Chapter no 42

East of Eden

A war comes always to someone else. In Salinas we were aware that the United States was the greatest and most powerful nation in the world. Every American was a rifleman by birth, and one American was worth ten or twenty foreigners in a fight.

Pershing’s expedition

into Mexico after Villa had exploded one of our myths for a little while. We had truly believed that Mexicans can’t shoot straight and besides were lazy and stupid.

When our own Troop C came wearily back from the border they said that none of this was true. Mexicans could shoot straight, goddam it!

And Villa’s horsemen had outridden and outlasted our town boys. The two evenings a month of training had not toughened them very much.

And last, the


seemed to have outthought and outambushed Black Jack Pershing. When the Mexicans were joined by their ally, dysentery, it was godawful.

Some of our boys didn’t really feel good again for years.

Somehow we

didn’t connect Germans with

Mexicans. We went right back to our myths. One American was as good as twenty Germans. This being true, we had only to act in a stern manner to bring the Kaiser to heel. He wouldn’t dare interfere with our trade

—but he did. He wouldn’t stick out his neck and sink our ships—and he did. It was stupid, but he did, and so there was nothing for it but to fight him.

The war, at first anyway, was for other people. We, I,

my family and friends, had kind of bleacher seats, and it was pretty exciting. And just as

war is

always for

somebody else, so it is also true that someone else always gets killed. And Mother of God! that wasn’t true either.

The dreadful telegrams began to sneak sorrowfully in, and it was

everybody’s brother.

Here we were, over six thousand miles from the anger and the noise, and that didn’t save us.

It wasn’t much fun then.

The Liberty Belles could parade in white caps and uniforms of white sharkskin. Our uncle could rewrite his Fourth of July speech and use it to sell bonds. We in high school could wear olive drab and campaign hats and learn the manual of arms from the physics teacher, but Jesus Christ! Marty Hopps dead, the Berges boy, from across the street, the handsome one our little sister was in love with from the time she was three, blown to bits!

And the


shuffling loose-jointed boys carrying



marching awkwardly down Main Street to the Southern Pacific Depot. They were sheepish, and the Salinas Band marched ahead of them, playing the “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and the families walking along beside them were crying, and the music sounded like a dirge. The draftees wouldn’t look at their mothers. They didn’t dare. We’d never thought the war could happen to us.

There were some in Salinas who began to talk softly in the poolrooms and the bars. These had private

information from a soldier— we weren’t getting the truth. Our men were being sent in

without guns.

Troopships were

sunk and the

government wouldn’t tell us. The German army was so far superior to ours that we didn’t have a chance. That Kaiser was a smart fellow. He was getting

ready to invade

America. But would Wilson tell us this? He would not.

And usually these carrion talkers were the same ones who had said one American was worth twenty Germans in

a scrap—the same ones.

Little groups of British

in their outlandish uniforms (but they did look smart) moved about the country, buying everything that wasn’t nailed down and paying for it and paying big. A good many of the British purchasing men were crippled, but they wore their uniforms just the same. Among other things they bought beans, because beans are easy to transport and they don’t spoil and a man can damn well live on them.

Beans were twelve and a half cents a pound and hard to find. And farmers wished they hadn’t contracted their beans for a lousy two cents a pound above the going price

six months ago.

The nation and the

Salinas Valley changed its songs. At first we sang of how we would knock the hell out of Helgoland and hang the Kaiser and march over there and clean up the mess them damn foreigners had made. And then suddenly we sang, “In the war’s red curse stands the Red Cross nurse.

She’s the rose of No Man’s Land,” and we sang, “Hello, central, give me Heaven, ’cause my Daddy’s there,” and we sang, “Just a baby’s prayer at twilight, when lights are low. She climbs upstairs and says her prayers—Oh, God! please tell my daddy thaddy must take care—” I

guess we were like a tough but inexperienced little boy who gets punched in the nose in the first flurry and it hurts and we wished it was over.

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