The Home Front
Unlike America's Germans and Austrians, New Haven Italians and New York Jews were not considered enemy aliens by the United States government, and repression figured minimally if at all in their lives during the war. Yet both populations were also subject to significant pressures. The nation's New Immigrants faced urgent appeals to their national and group identity on three distinct levels: as Americans, as persons still deeply attached to their European homelands, and as immigrants. The war brought out in bold relief the major contradictions of ethnic life, as the newcomers encountered demands for American unity and cultural separatism, and found themselves at different times celebrated, patronized, and excluded.
Almost every American experienced much of what these two ethnic groups encountered during the war. Signing a food pledge card or buying Liberty Bonds were activities that cut across class, ethnic, and geographical lines. Since so much of the domestic effort depended on voluntary participation, calls to “do your bit” were more urgent and ubiquitous, pervading the school, workplace, church, and social club. This common national effort deepened the claims of Italians and Jews to their adopted country. As important, it expanded their contact with local and federal institutions, and encouraged many to assert themselves outside of their ethnic communities.
At the same time, events overseas appeared to renew immigrant bonds to Europe. The Italian Army's defeat at Caporetto in the fall of 1917 transformed the New Haven colonia into the most active and visibly prowar population in the city. That winter New York Jewry's attitude toward the conflict changed