East of Eden Chapter 42
by John Steinbeck

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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...

(The entire section is 461 words.)