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ON THE EVE of America's entry into the First World War in March 1917, a young man from New Haven was arrested on charges of espionage. The police of Bristol, Connecticut linked Leopoldo Cobianchi to several pieces of incriminating evidence. In the boarding-house where he was staying, detectives discovered a map of Bristol marked with a drawing of a cannon. Finding calculations of the gun's firing range, they suspected Cobianchi to be one of a pair of men seen prowling about the city's factory district. Also among his possessions were maps of Mexico and a button bearing the cryptic message "One of 1,000." Police were most interested in an essay defending the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. To the United States marshall called in to investigate, it looked as though the rising fears of sabotage were now a dangerous reality. 
But almost as soon as the affair began, officials realized there had been a terrible misunderstanding. The day after the arrest a New Haven paper announced that the case "promises to turn out to be a huge joke." Cobianchi had been taking night classes to prepare for the Yale Law School entrance exam. His instructor urged him to take a break from his full-time job and studies, which were causing "signs of weariness" and "an approaching breakdown." Cobianchi went to Bristol, but continued to practice physics problems by using features of the local landscape. The mysterious pin, which police thought might have meant "One of 1,000" plotters against the government, was the slogan of the New Haven Young Democratic Club, of which Cobianchi was a member. He had written the paper on German submarines after his father insisted he learn to argue both sides of an issue. With an explanation for each piece of evidence, the case of the United States v. Leopoldo Cobianchi was dismissed before it was ever tried in court. 
To most historians of American immigration and labor, this incident sounds familiar even if the particulars are obscure. The arrest of an immigrant by hot-headed authorities--this was certainly not an uncommon event during "the war to make the world safe for democracy" and the Red Scare that followed. The era's repressive treatment of German Americans and foreign-born radicals has long bolstered claims that coercion played and continues to play a definitive role in the acculturation of American immigrants. 
But the outcome in Cobianchi's particular case reflects a very different reality for the nation's "new" immigrants from southern and eastern Europe; one that scholarship on the war era has virtually ignored.  Rather than weakness, the arrest illustrated the Italian colony's strength in New Haven. The city's Italian newspapers immediately protested the charges and clamored for the young man's release. Cobianchi's father, publisher of the weekly L'Indipendente, was able to meet with the United States district attorney and pay the $5,000 bail bond with a loan from an Italian banker. The young man himself visited the city's daily papers to give his side of the story, and New Haven's city attorney wrote a long, open letter of support. Leopoldo was a rising star in the local Democratic party and would just a few months later be elected as a city alderman. On the eve of the war, the colonia had the means--newspapers, banks, and political connections-to cause quite a stir.
The affair also foreshadowed the new relationship Italians would develop with local and federal authorities during the war effort. The war demanded a new, if temporary, relationship between the individual and the state, whether or not that individual was a citizen. The colonia, which had developed into a large, bustling community with little or no governmental interference, was just beginning to get a sense of Uncle Sam's long, wartime reach. New Haven's enclave was no longer to be ignored as had been true since Italian immigrants began to arrive en masse in the 1880s. 
In terms of national consciousness, the Italians held the most direct connection to the Allies of any of America's largest immigrant groups. Repression figured minimally if at all in their lives during the war. They suffered none of the cultural and political persecution that confronted their German immigrant peers, who the federal government labeled an enemy alien population. Italians also lacked the resentments of the nation's Irish, who watched as the United States joined forces with the British Empire. Nor did they share the ambivalence of Eastern European Jewry, whose Russian homeland had only recently liberated itself from Czarist tyranny and was now the loudest proponent of a negotiated peace. As important, the Italians' position on the war was not based on a desire for nationhood, which characterized the dreams of Slavs who had emigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the immigrant Greeks, Armenians, Lebanese, and Syrians who longed for the end of Ottoman power. The war America had entered into had been raging in Italy for the past two years. For the overwhelming majority of Italians living in the United States in 1917, there was little doubt of their support for the Allied cause. 
Yet the transplanted Italian population was also subject to complicated cultural and political pressures. They faced urgent appeals to their national and group identity on three distinct levels. The war confronted them as Americans, as persons still deeply attached to the Old World, and as ethnic newcomers. It brought out in bold relief the major contradictions of immigrant life. The nation's Italian colonies encountered demands for American unity and cultural separatism, found themselves at times celebrated, patronized, or excluded, and felt the war's fleeting as well as permanent impact on their lives and social status.
Much of what Italian men and women encountered during the war was experienced by practically every American. Activities such as signing a food pledge card or buying Liberty Bonds cut across class, ethnic, and geographical lines. Since so much of the domestic effort depended on voluntary participation, calls to "do your bit" were more urgent and ubiquitous, pervading the school, workplace, church, and social club. This common national effort deepened the claims of Italians to their adopted country. As important, it expanded their contact with local and federal institutions, and encouraged many to assert themselves outside of their ethnic enclaves.
At the same time, events in Europe appeared to renew immigrant bonds to the Old World. The Italian Army's defeat at Caporetto in the fall of 1917 energized Italian colonies all across the United States. As will be seen, the Italians of New Haven-workers as well as prominenti, women as well as Catholic clergy, students as well as soldiers-became the most visibly pro-war population in the city almost overnight. Most importantly, the age-old regional antagonisms that had separated Abruzzi from Neapolitans and natives of Scafati from those of Amalfi dissolved into a common campaign to save Italy. But even though their hearts and minds were so sharply affected by events overseas, Italians fell in step with the war aims of the United States. They soon viewed American agencies such as the Red Cross and the YMCA as the most effective means of helping kin abroad.
Italians also continued to be identified as immigrants and ethnics. Ethnicity remained a cornerstone of political discourse, despite the demands "to heat up the melting pot" and "erase the hyphenate." Federal, state, and local leaders cultivated the participation of ethnic groups by praising their history and culture, even their stereotypical traits. New Haven, like cities with large Italian populations all across the country, sponsored several events honoring Italy. Though Italians were almost always kept separate in the various domestic campaigns and encountered condescension more often than respect, they had moved to a new stage in their settlement in America. For the first time their activities, both as a group and as individuals, received sustained recognition and praise.
To view the home front from the perspective of Italian immigrants suggests how the themes of inclusion and agency, just as much as intolerance and repression, helped shape the contours of American ethnic life during the early twentieth century. The nativist reaction that followed the Armistice could not sweep away the stronger sense of cultural identity these new immigrants had developed during the war. Nor did it erase the sense of entitlement felt so keenly by the hundreds of thou sands of ethnic soldiers who fought in France and the millions of ethnic children who attended wartime schools. Italians and other new immigrant Americans did not have the electoral or economic power to defend themselves in the cultural battles over prohibition and immigrant restriction of the early 1920s. But the praise they received, the opportunities for participation they embraced, and the limited, but significant power they wielded during the war served as forms of political education that would come to good use a decade later. 
CAPORETTO AND THE COLONIA
Only 102 persons of Italian descent were recorded in New Haven in the 1880 federal census. But over the next four decades the stunning industrial growth that caused the city to more than double in size also drew heavily on the provinces of southern Italy. Immigrant Italian males, at first finding work as seasonal laborers on railroad and construction sites, soon obtained year-round employment in local factories and as entrepreneurs serving their fellow connazionali. With work and housing opportunities staked out, linking Connecticut to specific towns in the Mezzogiorno, the Italian colony exploded. By 1917 Italians were the largest single ethnic group in the Elm City, comprising more than 20 percent of the city's 160,000 residents. Perhaps the most telling statistic of their importance was the number of second-generation colonia children. During the war, roughly half of the city's 40,000 persons of Italian descent were American-born. 
By the time the United States declared war on Germany, New Haven's Italians had moved well beyond the initial, pioneering stage of settlement and were now able to rely on a wide range of ethnic institutions. The Wooster Square and "Hill" neighborhoods could boast of four weekly Italian language newspapers, three large Roman Catholic parishes, and more than forty mutual aid societies and recreational and political clubs. The population had its own Italian consulate, hosted the national Sons of Italy convention in 1916, and was home to one of the best known entertainment moguls on the East Coast, theater king Sylvester Z. Poli. New Haven was no Lawrence, Massachusetts, Paterson, New Jersey, or hard rock mining area, places where Italian labor unrest captured national headlines during the Progressive Era. Unlike these one-industry towns, the Elm City's wide variety of employers enabled Italian workers to get by without recourse to radicalism. Poverty and bigotry were a part of everyday life for most immigrants, but there were also tangible signs of a better future. After the turn of the century, wide-open hostility toward Italians faded, and with the sheer weight of their growing numbers, local immigrants found themselves increasingly courted by politicians, major employers, retailers, and newspaper editors. The Elm City, though still attracting its share of seasonal laborers (or migratory "swallows" as they were called), was clearly a permanent destination for most of its Italian immigrants--hard-working families who had purchased homes, built churches, and belonged to clubs of their own making. 
The colony's expansion and development took place at a breakneck pace with virtually no aid from outsiders, whether in America or from the Old Country. But, in May 1915, connazionali were reminded of their origins, as the Italian Republic plunged into the Great War with all the bombast (and territorial ambitions) of its allies. Hundreds of men in New Haven joined the Italian army, including a priest from Saint Michael's parish. But most remained in the city, either to avoid military service or because they had already permanently emigrated. The colonia formed committees and donated money, food, and clothing to the Italian Red Cross and subscribed to the National Victory Loan. Enthusiasm clearly declined as the war dragged on and the Italian army's losses climbed into the hundreds of thousands. The immigrants who stayed in New Haven knew much more about the fighting than their American peers, having received information from families and friends in Italy. They knew the struggle raging through their homeland was like no other. 
When the United States finally entered the war in April 1917, the spirits of local Italians temporarily rebounded. A quick end to the conflict seemed possible. In the spring and summer, the community complied with the government's numerous military registration and war fund campaigns. It was in raising volunteers for the Connecticut National Guard that the colony devoted its greatest effort. The colonia quickly produced the so-called "Italian Machine Gun Company," a unit composed entirely of local Italians. In heavily publicized ceremonies, the company was given an elaborate farewell before it left for France. But with the unit's departure and the calling of the first Selective Service draft in early September 1917, enthusiasm for the war once again declined. 
The event that pulled New Haven's Italians most deeply into the war effort took place three thousand miles away, near the small Austrian town of Caporetto. There, in the early hours of 24 October 1917, a tremendous bombardment of gas and high explosive shells pulverized the Italian Army's lines. By mid-afternoon Italy had lost all of the ground it had gained in the previous two-and-a-half years of fighting, and by nightfall the front had collapsed 17 miles in what had been one of the most immobile theaters of the war. The Italians did not halt the Austro-German advance until November 10th. By this time their losses were staggering. Forty thousand men were killed or wounded. Roughly three hundred thousand were taken prisoner and there were nearly as many stragglers who deserted their units and fled to safety. Withdrawing more than 70 miles, Italy suffered the most devastating defeat on the Western Front up to that time. 
Caporetto was more than a military disaster. It was also a catastrophe for the civilian population. Close to half a million refugees were caught in the crossfire. Inevitably their escape clogged the roads the army needed for its retreat, producing a human quagmire of soldiers who had thrown down their weapons and peasants who had gathered whatever belongings and livestock they could save. Venice, only 15 miles from the Austro-German advance, evacuated in desperation. The city's population of 160,000 fell to 20,000 almost overnight.
Like the rest of the world, New Haven's Italians were stunned by the …