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Time Machine

May 2023
1min read

Dear John Smith

At war’s end—a comparatively brief war for the Americans—there were at least 100,000 men named Smith left in the Army, 1,500 of them answering to “William Smith,” plus 1,000 John Smiths. Some 15,000 Millers were also serving, along with as many Wilsons and 1,000 John Browns. And of the 262 John J. O’Briens, 50 were returning to wives named Mary.

With the peace, a slew of the year’s best martial tunes were doomed to become strange old songs that fathers sang in the backyard. Nineteen-eighteen had been the year of the bellboy hat, the ditty of an infatuated boy entitled “K-K-K-Katy,” and the instructional “Ev’rybody Ought to Know How to Do the Tickle Toe.” Soldiers brought back the war’s popular marching tune, “Hinky-Dinky Parlez-Vous,” and that year on Broadway the songwriters had turned out “Hello, Central! Give Me No Man’s Land,” “I’d Like to See the Kaiser With a Lily in His Hand,” “If He Can Fight Like He Can Love, Good Night Germany!” and scads of other martial anthems.

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