Wakefield%20Playing%20in%20the%20Postwar%20World

Wakefield%20Playing%20in%20the%20Postwar%20World - PLAYING...

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Unformatted text preview: PLAYING IN THE POST-WAR WORLD AND PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE OF MILITARY SPORT The Armistice that put an end to the fighting of World War I left the American government without any clear plan about how best to demobilize the army and return its soldiers to the United States.1 In addition, the Army had no clear idea about how best to provide for the troops scheduled to remain in Europe as occupation forces. But the Army did recognize that they would ' need to be entertained, in part by continuing the program of sports and athletics established during the war. But the military also initiated changes in its postwar sports program in response to new needs. Armed forces athletics would serve new purposes and be conducted in new ways. Physical fitness and morale would be promoted through athletics, but so would the diplomatic needs of the United States. And after demobilization problems associated with the World War I Sports program would be addressed so that improved methods for providing athletic ' opportunities to the troops would be in place should the need arise in the future. When the guns finally went quiet on the Western Front on November 11, 1918, many of the soldiers who had left the United States and gone to Europe to participate in the Great War and had served either behind the lines or in battle discovered that they would not be returning home immediately. Even though they were technically no longer at war, they found that their commanders intended that they continue to maintain the same high level of physical fitness while waiting to be demobilized which they had establiShed during training. This continued training was designed to help the doughboys avoid laziness and boredom in the absence of battle. To further prevent the disintegration of troop morale because of the lack of activity they were also encouraged to play sports or to watch others playing, to attend educational classes, and to solve mock combat problems. Furthermore, soldier—athletes in the military of the United States were asked to participate in competitions against the soldier—athletes of other nations, in exhibitions designed to demonstrate the superiority of American sports and sportsmen. ' ’ 36 Playing to Win Before American disengagement from Europe, many doughboys also became involved, either as participants or as observers, in a great athletic festival staged in Paris and designed to demonstrate that the soldiers of the victorious allied armies could unite for peaceful purposes as well as for war. These 1919 Inter—Allied Games directly preceded the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, and on the surface they appear to have many similarities to those grand international sports meetings reestablished by the Baron de Courbetin less than thirty years before. But the Inter-Allied Games also displayed striking dissimilarities in organization and purpose connecting them more to the diplomatic struggle being waged at , the Paris Peace Conference for the future of Europe than to other international athletic competitions. Most of the troops who had gone to Europe to fight in the Great War were demobilized by the end of 1920.2 Back in the United States, Douglas MacArthur, wartime commander of the Forty—second (Rainbow) Division, took over as Superintendent at West Point and created a program of intramural athletics for the cadets based on his understanding of how best to train future officers. And during the subsequent decade, officers in the American army determined to study the ways in which sports had been provided to the soldiers and sailors during the First World War and to apply their experiences to planning for future engagements overseas. A series of lectures and meetings at the Army War College during the 1920s led to significant changes in the way opportunities for recreation were made available to those in the As American planners began to raise the mass army that would ultimately fight the Second World War, the design of the sports program through which soldiers and sailors were trained and entertained reflected new thinking, not only about the practical purposes of such a sports program, but the philosophical purposes behind the creation of an American masculine ideal through sport. Although the Armistice of November 11, 1918, effectively ended American involvement in combat on the Western Front, those troops who had been‘sent to Europe to participate in the war were not sent home all at once. Soldiers were needed to occupy the Rhineland in anticipation of an eventual peace treaty, and soldiers were needed to begin the long process of restoring'the French and Belgian countryside to its prewar condition. Furthermore, regiments dis— patched to Russia to deal with the consequences of the 1917 Revolution remained in Archangel and Siberia until 1920. The presence of large numbers of troops from the United States in Europe after November, 1918, required Army author- ities to plan for their entertainment and amusement. As they Waited for demobili— zation and for the final treaty of peace to be negotiated, the doughboys had Planning for the Future 37 time to kill, and the army and the representatives of the Young Men’s Christian Association handling soldier welfare matters forthe Army, instituted a series of athletic competitions to fill the soldiers? days. L ‘ ‘ The sports program devised by the YMCA and other civilian agencies at the behest of the military ultimately met the doughboys’ need to be distracted and entertained while waiting to go home. But like the athletic. activities that had occurred during the war, these postwar competitions also helped reinforce the dominating position. held by America’s soldiers in a Europe devastated by war. They served to drive home the message that participation in American sports taught values required in a rapidly changing world in which the United States had seized a major role. Finally, the military’s sports program provided further evidence of the superiority of American men, whose success'on the battlefield was reflected in their athletic successes. David M. [Kennedy has described how the Army chose to deal with post- Armistice idleness by requiring its troops to solve sham training problems, to participate in education classes, and to take advantage of the sports competitions being held down to the company level.3 But for the Mericans, sport served not only to prevent boredom, but to ensure virtue as well. Before the war many had commonly assumed that sporting activities helped keep young men both physically fit and morally clean.4 But the military’s plans for the actual practice of athletics among the doughboys remaining in Europe was much less about that romanticized vision of sport as a uniquely clean and pure endeavor (although some Division newspapers, such as the Amaroc News, reflected that ideal as late as 1919). Rather, the Army turned to sports as a- practical device to keep the young, bored doughboys from drinking and making friendly overtures to the women of France.5 ' ’ Furthermore, as President Woodrow Wilson struggled to achieve his goal of a new world order, the YMCA and the army discovered that athletic success could demonstrate American-- power and further American prestige, providing additional confirmation that the American point of view must be respected at the peace table as well. The means used by the YMCA and army authorities to promote athletic competitions show how the earlier vision of virtuous competition gave way to the reality of national diplomatic needs in the postwar period. ‘ ' Although the place that idealized sport had held as a repository of virtue was never completely superseded, beyond the use of athletics as a means of instilling character came the recOgnition that sports for the army could have a functional purpose. Therefore, the military began to make plans to supply the soldiers with as many athletic opportunities as possible. To facilitate the 38 Playing to Win staging of athletic events, a building program was undertaken that would leave the citizens of Coblenz, Germany, and other Rhineland cities with first—class athletic facilities. According to Jack Gann, writing in the Third Division’s newspaper the Amaroc News, the Occupation army’s sports program was designed to get everyone involved, whether as player or spectator, so that those not previously interested in sports would become interested, while those pre— viously interested in only one sport would be able to learn to appreciate other ’ athletic endeavors. Although the army’s purposes in conducting this sports program appear to have been primarily instrumental, as Gann reminded his readers, unlike civilian professional sports army sports were clean and demon- strated that success could be achieved without sacrificing honesty.6 During that first winter in Germany, the army athletic program included regimental basketball, boxing, and wrestling/Enough people associated with the Ninth Infantry Regiment were interested in either playing or watching the matches and games that a new mess hall Was constructed to handle the crowds.7 Later in 1919, athletic festivals were staged in the Third Army area in a newly built stadium, with adjacent stables. A similar stadium was built in the Ander— nach area, featuring hot showers, a press box, and special boxes for the ladies.8 At both Heddesdorf and Montabaur, baseball fields were laid out and stadia constructed so that doughboys could watch the action in comfort. 'And for those soldiers forced to remain in Germany during the next winter, the Young Men’s Christian Association ordered five hundred pairs of ice skates and promised to have outdoor hockey rinks built for the doughboys’ use. Reflecting the high— ‘ level interest in the competitions stated in the new stadia General Pershing paid a visit to the First versus Second Division baseball game at Montabaur.9 Successful teams and individual athletes were entertained by the YMCA. For example, the track team from the Eightieth Division’s Second Battalion 1 was treated to a special supper because they, according to the Division’s news,— paper, The Whizz—Bang, “true to the tradition of the battalion, brought it home in first place.”10 Another soldier newspaper, The Cootie, reported that boxing and wrestling were “by the far the most popular sports and entertainments during the winter months” for the doughboys and that basketball games in the regif ‘ mental league were drawing large crowds.”11 The men of the Eighty—first Division also had a unit newspaper. Covering the entire front page of The Wildcat is an enormous picture of an enraged cat, captioned “Breaking Through.” At the top of the page, on the right side of the newspaper’s name is an illustration of a wildcat pitching what looks like a baseball, while on the left is a wildcat holding a baseball bat in his paw. Even those doughboys with limited reading skills received a message from The Planning/'Ffor the. Future 39 Wildcat’s first page about the importance of sports to masculinity and wartime success, assuming they understood the presumed significance of baseball to American male culture at all .(which assumption belies the fact that large numbers of American soldiers were recent immigrants to the United States, having grown up in countries where other sports, such as soccer, were commonly played) .12 Inside, a report from the 318th Machine Gun company adVises that they are “very busy these days returning equipment, playing baseball,'and talking of going home.”13 ‘ According to the WTzizz-Bang, any team or individual’s athletic successes were a reflection of the tradition of accomplishment already established on the battlefield. In fact, for the Eightieth Division, the best description of their fighting ability was contained in the “Official Batting Average of the AEF 1918 Season,” which was reprinted in Whizz—Bang from the Stars and Stripes. In contrast to the batting averages compiled at the end of every baseball season, however, this AEF batting average was determined not through a ratio of hits ‘ to outs, but through the number of ofcers and men captured, the number of artillery pieces seized, and the kilometers advanced toward the enemy. Rather than present those statistics straightforwardly, therefore, the editors of Stars and Stripes and of Whizz—Bang decided to provide an interpretation of the ' statistics that they believed would be more meaningful to their readers. Those Whizz-Bang readers were no doubt proud to learn that the Eightieth Division ranked second among divisions in the National Army in kilometers advanced and first in the number of machine guns taken. They also must surely have ' concluded that the fact that the Eightieth ranked sixth in kilometers advanced ' among the entire AEF established their fighting prowess.” On the other hand, we cannot assume that all young men in the Eightieth Division, or all readers of Whizz—Bang, either understood the significance of if baseball batting averages, or accepted that baseball batting averages could reasonably be modified to show how the division fared while in combat. As' with the use of metaphorical language derived from sport in Stars and Stripes, the development of a method drawn from baseball to distinguish the experiences of army divisions in World War I carried with it assumptions about what the doughboys knew, or should know, about sports. These batting averages were developed for the precise reason that all Soldiers were presumed to be as vitally concerned with sports as they were with other “manly” endeavors. And if doughboys were not interested in sports, but were anxious to learn how their Division did in the war, theyxwould soon learn from reading the Whizz-Bang that sport should be important to them if they wanted to understand their place in the world. Thus, a hegemonic ideal of masculinity was reinforced by tying 40 Playing to Win together the language of sport and war, marginalizing those men uninterested in or alienated from athletics. . I Aside from their own interunit competitions in sports 11ke baseball, basketball, and boxing, the Americans also continued the pattern they had established during the war of encouraging soldiers’in other armies to play those sports common in the United States but not in Europe. And as they had dur1ng the war, American soldier-athletes participated in track and field meets against athletes from the allied armies. But in the postwar world, representatives of the United States military and of the YMCA were even more anxious to establish the dominance of American men and the way of life which had created this superiority by demonstrating their prowess in athletics. To that end they organized sports festivals to which they invited representatives of other armies, and built large athletic complexes both in France and in occupied Germany. Despite a consensus that victory on the playing field was a predictor of victory in other endeavors, the army and the civilian agencies working with the army to organize sports were unable to reach agreement on how best to ensure American athletic domination. They were unsure whether it would be best to identify and train elite athletes or emphasize the athletic abilities of regular soldiers—especially as Americans began to compete against allied athletes. The American attempt to acquaint allied troops with American games began as soon after the Armistice as circumstances permitted. The French were introduced to basketball in April, 1919, as the game was set to become a part of the French army’s athletic program. Basketball also was included in an athletic meet held by the British Rhine Army in July 15, 1919.15 Meanwhile 2d Lt. Eric Oj erholm was dispatched for the Cologne bridgehead in June, 1919, armed with baseballs, bats, and gloves, to teach the British how to play the American game. And the French were treated to a demonstration of America’s national game by baseball teams from the Second Division stationed at Wiesbaden.16 As Clark" Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators put it, “America has a direct and very personal interest in the dissemination of baseball love by the doughboys.”$17 Griffith seemed to have anticipated that the spread of baseball throughout the globe would lead to a larger pool of talented players from which to draw, but what other reasons might there have beep for the Americans’ interest in sharing basketball and baseball? Although the common foot soldier may merely have wanted to show how much fun baseball and basketball were, other factors must also have led to this eagerness to see the French and British playing like the Americans, especially in those cases where it appeared that the athletic representatives of the allied armies might successfully challenge the doughboys. The fact that during one Planning for r the Future 41 . “ IE1? J three-day period American athletes broke eight French track and field records meant little when soldier boxers were struggling to survive in the ring with French boxers—especially since boxing seemed to be a uniquely manly sport.18 Indeed, at one point it appeared that the only way an American boxer was going to be able to stay with the French champion, Famey, was if he were paid. Accordingly, in an example of a case where romanticism about sport gave way to practicality, Leckie of the US Army accepted the twenty-five franc per round incentive offered by Earl Brannon of the YMCA and pocketed two hundred fifty francs at the end of a bout held in June 1919.19 However, Leckie’s success, as well as the successes of American athletes at other times during 1919, were not believed to be sufficient to establish finally the superiority of the United States and its men, to show the Europeans (whether in the Victorious allied armies or among the occupied populations) the “snap and go” that, according to the Second Division’s The Indian, the doughboys‘ had exhibited at the front.20 This was especially true as American soldier—athlews met defeat at the hands of the sportsmen'from the allied armies. Early in 1919 an editorial in Amaroc News explained that the secret of the “wonderful fighting and staying qualities of the American Army” was due to the fact that every soldier was an athlete, a situation said to be unlike that in the European armies who maintained a distinct group of professional athletes capable of making records.21 But despite the fact that every American soldier was athletic, their physical abilities were still not sufficiently developed to ensure certain success against the soldier-athletes of other nations. Accordingly, by midsummer the Amaroc News reported that the Army proposed to open a permanent sports training facility along the Rhine to provide for those soldiers who were going to compete on an elite level, thus adopting the European system of separating the best athletes from their peers. Even with that new training facility, apparently built after accepting that to be competitive American athletes had to train more regularly, Inter-Army matches held in October, 1919, revealed that the British were still in better shape than the Americans.22 Fortunately, the readers were offered an explanation for the Americans’ lack of athletic success—not only were the British competitors “professional” athletes, but the Americans were outnumbered and unable to devote full time to training because-they could not be released from military duties! Therefore, Pat Brannon of the YMCA asked that fifty athletes be placed on special duty so that “in a short time Americans will clean up on the best men that the British anszrench have.”23 As the Amaroc News commented, in order for their athletes to achieve success, American athletic officers were going to have to work harder to ensure that each organization enter competitors 42 Playing to Win in at least 70 percent of the events of an upcoming sports show which would feature competition between American units as well as competition with the British and French.24 T...
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