In the old days the word German had meant to Jimmie fellows like Meissner and Forster and Schneider; but now it meant a huge grey form looming over the edge of a shell-hole, its face distorted with hate, its bayonet poised to plunge. Perhaps the most vivid impression of Jimmie’s whole life was the relief he had felt when he realized that some doughboy had shot a bullet into that looming figure. Let there be more doughboys, more and more, until the last figure had been shot! Jimmie knew, of course, that the policy he had been advocating in America had not tended to that end; if Jimmie in Leesville had had his way, there would have been no doughboys to rescue Jimmy at Chatty Terry! Jimmie was quite clear on that point now, and for the time being the pacifist was dead in him.
He listened to the talk of the men in this hospital. They had all been through the mill, they had got their wounds, light or severe, but it had not broken their spirit—not a bit of it; there was hardly one among them who was not hoping to get cured and to get back into the game before it was over. That was how they took it—a game, the most sensational, the most thrilling that a man would ever play. These boys had been brought up on football, the principal training and only real interest in life of some hundreds of thousands of young Americans every year. They had brought the spirit and the method of football with them into the army, and communicated it to those less fortunate millions who had been neither to college nor to high school: the team-work, the speed, the incessant, gruelling drill, the utter, unquestioning loyalty, the persistent searching of eager young minds for new combinations, new tricks; and above all the complete indifference to the possibility of a broken collar-bone or a damaged heart-valve, provided only that the game should be won!
This army was attacking a foe who relied on machine-guns to break formations and give time to withdraw stores and big guns to safety; so the life of young America for the moment had become a study of the arts of rushing machine-guns. Jimmie listened to the conversation of the new men, and saw the technique being worked out before his eyes. Tanks were all right, aeroplanes were all right, when you had them; but mostly you did not have them, in time, so the doughboy was learning to take machine-guns with the bayonet. You had a little squad, trained like a football team, with its own system of signals, its formations worked out by young heads put together at night. It was a costly game—you would be lucky if a third of the players came out alive; but if you could get one man to the machine-gun with a bayonet, you had won the game—because he would take the gun and turn it about on the retreating Germans, and could kill enough of them in a minute to make up for the losses of his squad.