Fall 2010 | Volume 60, Issue 3
In the Trenches
Historian Edward Lengel was right when he wrote that the doughboys “came from rich, poor, and everything in between” in his article about the bloody World War I battle of Meuse-Argonne in the Summer issue.
In the fall of 1918, my father, Harry Brough, a telegrapher in the U.S. Army 5th (“Red Diamond”) Division Signal Corps, found himself in a trench in France trying to
send telephone and radio messages. Lately the Allies had been experiencing difficulties with the German interception of battlefield communications. One day two unprepossessing soldiers appeared in his trench. They took up the transmitter and started communicating through grunts and gutteral noises, punctuated with shrugs and gestures. My perplexed father afterward learned that the pair was Native American and were transmitting critical information in a language no German could understand.
—Elizabeth G. Prall
By September 1918 German wire tappers along the Western Front had the capability to decipher every Allied radio and telephone communication, inspiring American company commanders to draw on the language skills of a few of the more than 12,000 American Indians who were serving in the U.S. Army. Predating the effective Navajo code talkers of World War II, 15 Choctaw speakers from the 36th Division and others representing several Indian languages relayed intradivisional orders that frustrated their enemies at Saint-Etienne and Forest Ferme during the 1918 battle of Meuse-Argonne.
Chemicals at War
Edward Lengel’s “Meuse-Argonne” was a fine, well-researched article about an otherwise unstudied aspect of the AEF’s campaign during World War I. He is also right that General Pershing was unaware of the technology evolving in Europe as of August 1, 1914.
What is most ironic about chemical warfare in particular was that Fritz Haber, a Jewish friend of Albert Einstein, created the chemistry behind the synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen in the atmosphere. This guaranteed Germany the chief component it required for the production of high explosives and for the gas first used at Ypres in 1915. He received the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but in 1933, after witnessing the growing influence of the Nazi Party, he emigrated to Great Britain.
Three-Fifths of All Other Persons
Joseph Ellis, in his “Philadelphia Story” article in the Summer 2010 issue of American Heritage, repeats the canard that the Constitution defines the black slave as “three-fifths of a person.” The exact words of the Constitution are “three-fifths of all other Persons.” Elsewhere, the Constitution refers to the “Importation of such Persons,” meaning slaves. The “personhood” of the slaves was never in question, only their political equivalency to a citizen labor force. As to their “representation” in the House, they had none. They were counted only to increase their white masters’ representation. If this benefited the slaves at all, it was only by preventing the South from forming a separate nation then and there.
—Richard A. Dirks
It is rare in the magazine biz, or any other, that you actually manage to do the Republic some good, but those five pieces from the Compromise section of the Summer 2010 issue have a chance. Congratulations on the courage and taste that made it come together so perfectly in the pages of American Heritage. I have studied all those moments and found the five articles perfect. You should put them in a booklet and send them to schools and colleges around the country. Make them required reading. As the debate over immigration looms, the nation could quite practically and directly profit from the worldliness of your editorial decisions.