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From the Great War to the Battle of the Century

Paul Gallico suggests that the boxing boom following World War I was in fact a direct result of the war.  The “psychological simplicity” of the cartoonish coverage of big fights was appealing to a nation that was hungry for heroes and excitement.  Bruce Evensen synthesizes Gallico’s perspective nicely:

Particularly in buildups for big fights, “Storytellers told readers we were going to war.  It was our side against theirs.”  Although the war had bred its share of cynics, Gallico found his readers remarkably ready for “the delicious idiocies” and “passionate devotions” that went into jazz era sports writing.  He remembers writers and readers alike embraced the easy logic and “essential psychological simplicity” of the sports page with a “marvelous callowness.” Tall-tale telling came easily in an era in which athletes could be made the most visible part of the nation’s shared experience.  The adulation of these heroes, Gallico found, “to the point of almost national hysteria” reflected a postwar generation’s appetite “for alter egos that lifted us above our humdrum lives.”[1]

Not only did athletes serve as heroes who could “lift us above our humdrum lives,” they also, at least in the case of boxers, served as individual representations of idealized masculine virtue.  After the bloody nightmare of war, two men punching each other while wearing padded gloves seemed like a harmless way of enacting courage, valor, and physical and moral strength.  While those qualities had proved difficult to celebrate in the context of the unspeakable carnage of real war, they were easily identified or invented in the context of the symbolic wars that took place in the ring.  When one of the fighters was a bona fide war hero, there was all the more cause for a near-hysterical fervor concerning the event.

Jeffrey Sammons makes the compelling argument that World War I had been thought of as a means for middle-class Americans to assert their manliness, in a modern world that had deprived them of other ways of doing so.  As he explains, war was expected to serve as a test of both physical courage and moral “character.”  But modern war ultimately proved to be less a proving ground of chivalrous virtues than of new military technology: veterans who had left home idealistic returned disappointed and traumatized, “nervous.” Sports quickly became a screen onto which thwarted dreams of individual heroism could be projected; for obvious reasons, none filled this need better than boxing:

Prizefights… allowed for idle dreams about an era in which battles were fought one-on-one and hand-to-hand.  After the horrors of mustard gas, bombs, mortars, and machine guns, boxing represented a more simple and noble past, with men in control of their destiny.  Indeed, the barbarism of real war made boxing seem dignified, if not dainty. (49-50)

Pat Barker, in her World War I novel Regeneration, has a fictionalized version of famed  British psychiatrist and “shell shock” expert William Rivers say of the war:

Mobilization. The Great Adventure.  They’d been mobilized into holes in the ground so constricted they could hardly move.  And the Great Adventure—the real life equivalent of all the adventure stories they’d devoured as boys—consisted of crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed. The war that had promised so much in the way of “manly” activity had actually delivered “feminine” passivity, and on a scale that their mothers and sisters had scarcely known.  No wonder they broke down.[2]

Hence, perhaps, the thirst for manly spectacles like boxing and hero-worship of its manly practitioners like Dempsey and Carpentier. Boxing was indeed an ideal post-war spectacle, one that provided both a diversion from lingering thoughts of war and a means of processing those thoughts.  It was, after all, a spectacle of aggression and of violence without little statistical risk of death or genuinely serious injury and conducted according to all sorts of reasonable rules and precautions.  A knockout was a symbolic death and allowed for feelings of either grief or exultation (depending on which fighter one was backing) but the fallen fighter was not really dead and the spectators “mourning” him were not experiencing real grief.  This allowed people to revisit some of the emotions experienced during the war, safe in the knowledge that this time little was at stake other than money and relatively minor injuries.  Small wonder, then, that the sport proved more compelling to larger numbers of people in the 1920’s than ever before or since.[3]

In France specifically, the cultural significance of boxing was much deeper and more complex than it had been before the war. There was more to boxing now than simple nationalistic pride in the knowledge that  of a Frenchman had been crowned European champion.

André Rauch describes a boxing gala held in March 1920, with proceeds going to French boxers who had been wounded in the war:

There had to be a solemn opening ceremony in the ring to dedicate the match in the minds of the boxing public to the war victims.  This was a symbol of national unity and achievement, and a tribute to the war heroes.  Focusing upon the idea of national unity helped to reconcile the mood of national mourning with the more ordinary need for entertainment.


The nation took this event to its heart.  During what proved to be a memorable evening, the boxing ring represented a place of public homage to the example and sacrifice of the dead and injured, of concern and relevance to the whole country.  When, after years of warfare, more than one thousand people organized an event that featured aggressive combat, the ceremony itself had to combine a sense of deep public mourning with the festive enjoyment of human violence.[4]

Rather than hanging their heads in lugubrious graveside ceremonies, Frenchmen needed to honor the memory of their fallen brothers through displays of vigor and athletics, according to one commentator:

On November 11, I would like to hear the Marseillaise blaring on every street-corner; I would like to see all our kids jump, cry out , cheer for Foch and Pétain; I would like to see our gymnastics, football and rugby clubs in their uniforms and showing us their biceps […][5]

Carpentier the war hero responded to this call for a showing of biceps in a spectacular way and, in so doing, contributed in a significant way to France’s effort to push past its collective emotional devastation. Indeed, following his spectacular first-round knockout of Joe Beckett in 1919, Carpentier represented hope and peace throughout Europe:

After four years of war, after millions of deaths, after countless pictures of and stories about twisted, broken bodies and shattered lives—Europe found a hero who embodied both the romantic expectations of the war and the zest for life and peace. […] No sooner had the war ended than he distinguished himself in the ring.  Handsome, urbane, slender and debonair—Carpentier, Europeans believed, would be the perfect man to hold the World Heavyweight boxing title.[6]

An essential element of the powerful sway Carpentier held over the European (mostly French and British) imagination in the years just after World War I, however, is the fact that he had already been a hero before the war. It is true that he “distinguished himself in the ring” immediately after the war.  The public was not witnessing the emergence of a new face, however, but rather the return of a very familiar one.  To boxing fans, and to the thousands of he transformed into boxing fans, Carpentier evoked the 1911-1914 period, which, in the wake of the war, had come to look like good times indeed.  

But it was not just nostalgia for an earlier time that gave Carpentier his aura.  It was the fact of his bridging the divide between the pre- and post-war eras that made him so appealing.  A sports hero before the war, a military hero during the war and king of the ring again after the war, Carpentier represented above all continuity, the reassuring idea that the world had not changed entirely (since one was, after all, still cheering on the same man) and that not all men had been killed or mutilated in the fighting.  Carpentier, as an individual, incarnated crucial proof that war, however devastating, could be survived, that there was not only life, but health and strength and success on the other side.

The post-war moment was also propitious for boxing in more historically concrete terms.  US soldiers and sailors had been taught how to box as part of their military training; the sparring bouts included in the training were the first boxing matches many of them had ever seen, let alone participated in.  In addition to the general toughening-up that putting on the gloves was thought to impart, boxing was considered useful training for bayonet fighting (“Bayonet fighting is boxing with a gun in your hands,” reads a 1918 magazine article entitled “Why Our Soldiers Learn to Box”), since many of the punches in boxer’s arsenal have exact counterparts in bayonet technique.  Professional boxers like Mike Gibbons, Benny Leonard, Battling Levinsky and Frank Moran spent their time in the service as boxing instructors.  Boxing, it seems, was everywhere in the armed forces: grudges between soldiers or sailors were often settled by having them put on the gloves and box out their differences; “smokers” and both intra- and inter-camp tournaments were common occurrences, extremely well-attended distractions for enlisted men; fights and tournaments were a particularly popular way of passing the time for troops on board ship to and from France, as the surprisingly large number of photographic postcards from the era memorializing these events attests. Indeed, boxing is said to have been the single most popular recreational activity for American soldiers in World War I.[7]

The sport appears to have been equally popular among French and British soldiers and sailors. There are numerous English postcards depicting sparring matches and boxing lessons among the troops.  [BRITISH POSTCARDS OF SOLDIERS BOXING DURING WAR HERE?] Englishman Robert Graves’ famous memoir of the trenches, Goodbye to All That, mentions boxing while in the army (at one point, in fact, he was sent home to England to have surgery performed on his nose due to a boxing injury incurred while on duty in France). [8] The June 1914 edition of La Boxe et les boxeurs includes a number of letters written by French soldiers, enthusiastically thanking editor Léon Sée for having sent boxing gloves to the active-duty troops.  All the letters assure him that the gloves will be put to use; one specifies that they were in fact used the very day of their arrival.

The end of the war was celebrated by, among other things, the Inter-Allied Games, a sort of Olympics for Allied troops held in Paris in 1918 (perhaps most famous in boxing history as the event where then-Marine Gene Tunney first made his mark).  General “Black Jack” Pershing was famously quoted as saying to an American champion boxer, on the occasion of the Inter-Allied Games: “This game of yours is what makes the American army the greatest in the world.”[9]

In fact, boxing was such a prevalent theme of the zeitgeist the war itself was often represented in cartoons and postcards as a boxing match, the usual scenario being some variation on the theme of Uncle Sam in boxing gloves knocking out, or at least punching in the nose, the Kaiser or some other caricatured allegorical representation of Germany.  There is even one British postcard from the era, with the words “A Fair Knockout” emblazoned across it, that shows Carpentier in the ring, standing over the prone body of the Kaiser (both men are in gloves and trunks); the caption reads: “Georges Carpentier vs. Bill Kaiser.”

As far as the Carpentier-Dempsey bout is concerned, Carpentier himself, writing in 1954, gives one of the simplest and most compelling explanations of the role the war played in creating the unprecedented hold the event had on the popular imagination:

In France at least there has never been any other such example of “hyper-stimulus by mass suggestion” in connection with a sporting event, despite the increasing importance that sport has taken in the daily life of the nation. The unusual popularity I enjoyed at the time, and even the fact that, once again, I was playing the role of David going up against Goliath do not explain it altogether.  No doubt the era itself was particularly favorable to this sort of thing.  In 1921, the joy of victory after four years of doubt and anguish still had not entirely dissipated, and perhaps the tremendous emotion unleashed in connection with a boxing match satisfied a more or less conscious desire to extend the cult of heroism on into the more prosaic years of peace.  (Carpentier by himself, 140; translation revised)

At the end of his life, Carpentier reiterated his belief that the excessive interest in his fight with Dempsey was a direct consequence of a post-war mentality.  He places particular emphasis on the fact that sentiments of French nationalist pride, heated up by the war, were still high:

The explanation [for interest in the fight] is essentially tied up with the historical circumstances of the moment. A kind of prolongation of heroism was necessary.  National pride had a meaning that our young people can’t understand, which probably seems ridiculous to our grandsons today, but a true patriotic sensibility existed.  Clémenceau was still “Father Victory”… and Carpentier was not just a boxer but a decorated young veteran.  This was equally important for the Americans.  The “Frenchman” was a good export product. (Mes 80 Rounds, 176)

Carpentier goes on to make clear that he himself viewed the fight as a patriotic act, that it was on some level a revisiting of the war for him personally as well as for the fans:

All of France was implicated in this championship fight because every Frenchman was fighting alongside Carpentier.

And it is true that I myself was propelled by patriotic feeling, the feeling that I was fighting for France.

I was returning to the battlefield, just like in ’14… (Mes 80 Rounds, 176)

One could add to Carpentier’s thoughts and argue that the Carpentier-Dempsey fight was in some ways the last event of World War I. The fight might be considered the true end-point of the war, providing fans one last chance to experience collectively the emotions associated with war, this time by way of a cathartic, symbolic event, before moving into a new era.  Whether one views it as the last communal event of the war era or the first of the post-war era, however, it is clear that it served in either case as a transition point, a mile post demarcating the war from peace.

The Carpentier-Dempsey fight, in ways that are numerous, profound and difficult to define with clarity, was indeed “about” World War I. Whether as canny money-making strategies or expressions of a genuine intertwining of the two events in the public psyche, nearly all the discourse before, during and after the fight includes allusions, both implicit and explicit, to the war.  

One way in which the facts of the matchup stirred up memories of the war, albeit indirectly, was the simple fact of its being a truly international contest.  Since the first heavyweight title fight of the gloved era (Corbett-Sullivan, in 1892), the vast majority of title fights in the division had been between two Americans.  The notable exceptions are Tommy Burns, an Australian, and Bob Fitzsimmons, an Englishman, both Anglophones, meaning that no fighter from a non-English-speaking country and no fighter from continental Europe had ever fought for the heavyweight crown.[10]  So in a very real sense, the Carpentier-Dempsey fight was the first truly global heavyweight title fight (there would be others before too long: Dempsey against Argentinian Luis Firpo, in 1923 and Max Schmeling’s fights in the early 1930’s).  Rather than a “world” championship match between two Americans, it was a trans-cultural event, a contest between men from two very different countries.  This fact contributed significantly to the interest the fight held for European fans.  

Americans, despite their fast-growing support for isolationist policies, were also receptive to the international aspect of the event, due to a heightened awareness of the rest of the world, and of France in particular, brought about by the war and the reintegration of the returning doughboys.  Regardless of what conclusions they drew with respect to actual foreign policy, Americans were more aware of the fact that they existed in a global context than they had ever been before (it is important to remember that World War I was the first major war in American history to take place on foreign soil) The same can be said of the French:  the doughboys were the first Americans many French people had actually seen, their first contact in the flesh with the New World.  World War I literally brought home to them the reality of America.  Just as France was no longer an abstraction to the doughboys and, by extension, to their friends and families, America and Americans were no longer abstractions to the French.  Globalization of the twentieth-century variety was jump-started by the war; the world had become, for better or for worse, a much smaller place.

André Rauch articulates the way in which the fight served to prolong the new closeness between France and America:

The War had brought unprecedented mutual exchange between the Allies.  The French, in particular, were suddenly more sensitive to American life and culture and for the first time able to follow what happened across the Atlantic almost as it took place […] The Carpentier-Dempsey fight seemed to sum up the complexity, the mutual attraction and repulsion of the two worlds, drawn together more closely than before both by the First World War and the media revolution that brought not only newsreel pictures but almost instantaneous live communication.  In this way, a single fight was overburdened with meaning.[11]

The fight, a popular event of equal interest to the two cultures, shared by the two cultures, and experienced simultaneously by the two cultures, brought America and France back together and provided a final concrete sign of the link that the war had forged between the two cultures.[12] 

The event itself was full of symbolic evocations of the war.  Carpentier, for example, was escorted to the ring by three French war veterans, in uniform,[13] to the strains of the Marseillaise played by a bass band. In his corner were flowers sent by veterans groups.[14] His introduction in the ring identified him as “Georges Carpentier, solider of France.”  Carpentier, a man of profound and genuine patriotic sentiment, was moved by these gestures and remained moved by them for the rest of his life, recalling some fifty-four years later:

Finally there was the Marseillaise.  

I can still hear it in my head today, I will surely hear it until the day I die, until my last moments of consciousness and lucidity.  I was a patriot, I have remained a patriot, as you know.  The Marseillaise has always moved me, but the rendition I heard in New Jersey, sung (badly, no doubt) by people who wanted to sing it for me, overwhelmed me to a degree that you cannot imagine.  The very thought of it could make me cry right now.

That Marseillaise I heard in the ring evoked all that I held dear in the world: my wife, my daughter, my entire family, but also my duty, because the Marseillaise reminded me that I was about to fight for France.  (Mes 80 Rounds, 169)

And in an eerie reminder of Carpentier’s service as a pilot, a plan flew directly over the stadium just before the opening bell.  Another sound that remained forever among Carpentier’s memories of July 2, 1921:

Yet another detail distracted me, the sound of an airplane flying over the stadium.  That sound, so familiar to me, was comforting.  I thought about the pilot who was  up there and I thought about the fact that he was thinking of me, too.  I knew that the American vets were on my side and that they had rallied my supporters.  So, without really knowing why that plane was up there above our heads, I convinced myself that it was there for me! (Mes 80 Rounds, 169)

The post-fight coverage in both countries relied on the thematics of war to an obsessive degree.  It is pointed out in one French paper, for example, that the throngs of people awaiting news of the outcome of the bout on the streets of Paris outnumbered the crowds that turned out at the time of the declaration of war in 1914 and even the Armistice in 1918. [15] In the New York Tribune on July 3, Sophie Treadwell likens Carpentier’s attack on Dempsey to “a single-handed charge à la baionette against a machine gun; no, against heavy artillery,” thereby linking the bout not only to war in general but specifically to the most recent one. Many commentators explicitly described the KO’d Carpentier not as a defeated boxer but as a tragic, noble, fallen soldier.

The headlines sharing the page with all the Carpentier-Dempsey coverage in the days immediately following the bout make very clear why it would have been nearly impossible not to commingle in one’s mind the fight and the war.  The sheer simultaneity and juxtaposition of post-fight stories and post-war stories provides a link between them:

  • In the New York Tribune, July 3, 1921, drowning in a sea of voluminous coverage of the Carpentier-Dempsey fight held the day before: “Bodies of First 2 Killed in France Reach Hoboken: Remains of 5,824 Heroes Held on Ship Pending Arrival of Identification Lists;”
  • In the New York Times, July 3, 1921: “War Cemetery Reopens: Many Relatives Visiting France Decide to Leave Remains” (in article: “They show greatest appreciation of the care France has taken in their upkeep […] They are touched, too, by the devotion of the villagers to their sons’ graves.  Recently one village presented […] 7,000 bouquets to place upon them.”);
  • In the New York Times, July 4, 1921: “Foch Sends Tribute to People and Army of the United States” [message sent by Foch to the American nation, via the Associated Press]; “Paris to Observe Fourth as Holiday: Government Requests Stores Be Decorated With Stars and Stripes and Tricolor/Symbol of Friendship” ( article includes a quote from the Paris daily L’Intransigeant: “Our friends and associates must know that it is in a wholehearted manner that we celebrate their national holiday, in gratitude for the services they rendered and as witness of an indissoluble friendship which will undoubtedly enable the two peoples to keep glorious peace throughout the world.”);
  • In the New York Tribune, July 5, 1921: “As Jack Plays Georges Honors Patriotic Dead” (an article on the fact that the two boxers, who had fought just two days before, had “celebrated the Fourth of July yesterday in sharp contrast”; Dempsey, it is reported, dorve up to Westchester with a “carefree grin” and “gave the impression that nothing more momentous than the state of his automobile concerned him […] the champion’s mental attitude could be summed up in three words: ‘I don’t care!’”; Carpentier began his day, accompanied by his manager, trainer and two war buddies, one of them wounded from the war, by rasing an American and a French flag in the garden of the house where he was staying: “Georges, his injured right hand hanging at his side, hoisted the flags with his left to the peak of the pole,” at which point they all saluted and French boxer Charles Ledoux played “Reveille”);
  • In the New York Tribune, July 5, 1921 was a long list of names of men alleged to be draft deserters and encouraging citizen who know of their whereabouts to reports them to the authorities (“The War department takes the position that only through widespread publicity can the real draft dodger be exposed and those not guilty of willful evasion of service cleared from the record”);
  • In the New York Herald, July 6, 1921: Rotarians of America Give Flag to France” (reporting on a luncheon and flag-presentation ceremony held in New York on July 5, which “provided the opportunity for a long series of expressions of Franco-American amity,” as well as a dinner in Paris that same day, at which “All the [French] speakers expressed […] satisfaction in knowing that America still is keen for maintaining relations with the French as they were during the trying days of the war”);
  • In the New York Herald, July 6, 1921: “Bodies of First Three War Heroes Are Back: Arrive With 1,484 Others on Transport Somme”  (“Among the thousands of bodies are those of Corporal James D. Gresham and Privates Thomas E. Enright and Merle D. Hay, all of the Sixteenth Infantry, the first three Americans to go down in the fight in France.  They were killed by a German raiding party on the night of November 8, 1917).

Perhaps striking than any of this, however, is the fact that the official end of World War I, as signified by President Harding’s signing of a joint Congressional resolution declaring peace with Germany and Austria, took place on July 2, 1921 in Raritan, New Jersey, some forty miles from the Carpentier-Dempsey fight, at 4:10 pm, forty minutes after Carpentier had been counted out in Jersey City. The front page of the New York Times for July 3, 1921, comprises six columns devoted to news of the fight (“Carpentier Broke His Thumb in Fight,” “Blow to the Jaw Ends the Contest,” “Dempsey Proves Prowess,” “Crowd Early At Gates,” etc.) and one to the signing of the declaration of peace (“Harding Ends War; Signs Peace Decree at Senator’s Home”).[16] 

A small but suggestive box at the top of the second column of the front page of the Times, “President Harding Asks, ‘Was it a Good Fight?’,” seems to suggest, slyly, that Harding should have taken more interest in the Carpentier-Dempsey affair than he did:

President Harding showed little interest when informed late today that Jack Dempsey had defeated Georges Carpentier, French challenger, with a knockout in the fourth round.  

“Was it a good fight?” he asked of newspaper men when told the result.

He made no further comment and changed the conversation into other channels.

The fact that the President of the United States was preoccupied with things other than the fight—the official end of World War I, for example—seems to suggest a failure on his part to recognize the real story of the day. The New York Herald printed the same wire story, with a different title—“Harding Shows Little Interest in Big Fight: Apparently Not Interested When Told Result”--on the front page of the sports section of their July 3 edition. The front page of the New York Tribune had nearly identical coverage of the two stories as the Times, in terms of both quantity and placement.  The war of course had been over for some time and the treaty of Versailles signed two years earlier.  Harding’s signing of this belated declaration of peace was by no means insignificant, however, as it was this act that allowed both diplomatic and trade relations between the US and Germany to resume (the news of France’s resuming of trade relations with Germany is reported on the front page of the New York Herald on July 6, contiguous with lingering coverage of the aftermath of Carpentier-Dempsey).  So in ways both concrete and symbolic, World War I did indeed end on the afternoon of July 2, 1921, simultaneous, almost to the minute, with the symbolic revisiting of the war that was Carpentier-Dempsey.

Overall, in fact, the fight had inspired more words than most of the single events of the war.  Carpentier biographer Ginette Haÿ states that the United Press devoted more words to Carpentier-Dempsey than it had to the battle of Verdun five years earlier.  An editiorial in the New York Tribune, written before the fight, compares coverage of Carpentier-Dempsey to coverage of the second battle of the Marne:

[…] there will probably be 990 more reporters at the battle of Jersey City than there were at the second battle of the Marne, where the fate of civilization or some other purely academic question was settled by a couple of million soldiers.


While the accounts of the second battle of the Marne were confined to sketchy and meager official bulletins, there will be a thousand typewriters clicking at the ringside at Jersey City and a thousand telegraph instruments will follow every motion in order that the waiting would not be kept too long in suspense.[17]

Pundits deplored the excessive attention paid to a prizefight at a time when the world was still in the process of being reconfigured. In an article in the New York Herald on July 3, 1921, Edwin C. Hill describes Carpentier-Dempsey mania as:

[…] a baffling obsession of mind and emotions that grips, one suspects, far more millions than were touched by the dreadfulness of bloody episodes of the great war.

Put it squarely, more people seem to be interested in two young men beating each other with their hammered fists than were stirred by the downfall of Russia.  It is frequently remarked that nothing since the sinking of the Titanic has so caught public interest as this prize-fight between a young Frenchman and a young American.

Others rejected the idea that the “baffling obsession” with something so trivial as a prizefight was offensive in the wake of the still-recent war.  The French newspaper La Victoire said that a Carpentier victory over Dempsey would be “more important in terms of France’s national prestige than the victory of the Marne.”[18] Gaston Bénac, one of four French reporters at ringside, reports his conversation with Carpentier the day after the fight, a conversation in which, according to Bénac, the French boxer defines himself above all else as a war veteran: “He lowered his head at the mention of those painful moments [the KO].  Then he promptly and proudly raised it: “Nonetheless, I don’t think I disappointed the public.  The Americans got to see how a Frenchman, a veteran of the Great War, can fight.”[19] 

[1] Evensen, 7-71; sources of the quotes from Gallico are not specified. Return to text

[2] Pat Barker, Regeneration (New York: Plume Books, 1993): 107-108.  The novel is the first of a trilogy on Rivers and his work with shell-shock victims, including poet Siegfried Sassoon.  The comment quoted here recalls the fact that Carpentier himself, perhaps for the very reason described, suffered some form of nervous breakdown during the war. Return to text

[3] The war may even have contributed to the interest women began to take in boxing as well.  Although many of them were clearly drawn to the Carpentier-Dempsey fight because of  Carpentier’s matinée idol appeal, at least according to the press accounts of the period, one commentator suggests that the unheard-of numbers of women in attendance in Jersey City may have been made possible because of the fact that “the horrors of World War I that their husbands and brothers had endured had somehow inured them to violence.” See Jeremy Schaap, Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005): 58. Return to text

[4] André Rauch, “Courage Against Cupidity: Carpentier-Dempsey: Symbols of  Cultural Confrontation,” International Journal of the History of Sport 13, no. 1 (March 1996): 160-161. Return to text

[5] This quote is from “Sargeant Tapier, the secretary-general of the Office of War Wounded of the Meuse” and is found in Antoine Prost, “Les Monuments aux morts: culte républicain? culte civique? culte patriotique?” in Pierre Nora, ed.  Les Lieux de mémoire: 1. La République (Paris: Gallimard, 1984): 218. Return to text

[6] Randy Roberts, Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979): 103. Return to text

[7] On boxing as both distraction and training regimen for American soldiers in World War I, see, among others, see Jennifer Keene, Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press): 40-42 Return to text

[8] Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (New York: Anchor Books, 1998). Graves had been  the welter- and middleweight boxing champion of his public school. Return to text

[9] Quoted in Sammons, 50 and John Sugden, Boxing and Society: An International Analysis (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1996), 33. Return to text

[10] One history of heavyweight title fights, John D. McCallum’s The World Heavyweight Boxing Championship: A History (Radnor, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1974) lists the Jack Johnson/André Spaul (or Sproul or Spraul or Spoul; sources differ) fight, held in Paris on November 28, 1913, as a heavyweight title contest.  Johnson’s opponent in this match was apparently a Russian, which would indeed disprove the idea that Carpentier was the first non-Anglophone to fight for the heavyweight crown.  It would appear, however, that McCallum’s inclusion of this contest in his list of heavyweight title bouts is erroneous, as this particular “title fight” was in fact an exhibition and a boxer vs. wrestler match to boot, as much a novelty as anything else. It is not even mentioned in Johnson’s autobiography. Return to text

[11] Rauch, “Courage Against Cupidity,” 167. Return to text

[12] Nowhere is the Franco-American bond more clearly demonstrated than in the fact that veterans groups were vocal in their support of  French war hero Carpentier and their disdain for American “slacker” Dempsey.  The American Legion post of Utica, New York sent a telegram a few weeks before the fight that read: “We are for you.  He didn’t fight then; make him fight now.”  Another American Legion post, comprised of disabled vets enrolled at NYU, had made Carpentier an “honorary member in spirit” during his first trip to the US in the spring of 1920; after reading the citation announcing this distinction, they hoisted him on their shoulders and “cheered him roundly.” Despite the demonstrations of support for Carpentier by some of its posts, however, the American Legion itself protested the fight, on the grounds that it was “a gross injustice and affront to the war wounded to have people spend a million dollars to see two boxers in action while the wounded were unable to obtain any help.” See Nat Fleischer, Jack Dempsey: The Idol of Fistiana (New York: The Ring Publishing Company, 1936): 187. In the same vein,  a Representative Gallivan, of Massachusetts, introduced a resolution in the House calling for the prohibition of the bout in any state until Congress had given a cash bonus to all World War I veterans.  Gallivan’s arguments against the fight included ad hominem attacks on both boxers: according to him, Dempsey was “a big bum who dodged the draft” and Carpentier had dragged his feet in enlisting. (Neither of these statements is accurate and the latter actually false.) See “Asks Big Fight Be Prohibited Until War Vets Get Bonus,” Beloit Daily News, June 8, 1921. The Gallivan Bill is also cited in Roberts, 115. Return to text

[13] Gaston Bénac, Champions dans la coulisse.  (Toulouse: Editions de l’Actualité Sportive, 1944): 56 Return to text

[14] Jacques Mortane, L’Ame des poings (Paris: Editions de la Bonne Idée, 1926): 121-122. Return to text

[15] L’Humanité, July 3, 1921: 1; no author given. Return to text

[16] Boxing historian and Dempsey biographer Randy Roberts notes the scant coverage of the declaration of peace in newspapers overflowing with stories about the fight and concludes that “no one seemed interested in the war any more.” (127) This is a valid interpretation only if one accepts the idea that the fight and the discourse surrounding it did not, in so many ways recall, revisit and represent the war. Return to text

[17] Quoted in The Literary Digest, June 11, 1921: 39; no date for the Tribune editorial is given. Return to text

[18] Encyclopédie de la Pléiäde, vol. 23: Jeux et sports (Paris: Gallimard, 1967): “Boxe”, p. 1270. Return to text

[19] Bénac, 60. Return to text