Gatsby Goes To War

May 11 2013 @ 3:42pm

At one point in The Great Gatsby, Tom – Daisy’s husband – asks how Gatsby “got within a mile of her unless [he] brought groceries to the back door,” implying he was baffled by how two people from such different class backgrounds connected. The novel’s only hint is that Gatsby first met Daisy “with other officers from Camp Taylor.” Keith Gandal claims that raises a further question – how “a poor farm boy from North Dakota and apparently a German-American to boot, got to be an officer in the US Army when Germany was the enemy.” He does the detective work to find the answer:

The World War I American army, which had to build an officers’ corps of 200,000 rapidly and almost from scratch, needed some quick methods for identifying men who might be officer material, and specifically those who might make good captains. It developed a couple of unprecedented programs to do so: a rating system for identifying captains, and an intelligence test that identified potential officers and superior officers. The even more radical move that the army made — shocking to privileged young men, such as Fitzgerald, who expected traditional class and ethnic discrimination — was not to exclude immigrants and ethnic Americans from consideration for officer. (Indeed, the army’s initial plan was to have no racial prejudice and to open up such promotions to blacks as well, but the government under pressure from Southern civilian officials nixed the original idea of a complete meritocracy.) The army designated four training camps at which to pioneer the intelligence tests in late 1917 and Camp Taylor was one of them.

A further detail about Camp Taylor:

The other thing to know about Camp Taylor is that there were a large number of men of German descent there; by end of the war, they numbered nearly 1500. There is no doubt that the American army, though it was fighting Germany, had plenty of German-American officers.