Jimmie would inspect the bulletin board, and go over to watch the drilling, and then to Tom’s “Buffeteria” with Emil Forster. He had always had an intense admiration for Emil, and now the young designer, distressed by the strife at home, was glad of someone to pour out his soul to. He would help Jimmie to realize the meaning of the British defeat, the enormous losses of guns and supplies, the burden it would put upon America. For America would have to make up these losses, America would have to drive the Germans out of every foot of this newly-conquered territory.
Jimmie would listen and study the matter out on the map; and so gradually he learned to be interested in a new science, that of military strategy. When once you have fallen under the spell of that game, your soul is lost. You think of men, no longer as human creatures, suffering, starving, bleeding, dying in agony; you think of them as chess-pawns; you dispose of them as a gambler of his chips, a merchant of his wares; you classify them into brigades and divisions and corps, moving them here and there, counting off your losses against the losses of the enemy, putting in your reserves at critical moments, paying this price for that objective, wiping out thousands and tens of thousands of men with a sweep of your hand, a mark of your pencil, a pressure on an electric button! Once you have learnt to take that view of life, you are no longer a human heart, to be appealed to by pacifists and humanitarians; you are a machine, grinding out destruction, you are a ripe apple, ready to fall into the lap of the god of war, you are an autumn leaf, ready to be seized by the gales of patriotism and blown to destruction and death.
JIMMIE HIGGINS TAKES THE PLUNGE
Jimmie went home one evening to the Meissners, and there got a piece of news that delighted him. Comrade Stankewitz had come back from Camp Sheridan! The man to whom he had sold his tobacco-store having failed to pay up, Stankewitz had got a three days’ furlough to settle his business affairs. “Say, he looks fine!” exclaimed Meissner; and so after supper Jimmie hurried off to the little store on the corner.
Never had Jimmie been so startled by the change in a man; he would literally not have known his Roumanian Jewish friend. The wrinkles which had made him look old had filled out; his shoulders were straight—he seemed to have been lifted a couple of inches; he was brown, his cheeks full of colour—he was just a new man! Jimmie and he had been wont to skylark a bit in the old days, as young male creatures do, putting up their fists, giving one another a punch or two, making as if they were going to batter in one another’s noses. They would grip hands and squeeze, to see which could hold out longest. But now, when they tried it, there was “nothing to it”— Jimmie got one squeeze and hollered quits.