Drinking

July 13, 1918 – Full diary entry:

“Went on guard. Slept on the ground in the rain.

Got paid tonight. Don’t expect much sleep tonight. Most of the boys will be drunk.”


As mentioned yesterday, Robert had turned in his bed tick under the assumption that the 140th would be moving on shortly. So last night he slept on the ground in the rain, tonight he is expecting a rowdy camp, and tomorrow – well, tomorrow things get even uglier.


Some of the information below comes from Pershing’s Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I by Richard Faulkner.

Drinking, and other vices, were not unknown in the U.S. military prior to World War One. But it was especially concerning to the War Department in 1917 and 1918. The problem had reached new heights during the Spanish-American War, and the movement toward prohibition was gaining momentum across the country. By the time the U.S. entered the war, 19 states had already passed prohibition laws, and the 18th Amendment would be passed in 1919.

As a result of all of these factors, the army issued General Order 77 in December 1917, stating: “Soldiers are forbidden either to buy or accept gifts from inhabitants, whiskey, brandy, champagne, liquors or other alcoholic beverages other than light wine or beer.”

You can imagine how effective that was with two million young Americans dropped into France, many living on their own for the first time and – let’s not forget – not sure if they would survive long enough to return home.

Faulkner quotes the AEF chief surgeon, in a report to the AEF chief of staff: “Insomuch as wine is sold in France not only in hotels, inns, bars and grocery stores, but generally in almost every type of store, it has been found obviously impracticable to prohibit its use.”

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And the final piece of the problem: compared to their French counterparts, many of the American soldiers did not know how to handle their alcohol. One more quote from Pershing’s Crusaders, this from a Danish soldier: “The French handle their liquor much better than the Americans did. They would sit at the table and drink all day, be drunk by the evening, but they never made any trouble, they just get up and quietly find their way home. When the Americans came in they just went wild. Got drunk and wanted everyone to know it. It kind of scared the Frenchman at first.”


Where was Robert today? See the timeline.

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