Chapter 42

The reality of the United States engaging in warfare slowly becomes more real to the people of Salinas. The people safe on home shores learned the truth of the war in stages. At first, as news of the fighting reached home, there was a swell of national pride and resolve. To its citizens, America was the greatest nation on Earth! Every man felt he could handle a rifle, whether he had ever touched one or not, and each man was certain his own life was worth more than dozens of foreigners' lives.

But then General Pershing suffered an unexpected defeat again Pancho Villa. It began to dawn on Americans that the Mexicans might not be so inept or stupid. It was a blow to many an American ego to accept the fact that Villa's men had beaten the homeboys, both in ability and endurance. Making matters worse, a lot of the infantry suffered from dysentery, an ignominious fate to be sure. 

Despite their failures of perception regarding the Mexican forces, Americans went right on and applied those same myths about the capabilities of a foreign aggressor to the Germans. Americans made other poor predictions as well, erroneously believing the Kaiser would not dare interfere in trade, that he would not dare to sink American ships. 

Even as these truths began to hit home, Americans still were removed from the action. It was exciting but still "over there." It was still "somebody else" who got killed. But then the telegrams began to be delivered, informing more and more families about the loss of their sons in combat. 

The "fun" of being at war no longer seemed so exciting. Even attempts to "get involved" stateside seemed weak and ineffectual. Clubs could host parades, regular citizens could wear fatigues to support the troops, and speeches could be passionately delivered, but none of this stopped the continual arrival of boys in body bags. 

But still, every day, more and more young men packed suitcases and headed to the war. Bands marched ahead of them, playing "Stars and Stripes Forever," and families followed them. The music they marched to now, however, "sounded more like a dirge." 

Regular citizens were beginning to doubt that their government was telling them the truth. They heard rumors that the soldiers were not getting what they needed. Others worried that the enemy was stronger and that their own forces were doomed. Still others speculated that America was about to be invaded. No one knew the truth and the rumors got larger and more frightening with each unsubstantiated incarnation. 

It was true that the nation was benefiting economically, but the song America was singing was no longer one of pride and victory but one of sadness and longing for finality and homecoming.