A soldier’s reasons for enlisting, 1942

by Sidney Diamond

Sidney Diamond to Estelle Spero, ca. April 1942 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)“Our country is the entire world and mankind our countrymen!!!”

In April of 1942, Sidney Diamond, a chemical engineering student at City College in New York, enlisted in the United States Army against the wishes of his friends and family.

In this letter written upon his arrival at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Sidney described his reasons for joining the fight to his longtime sweetheart, Estelle Spero. “Stelle, I shall attempt, at least, to argue your thoughts of the unworthiness of the effort I am, through my own choosing, engaging in,” he wrote. Sidney defended his decision by quoting the literary works of Thomas Paine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Ovid:

Our mutual friend Thomas Paine has aptly said “My country is the world and my religion is to do good!” It is true as Goethe suggests that in peace time every one concerns himself with sweeping his own doorstep and minding his own business . . . but, at present the world (which we recognize as our country) fights hopelessly in a maelstrom as it is gradually and seemingly inevitably sucked into chaos.

Even Estelle’s heartfelt petitions could not sway Sidney’s belief that enlisting was his patriotic duty. During his three years of service, Sidney wrote frequently and faithfully to Estelle, sharing his experiences, both good and bad, and especially his expressions of love for her. Tragically, Sidney was killed in action during an assault north of Manila in the Philippines in January 1945. His humorous and eloquent letters, preserved for many years by Estelle Spero Lynch, are a compelling personal account of World War II.

A full transcript is available.

Excerpt

Stelle, I shall attempt, at least, to argue your thoughts of the unworthiness of the effort I am, through my own choosing, engaging in.

Our mutual friend Thomas Paine has aptly said “My country is the world and my religion is to do good!” Lets ponder over this for a moment. It is true as Goethe suggests that in peace time every one concerns himself with sweeping his own doorstep and minding his own business and things will go well; But, at present, the world (which we recognize as our country) fights hopelessly in a maelstrom as it is gradually and seemingly inevitably sucked into chaos. When a man drowns, one scarcely thinks of the future. One hardly sits down to coldly calculate the credits one loses in college, one does not dream of future happiness–  –

There is no desire to wait and see!! –

–  “Love of country is more powerful than reason itself!” (Ovid)

If my neighbor [struck: shoots] whips his dog I “tsk tsk”. If he beats his own wife I look away – were he, however to attack a strange girl –  The matter is no longer a family affair but a community problem. J. G. Holland expresses it more adequately when he points out that “The man who loves his home best, and loves it most unselfishly, loves his country best. – ’Stelle – our country is the entire world and mankind our countrymen!!!

Whew – what brought that on – cool off Sid – take a shower!! –

Patriotism knows no time no land, no sea – it is not [struck: climatic]! Geographical! It is not scheduled!!

Questions for Discussion

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