Gertrude Stein

Wars I Have Seen 2

Gradually as the joy and excitement of really having Americans here really having them here began to settle a little I began to realise that Americans converse much more than they did, American men in those other days, the days before these days did not converse. How well I remember in the last war seeing four or five of them at a table at a hotel and one man would sort of drone along monologuing about what he had or had not done and the others solemnly and quietly eating and drinking and never saying a word. And seeing the soldiers stand at a corner or be seated somewhere and there they were and minutes hours passed and they never said a word, and then one would get up and leave and the others got up and left and that was that.

No this army was not like that, this army conversed, it talked it listened, and each one of them had something to say no this army was not like that other army. ... The older Americans always told stories they converse and what they say is interesting and what they hear interests them and that does make them different not really different God bless them but just the same they are not quite the same.
[...]

I came away meditating yes they were American boys but they had a poise and completely lacked the provincialism which did characterise the last American army, they talked and they listened and they had a sureness, they were quite certain of themselves, they had no doubts or uncertainties and they had not to make any explanations. The last army was rather given to explaining, oh just anything, they were given to explaining, these did not explain, they were just conversational.
[...]

Yes in that sense Americans have changed, I think of the Americans of the last war, they had their language but they were not yet in possession of it, and the children of the depression as that generation called itself it was beginning to possess its language but it was still struggling but now the job is done, the G.I Joes have this language that is theirs, they do not have to worry about it, they dominate their language and in dominating their language which is now all theirs they have ceased to be adolescents and have become men.

Gertrude Stein: “Wars I Have Seen” (1945; London: Brilliance Books, 1984), 248-249, 251, 259.

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Gertrude Stein


Having left Paris for Majorca in 1915 “to forget the war a little,” Gertrude Stein (b. February 3, 1874 in Allegheny, PA, d. July 27, 1946 in Paris) and her partner Alice B. Toklas returned to their adoptive country in 1916 to join the war effort. , delivering relief supplies to hospitals around France from 1917 until the end of the war. In Wars I Have Seen (1945), written during WWII in her signature style, Stein put the 1914-1918 war in a larger historical perspective.