Wartime Letters from Italy

Source: Charles Truitt, Wartime Letters from Italy (New York: The Sherwood Press, 1915), pp. 75-76

Text: I saw at a cinematograph the other evening a series of films showing the construction of the Panama Canal. It was a revelation even to me, who as an American am accustomed to seeing machines that in five minutes will do what a hundred men could not do in an hour. The Italian audience sat absolutely quiet, and when five hundred Italians sit in silence it means they are confronted by something that seems to them supernatural. I myself quite understood why the girl in front of me should shrink as out of the air there came a huge bird of steel that swooped down upon a hillside, opened its jaws, took a three thousand ton bite, swooped lower still, almost into the faces of us who sat in the front rows, and disgorged that mass of earth and gravel.

Judging from the films, apparently men at Panama counted for nothing more than intelligences that pressed a button here or a lever there to bring from its lair some monster of steel that carried small mountains from one place to another, wrenched mighty trees from the earth with one twist of their riveted tentacles or lifted bridges and trestles as if they were toys of tin.

The preceding films of love, hate and vendetta had brought forth tears, curses and hisses from the audience, but before these colossi of iron and steel with which the wonderful Americani win peaceful battles the impressionable Italians sat stupefied.

Comment: The US construction of the Panama Canal took place over 1904-1914.

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