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"The Chewing Gum Issue" from New York Times

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from New York Times
The Chewing Gum Issue
by Ellis Parker Butler

France should certainly send Mrs. Gertrude Atherton a medal of some sort for her eloquent plea, in the Times, against sending chewing gum to France. With Mrs. Atherton, I weep! I, too, should tremble lest France live to curse us, her myriad brave jaws working on myriad lumps of chewing gum. Perhaps Sherman had chewing gum in mind when he said, "War is hell!" Perhaps he had in mind, on the other hand, the burning thirst of tired soldiers on the march in the hot sun, or soldiers famished for water in the trenches, with every water carrier shot down as he tried to bring water up to the fighting men.

It is nothing to me that Columbus, in telling of the things of great value he had discovered in America, mentioned chewing gum. Christopher was only a sort of semi-American roughneck, whanging eggs butt-end down on tables, and no doubt he was low enough to chew gum. He should have smoked cigarettes like a perfect lady.

Columbus don't worry me, but our War Department says: "It has been found that on long marches where troops are unable to get sufficient water, chewing gum is very effective in relieving thirst. Recently the commanding officer of a regiment of field artillery, when embarking for overseas service, stated that 250 pounds of chewing gum would save several hundreds of gallons of water when most needed. He pointed out that chewing gum is cheap and that there are times when water is very expensive and almost unobtainable."

The Quartermaster Corps placed orders for 2,300,000 packages of chewing gum, but it was not to ruin France - it was to help save France. The American Red Cross is, just now, sending abroad 4,500,000 packages of chewing gum, each labeled "gift of the American Red Cross." Lord Northcliffe, in his lectures a year or two ago, urged the American people when sending parcels abroad to be sure to include chewing gum. The Canadian soldiers took chewing gum when they went "over there," and had it sent weekly. A big retail shop in Canada sent $30,000 worth of chewing gum to Canadian soldiers last Christmas.

Food gets itself sent: water is hard to get to the front-line men. One husky Major of the British forces said: "Once we needed water mighty badly; hadn't had any for twenty-four hours. We dug a well and dug into dead German soldiers." As a matter of fact, the French Commission of the American Red Cross cabled not long ago an urgent demand for chewing gum for use in the reconquered territory where the Germans had, in retiring, poisoned the wells and made thirst a matter of serious moment.

I have an idea that when Mr. Hoover places "an embargo" on certain foodstuffs to France it means that there are enough of those foodstuffs in France already, and that when the War Department sends chewing gum to our army it means our army needs chewing gum. Every one has spoken of the splendid quality of men we have in our forces. They are the gum chewers. They have good teeth and can chew gum, and good teeth mean good health. If Every- Frenchman is chewing gum now it is a sign that Every-Frenchman has better teeth than he used to have. There was a time when we thought the Frenchman was effeminate and effete; now we can admire him -- we know he can fight like a hero and chew gum like an American.

I hate to say such a thing, but it seems to me when war is making a hell of a huge portion of the world, when the German is murdering on the sea, burning, killing, raping, destroying on land, a worrying thought about chewing gum is about as important as fretting because some of our soldiers at St. Mihiel do not manicure their nails every morning. And when the chewing gum is being sent abroad to moisten the parched throats of our fighting men I honestly do feel like breaking right out and saying something perfectly awful like "Oh, Susie! I don't care a tick of my wrist watch if every Frenchman chews gum after the war, so, there now!"

If our boys, over there to rip the hides off the Germans, want to chew gum, let 'em chew. If they want ten tons of gum, send them eleven tons! Even if Mrs. Atherton's soul -- and it is a perfectly good soul -- does writhe.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:14:42am USA Central
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