This article appeared in the September 13, 1919 edition of The Nation.
Woodrow Wilson ran for reelection in 1916 on the slogan "He Kept Us Out of War"—for three years, anyway.
(Written in anticipation of the parade arranged to take place in New York city on September 10 in honor of General Pershing. The return of the commander of the American Expeditionary Force to this country last Monday has not only been an occasion for his popular acclaim, but has stimulated speculation in regard to General Pershing’s possible entrance into politics and his attitude with respect to problems of the day.)
This week, so the papers say, General Pershing will march up Fifth Avenue at the head of the famous First Division. The First, remember, is the division of regulars that was among the first to land in France and the first to fight—that went through practically every major operation in which American troops participated, that gained the most ground and had the heaviest casualties—and that now is the last, or almost the last, to come home. If there is glory in war, the First has won it; if there is virtue in sacrifice, the First has achieved it.
Probably this will be the last of the great parades in New York. The chapter is closed. The world has been made safe for—for democracy-in-moderation, as Ibsen would say. Except for a few thousand Americans still left on the Rhine, a few other thousands in Siberia, and a few others engaged in manifestations within the territory of our southern neighbors, we are at peace with the world.
But why dwell on ironies? It will be worth seeing, that parade. The banners will be flung out on the Avenue, and great crowds will pack the sidewalks and lean from the windows. There will be cheering, and from their perches on top of the arch at Madison Square the eagles will lean down and scream a welcome to the victors—to young America, home from the wars. Ta-ra! Ta-ra! What savage-hearted poet first invented bugles? Out of what lurid mist of dim ancestral memory comes this sudden exaltation—mingled strangely of hate and pity, grief and desire? Why these clenching hands and troubled faces that I see about me?
I shall not be able to stay away. I shall be there, gazing and wondering with the rest, and with the rhythm of the marching feet quickening my pulse. "Good," says the National Security League; "he is a Patriot." At which I blush violently and resolve that, heaven helping me, I shall cast the bugles out of my blood and be a man instead of a fool and a savage. And I should like to communicate my resolve to some of those marching thousands. Not that I think they are feeling especially patriotic. I have no illusions on that score. But for the grace of God, and the fact that I came over in a small detachment, unattached to any division, I might have been marching in their shoes. I know how they feel. "For God’s sake why don’t they leave us go home?" they are saying. And, "It’s great when you see it from the sidewalk, but when you’re plugging up the street with a hump on your back—say, buddy, how long is that avnoo?" And finally, of course, "You wait until I get out of uniform—"