Vag coughed into a cupped band and with the other drew his coat lapels more tightly closed. Through the drizzling rain he could, standing tiptoe, see the motley crowd of dignitaries on the slightly elevated platform. Someone, probably a Senator, was speaking. The old familiar, rhetorical phrases filtered through the steady drum of water against stone: "We the people must . . . not in our memory nor in . . . as the greatest nation . . . proud, triumphant and free . . ." Behind the speaker Vag saw the pudgy figure of the President-elect. The astounding victory of that demagogue had swept the war administration out of office and led a famous commentator to observe that America as usual was donning the ostrich feathers after playing the part of a lion.
The white-haired woman beside Vag leaned against him as he clumsily placed an arm around her shoulders. A lapel ribbon with three gold stars modestly measured her sacrifice, and Vag's own eyes filled when she wiped away a tear with a black handkerchief. Each star represented a brother. He looked over his mother's head toward the platform, finally locating the defeated President. Vag followed the fixed stare of the man's eyes down to the end of the cane which rested beside him; and then, looking at the worried face, Vag tried to pierce into the throughts of this gallant leader of the war days. Peace promises had been flung back in the President's face by a Senate bloc which knew that a two-thirds majority was necessary to ratify treaties. The Senate had adjourned and hurried home to campaign--many Senators fanning the hates and fears engendered by the struggle, trying to attract unemployed ex-soldiers and harried owners of overdeveloped war industries by a wild cry of "From Canada to the Canal! Push the border South! This is the American Century."
Near the ex-President sat the former Secretary of the Navy, newly elected Vice-President. Vag remembered when the man had first urged entry into the war; and, though Vag had agreed on that, he had sensed an ominously imperialistic note in the rantings of such violent interventionists. When Vag thought back, so few on either side of the war vs. neutrality debate had ever thought on other than selfish grounds. Both sides had kept thinking of America first with humanity last. And the few men with real vision and world-wide sympathies--Vag though that the weary, defeated President had been such a man--those fellows, by forgetting all else in the fight for victory, had finally won military success only to have the making of the peace taken from their hands. In preparing public opinion for war measures no one had prepared it for understanding the necessity of a generous peace. The leaders forgot that American intervention was useless if followed by isolation in the post-war world.
But the speaker was finished, and the last wreath had been placed on the tomb of the newer Unknown Soldier. The bugler was sounding taps as Vag, shivering a bit from the damp which had penetrated his light reversible, left the enlarged Arlington National Cemetery. Outside it all seemed so unreal--Vag wondered if he had had a vision of the future or a nightmare of the past.