The School of Hard Knocks
Combat Leadership in the American Expeditionary Forces
Military History
6 x 9, 416 pp.
13 b&w photos. 4 line art. Map. 9 tables. App. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 03/29/2012
C. A. Brannen Series
Price:        $29.95

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2013 Distinguished Book Award presented by the Society for Military History

The School of Hard Knocks

Combat Leadership in the American Expeditionary Forces

Richard S. Faulkner

This important new history of the development of a leadership corps of officers during World War I opens with a gripping narrative of the battlefield heroism of Cpl. Alvin York, juxtaposed with the death of Pvt. Charles Clement less than two kilometers away.

Clement had been a captain and an example of what a good officer should be in the years just before the beginning of the war. His subsequent failure as an officer and his redemption through death in combat embody the question that lies at the heart of this comprehensive and exhaustively researched book: What were the faults of US military policy regarding the training of officers during the Great War?

In The School of Hard Knocks, Richard S. Faulkner carefully considers the selection and training process for officers during the years prior to and throughout the First World War. He then moves into the replacement of those officers due to attrition, ultimately discussing the relationship between the leadership corps and the men they commanded.

Replete with primary documentary evidence including reports by the War Department during and subsequent to the war, letters from the officers detailing their concerns with the training methods, and communiqués from the leaders of the training facilities to the civilian leadership, The School of Hard Knocks makes a compelling case while presenting a clear, highly readable, no-nonsense account of the shortfalls in officer training that contributed to the high death toll suffered by the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.

RICHARD S. (SHAWN) FAULKNER retired from the US Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is an associate professor of military history at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

What Readers Are Saying:

"There may never be another 'Great War.' but when the next big one comes along, and it will, important insights from Faulkner's superb book will help the United States adjust  to its unexpected horrific demands."--Robert A. Doughty, author, Seeds of Disaster, The Breaking Point, and Pyrrhic Victory


"Military history is filled with studies of generals, but we still know too little about the officers who executed their plans. This book fills an important gap in our understanding of the roles and behaviors of junior officers in the American Army in World War I."--Michael S. Neiberg, author, Fighting the Great War: A Global History

"Faulkner comprehensively, sensitively, and brilliantly presents the challenges and the dynamics of developing effective junior-officer combat leadership in the AEF. This is a must-read for any student of the Great War and the American military experience."--Dennis Showalter, Professor of History, Colorado College 

"American casualties during the First World War were appalling. By the armistice of November 11, 1918, more than 53,000 doughboys died on the battlefields of the Western Front.  Richard S. Faulkner makes a convincing case in this well-researched and well-written book that poorly trained and inexperienced officers were largely responsible for the carnage.  His argument is supported by a wide range of primary and secondary sources. In The School of Hard Knocks is a fine addition to the growing literature on the American combat experience during World War I and deserves a wide audience."--Mitchell Yockelson, Author, Borrowed Soldiers under British Commands, 1918

"This book is a significant contribution to the historical literature of World War I. The book is a sweeping and comprehensive study of the decisions and deficiencies which plague the AEF from mobilization and training through the battlefields of France. He makes a cogent, logical argument that convincingly describes the costly deficiencies of the AEF. His meticulous research is well-evidenced in the book. Faulkner's clear, straightforward style makes the wealth of information easy to read. A book of great breadth and depth." --Robert Rielly, On Point

"Faulkner has invested years of research to produce this insightful and entertaining book."--LTC Scott A. Porter, USA, Retired, Military Review

“Personnel and assignment policies; difficulty securing combat-experienced instructors for officer and non-commissioned officer (NCO) candidates; and the impact of organizational perceptions of regulars, draftees, and National Guardsmen about each other are just some of the topics addressed in this monumental study of American combat leadership in World War I. The picture of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) presented by Richard S. Faulkner is a carefully nuanced one, characterized by a comprehensive and well-organized analysis and a measured judgment. Exhaustively end-noted, with an extensive bibliography, appendices, and some illustrations, The School of Hard Knocks is a hard-hitting and long-overdue assessment of AEF combat leadership that is well worth the price and a “must” acquisition for those interested in the AEF.”—G. Alan Knight, The Journal of America’s Military Past

"This book is an important addition to World War I scholarship...The book is thoroughly researched, well organized, and easy to read."--Spencer C. Tucker, The Journal of American History

"...Shawn Faulkner has made a long overdue and critical addition to the historiography of American combat in World War I...his analysis is so thorough, the ultimate story so depressing for those who have led American soldiers, that the result is compelling but tragic...Faulkner's prose is clear and often elegant. His research is meticulous...He clearly is a master of the extensive literature and source material...This book is essential reading for professional Army officers...and for national defense policymakers..."--Colonel Dean A. Nowowiejski, Parameters

“[In] this important and critical new book on the AEF in World War One . . . Faulkner describes and critiques this system and its consequences adroitly and with verve, using an impressive array of primary sources . . . this is a superb work that will captivate anyone interested in the combat role of the AEF.”—T.R. Brereton, Military History of the West


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