I’m finally back Stateside! I returned at the end of July after having spent over six months abroad, five weeks of which were spent travelling around continental Europe doing this research. Without having been shot at or wounded and without losing friends and seeing horrific things on the battlefield I was ready enough to be home, so I sympathized with my guys – my Marines and soldiers whose desire to be home carried them through the worst parts of their wars.
I got in a bit more work once I was back, working for several days at the United States Army Heritage Center at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, and hopping around a bit in D.C. which is pretty well covered in military history.
As a “wrap up” post I’m afraid this is going to be rather unsatisfactory. While I’ve learned an enormous amount, there’s no clean cut bottom line ready to hand off to you. This hasn’t been a science experiment that has a conclusion to be reached. In fact, I’ve taken on an independent study for the coming semester just so I’ll have an extra couple of months to process my data, explore the questions that cropped up while I was researching, and create and polish that bottom line to be published in a “TL;DR” length paper by the end of the year.
What I can tell you is how my summer research wrapped up, which is to say I can tell you how I ended up with a different thesis than I had at the beginning of the process without even really realizing it along the way.
When I first started dreaming of this project, it was the dream of following certain units from WWI and WWII across Europe and finding where they intersected. I wanted to know if Marines and soldiers camped in the same place, fought over the same ground, or passed by their fallen or future comrades without knowing it, because that’s a compelling story. I ran into problems almost immediately. Records were lost or destroyed, or, more commonly, I couldn’t access them because I was already in Europe. Taking what I had, I moved forward the best I could and worked out a way to maximize the potential of my sources. I was pretty flexible about it, and of course I was going to find a way to enjoy myself regardless.
In streamlining my research I (mostly) unwittingly began changing my end game. As opposed to mapping the movement of certain units across Europe in relation with one another for the sake of finding overlap it became more about using the units I found to ground my exploration of the experience of the infantry and comparing it across both wars. As I entered into my semester back at school my independent study was converted into an Honors Thesis somewhat by surprise, and I needed to develop my argument even further. At the moment the plan is to look at the evolution of combat motivation through WWI, into the interwar period, and through WWII. Why these men signed up to fight, why they kept fighting, and whether or not soldiers in WWII entered their fight with any cynicism coming just twenty years after the first global war. We’ll see where this new line of inquiry takes me as I pursue departmental honors (which is crazy and terrifying and exciting all at once).
I’m so blessed to have been able to take on this research, and I can’t wait to see what I learn through the rest of this process. Thanks for sticking around!