Being Jewish in the National Army
When Sergeant Anthony Teta of the 102nd Infantry wrote home from France in January 1918, he described a double standard in the treatment of American soldiers.“We occasionally get a New Haven paper here,” he told a friend, “and from it, I notice that considerable [sic] is being done for the drafted men.” Teta, having endured three months in Landaville with the Yankee Division, felt that this attention was unfair, since the draftees “are in the States and so near home…. It is certainly overlooking us volunteers,” he concludes, “who are soon to see the real stuff and give up their lives for the great cause.” 1
These were not idle complaints. The federal government's treatment of the conscript army, as well as newspaper coverage of the new training camps, was indeed extensive, reflecting both the public's curiosity and its apprehensions over having kin and neighbors drafted into military service. More than 600,000 civilians poured out of local communities and into the National Army's training camps during the fall and winter of 1917–18. Most of the cantonments were located a short drive from major cities, making easy access to the troops possible for both families and the press. This high visibility encouraged close scrutiny of what the young men were experiencing. In addition to concern for the soldiers' safety, the public was well aware of the infamous, disease-ridden conditions of the Spanish-American War and expressed a strong desire to rid the camp communities of the vices traditionally associated with soldier life. New York City's eastern European Jewish population, which provided thousands of men for training at Camp Upton, had even greater cause for worry with its enduring memories of czarist conscription.
The War Department had to counteract these fears. Unlike the Yankee Division's experience in France, draftees were pampered by authorities who made sure they were well fed, housed, and clothed, that they led “exemplary” moral lives and were able to observe their religious beliefs as much as possible. 2