too; it was John Hay, Secretary of State in the McKinley and Roosevelt Administration from 1898-1905 and, just prior to that, Ambassador to the Court of St. James, who had done so much to build the “special relationship” with Great Britain. Hay and Pershing laid the groundwork diplomatically and militarily for the Allied victory in the Second World War. Pershing’s protégés included George Marshall, George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower. Today, 8 June 2017, marks another significant moment: the War Department created the European Theater of Operations on this date in 1942.
Dwight Eisenhower, at fifty-one now a major general, took over at director of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) in London on June 24. Joseph Stalin had been pressing for a second European front for some time, and now it appeared he would get that some time in 1942. That of course did not come to pass. Roosevelt and his planners decided to make North Africa the first Atlantic offensive. Two years later came the invasion of Normandy and V-E Day less than on year after that. Ike was now a hero and came home to assume the presidency of Columbia University. He was back in Europe as the head of NATO in 1950. For the past three quarters of a century we have taken the work of the U.S. Army in the European Theater of Operations granted. It was in Germany as part of the ETO where Elvis was stationed after getting drafted in the late 1950s.
We would do well to remember in our current moment that building alliances is much more arduous and time consuming than tearing them apart. Diplomacy is a funny thing: when done well one does not see it; when done poorly it is all one sees. I only saw one reference to the creation of the European Theater of Operations today. Here is to remembering the work that Roosevelt, Marshall, Eisenhower, and millions of anonymous American uniformed service persons have done over the past seventy-five years.
(image/Library of Congress)