Years ago, when World War II ended, in August, 1945, everyone in the little town of Geneva, Illinois, where I lived, went down to the center of town. I think we all felt an instinctive need to gather with other people and share our excitement. It made it real to talk about it. Our town was so small, many of us just walked down town. I remember feeling so happy I could almost float instead of walking..
World War II was not like the present one. In today's war, you can keep living a normal life, and remain pretty much untouched by it all, unless you have someone serving in the military. In World War II, that was impossible.
Gasoline was severely rationed, so we had to think before we drove anywhere. Butter and cooking oil were rationed, and those of us who had always turned up our noses at the very thought of margarine were happy to get it if we could. Meat was rationed, which tested the ingenuity of housewives everywhere. Cigarettes weren't rationed, but were in extremely short supply. Those of us who smoked were constantly looking and asking, trying to find new sources.
We rolled bandages and knit socks and sweaters for the troops. With every pair of olive drab socks I knit, my mind would be full of thoughts about the soldier whose feet those socks would keep warm, and in my heart I would be wishing and hoping that he would stay safe.
We sent boxes and letters overseas to those we knew and to those we didn't know. Everyone was involved in comforting the troops in any way we could. The death toll was high, and by the end, hundreds of thousands of men were killed in battle, in contrast to the 4,000 plus we have lost in this even longer, and still not ended, war.
As I watch how people I see from day to day react, or don't react, to today's war, I am struck by how little most people are affected by it, except when someone they love is overseas. It is not part of the fabric of everyday life as it was in World War II.
I was horrified when, after 9-11, President Bush told us all to "go shopping." What a contrast to President Roosevelt who challenged us by enumerating the many things we could do to help the war effort! We were inspired by being asked to help, and it made us feel better to pitch in and have something useful to do.
Also, that war seemed necessary. We had to stop Hitler from overrunning the world, which was what he intended to do. In newsreels, we watched as panzer units rolled across Europe, easily going around the famed Maginot Line in France, which had long been thought to be a real protection against possible German aggression. We saw V-bombs, or rockets, fall on England, and the English be unable to stop them. They packed into bomb shelters during the endless air raids, emerging time after time, when the all-clear sounded, to view the new damage, which was usually extensive.
We saw books being burned, windows of Jewish-owned businesses being smashed, and Jews being persecuted in every way, until they began to disappear into the loathsome concentration camps and the gas chambers.
Hitler covered Europe, threatened England, marched across North Africa, and went all the way to Stalingrad before he was stopped at all.
In the Pacific, the war went on against the Japanese over a wide area, starting from Hawaii, where the Japanese first attacked us, and moving on from island to island in the South Pacific, to the Phillippines, and finally Japan. The threats in that war were real and world wide. Our way of life and democracy were, for a while, in grave danger. It makes me angry to think we embarked on a preemptive war based on lies and misrepresentation. The reasons given for it were untrue, and those wanting the war knew they were untrue. It is a crime to cause soldiers to lose their lives for concocted reasons. How can it be defended, in the light of what it means to each soldier who falls or dies?
On that August afternoon, we all hugged and laughed and cried and were full of a heady exhilaration. We kept saying to each other, "It's over, it's over!" and hugged each other again. Finally, we all began to wander back to our homes, or gathered at someone else's home, to celebrate.
At my mother's house, several old friends gathered in her large screened veranda and sat together in the fading light to talk. "War is so awful," one said, "I wonder if human beings will ever get beyond it, or if we will go on fighting bigger and bigger wars until we just blow ourselves off the planet?" Everyone nodded. We all seemed to be wondering the same thing. "I feel as if we could avoid it, but only if we all wanted to, and worked together to prevent it," said my mother. Our next door neighbor, who was a colonel in the army, said "That would only work if people wanted to abandon war all over the world. No country could do it alone." I said, "I wish all countries could organize together to stop war," and my stepfather said, "Yes, all nations united together. I wonder if that will ever happen." We all hoped so, and as night fell, we grew quiet, listened to the crickets, and hoped for the future of the human race.
In World War II, we were ready to make sacrifices and put in our efforts, working together to help in any way we could. In today's war, we are not asked to do anything, and I am still insulted by the suggestion that the best thing we can do in time of trouble is "go shopping."