Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War

By Christopher M. Sterba | Go to book overview

Epilogue
A New Voice in Politics

Observers frequently commented on the confidence and high expectations of the returning soldiers. Immigrant and second-generation Italian and Jewish veterans were no exception to this rule. The young men soon discovered, however, that the situation at home was far from rosy. One of the first things they encountered was the severity of the great influenza epidemic, which took far more American lives than the war in France. Between September 1918 and the soldiers' return, more than a thousand people died of the disease in New Haven, and more than thirty-three thousand died in New York. In addition, millions of workers nationwide had begun to feel the rapid dismantling of the wartime economy. An estimated 4,000 men and women were unemployed in New Haven; in New York, well over 100,000. And while the soldiers were welcomed home, garment workers were on strike in both cities and a tenant strike raged in Brownsville. Militancy was not yet unthinkable—the Red Scare and the movements for Americanization and the open shop were still several months from hitting full stride. It was during these months, from May to December 1919, that workers and immigrants pressed for a larger piece of the American pie, provoking a wave of reaction that affected national politics for the next decade. 1

New immigrant soldiers played a significant role in this agitation, a fact of the postwar period that has been neglected. Important events in New Haven and New York illustrate how ethnic veterans served both as a symbol of immigrant aspirations and as agents in their own right. In New Haven, a town-gown riot erupted when Yale students insulted the 102nd Regiment. In New York, Jewish veterans led two “monster demonstrations” to protest a new wave of eastern European pogroms. In each case, immigrants and their children gave voice to a new sense of legitimacy and entitlement, an assertion of rights and achievement that foreshadowed their ascending role in the political landscape of the United States. 2

-202-

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Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • Good Americans *
  • Introduction - The Melting Pot Goes to War 3
  • 1 - The Heyday of the New Immigrant Enclave 9
  • I - Your Country Needs You 31
  • 2 - Raising Volunteers and the Italian Response in New Haven 34
  • 3 - The Draft and New York Jewry 53
  • II - Training the New Immigrant Soldier 83
  • 4 - Being Italian in the Yankee Division 86
  • 5 - Being Jewish in the National Army 105
  • III - The Home Front 131
  • 6 - More Than Ever, We Feel Proud to Be Italians 133
  • 7 - New York Jewry Must Do Its Duty 153
  • 8 - Survival and Victory on the Western Front 175
  • Epilogue - A New Voice in Politics 202
  • Notes 213
  • Selected Bibliography 251
  • Index 265
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