Based on David Laskin’s book The Long Way Home, answer the following questions. Discuss how World War I started in 1914 and then how the United States entered the war in 1917. Then select one of the 12 featured soldiers from The Long Way Home and answer the following: What was the war experience like for this soldier, and how did it transform him? In what ways did this soldier hold on to his immigrant culture? In what ways did he become American? Finally, if you had had the chance to meet him during or after the war, what question would you ask him?

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World War I started in 1914, when a nineteen-year-old Serbian nationalist killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Hapsburg empire. The eventual result was that the Austro-Hungarian empire declared war on Serbia, Serbia sought and achieved an alliance with Russia, and Germany joined with Austria-Hungary. Most of the major countries of Europe were drawn into the war.

Woodrow Wilson, the American President, had tried to keep the U.S. out of World War I, and he had campaigned on that promise during his re-election bid in 1916. However, events in 1917 made it hard for him to keep his promise, including unrestricted submarine warfare conducted by the Germans (Laskin, 118) and the Zimmermann telegram, sent by Germay's foreign secretary to the German ambassador stationed in Mexico with the proposal to start an alliance with Mexico against the U.S.

One soldier who Laskin portrays in Max Cieminski, who was born in Wisconsin and grew up speaking Kaszubian and German. His family was from an ethnic group in Poland, and he barely spoke English when he was abducted into the army in 1917. He was sent to different training camps, along them a camp in Mississippi. Max was processed into the army even though he was missing his trigger finger, the result of a childhood injury. He felt mistreated by his German American drill sergeant in training camp, and was seen as different because he did not speak English as his first language.

Fighting in France as part of the French-American attack on the Marne salient, Max's platoon came under German fire during an advance on Trugny. German shells likely caused his death, though the exact cause of his death is unknown. While Max fought alongside other Americans, he was still treated as an outsider to some degree. His captain, Haggerty, considered Max "criminally unprepared" (Laskin, 207) for the army. Though it was not his fault that he was accepted by mistake into the army without a trigger finger, his captain made Max suffer for it before Max died in battle. Therefore, Max was in many ways not accepted as an equal to the other soldiers and likely still felt more like someone whose family was from Kaszub than someone who was fully American. If I could meet Max, I would ask him how it felt to be somewhat ostracized in the army, even though he was born in the U.S. 

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