A Day of Infamy
Dateline: December 7, 2010.
I cannot celebrate war. But on this historic day sixty nine years ago, my life and the lives of everyone I knew were changed for ever after by one horrid war. Our part was a minute fraction of lives changed by it. Its anniversary never passes without my own vivid memory of exactly how it was in my young life.
We heard about it on the old Philco radio that Sunday evening. I confess it didn’t really sink in. too deeply. I was nine and my life had never been affected by war before. I’d read about wars but in sterile books, it wasn’t vivid and certainly not personal.
Monday, at school - I was in music class. We were singing - “Ruben, Ruben, - Rachel, Rachel.” The girls sang “Ruben, Ruben, I’ve been thinking, what a great world it would be - if the boys were all transported far beyond the northern sea.” Then the boys returned the verse, except they addressed it to “Rachel, Rachel”.
All of a sudden, in the middle of the singing, the rather primitive intercom system came on and interrupted. I can visualize and hear that speaker box mounted high on the front wall of the classroom above the teacher’s desk. It was not a high-fi sound system. In a scratchy voice, the school Principal came on and said the United States had declared War on Japan. He said the President was about to make an announcement on the radio. Then he played President Franklin Roosevelt’s LIVE radio announcement of it, the one in which he called December 7, 1941, “A Day of Infamy.”
Before long kinsmen were being drafted or volunteering to go into the military branches. In music classes we learned the songs for each branch of the service, and sang “Any Bonds Today - bonds of freedom, that’s what we’re selling, any bonds today” and "Over There". Of course, our entering into the War was not just against the Japanese but all the “Axis” powers, including Germany and Italy. We sang “The White Cliffs of Dover” in empathy with the British who were, with France, Canada and the US, the “Allies” in this dreadful conflagration.
And immediately. movies, music, - everything reflected the country’s involvement in “The War”. My brothers-in-law were called to duty and as soon as my brother got out of school, he went on in. I didn’t know my George then, but he volunteered for the Navy the same year as my brother, 1943. My Dad was 51, a WWI veteran. a producer of key wartime goods, and was exempt.
In more industrial areas, women who could went into the factories to fill in the jobs men had left to go into the services. They made the airplanes and the other machinery it took to arm the men and perform the work of war, whatever it was. The women who stayed home worked harder than ever to make do with rationed supplies and "keep the home fires burning". It was what they wanted to do, to do their parts, and what they were expected to do. Everyone did his or her bit without whining or blaming, except of course "the enemies". That is one of the many horrors of war. Civilians in those "enemy" countries and troops in their camps were also pumped up to hate and blame the other side. Most of the individuals only knew that there were enemies because there was the war. If they'd met over the back fences, they would have talked about each of their own children, their hopes and dreams and invited each other for tea or coffee. But that was not to be - when war had dominance. Its" reasons" were mostly intangible. Its effects were more than vividly and viscerally tangible.
So rationing began. All the goods needed to outfit, feed and arm the troops were rationed to civilians, among them: meat, sugar, coffee, butter, leather, wool, rubber tires, gasoline, metal goods (tin for cans, steel for tanks and guns), all rationed. Few everyday items were untouched. Each household had books of their allotted number of “Ration Stamps”. Suddenly everyday life changed dramatically. Many products we took for granted were limited and substitutions for those rationed materials were found to manufacture clothing, shoes, tires, foods. In looking through some old mementos my parents kept, I recently ran across a ration stamp book.
The war helped the parts of the economy in which, as I mentioned, my Dad was a producer. He was a sheep and goat raiser. Wool and mohair were his products. They were essentially needed for military uniforms and blankets. Remember, this was all before the development of man-made fabrics, though the war did inspire their development. Civilians needed other alternatives, since the natural fibers were being saved for the troops. Nylon did make its entry for parachutes, and it touched off the "plastics" industry.
"Victory gardens" sprang up so folks could raise more of our own foods. One had to be impressed with the willingness, resourcefulness and fervor with which the population rallied to the "war effort". Horrid as war is, it is good that people do their part if and when it erupts, as it seems inclined to, people being as they are. Hopefully better ways will develop.
The same kind of spirit of cooperation and even self-sacrifice of the "extras", of having everything our own way, would go far in helping the spirit of our country - indeed, our world - to look deeper and wider for solutions to conflicts, as well as to various disasters, both natural and - as now - economic. Everyone cannot have everything exactly perfect. But all, really trying to improve things, can do wonders.
So after that day of infamy so long ago, nothing was ever to be the same again all the way to December 7, 2010!
But back then, for the next several years, war was how it was, affecting everyone, though each in our own way. Our homes were opened to wives and families of servicemen-in-training in our towns when nearby military bases opened or became activated. In our sleepy little towns with insufficient housing for the influx of families who followed their husbands wanting to be with them as long as possible, we simply took them in. Wives who were nurses and teachers joined our workforce to boost our town's efficiency and economy. But our homes which were already just big enough for our families were suddenly bursting at the seams with the extra indefinite "guests". My parents and I slept on our screened sleeping porch all winter so that the two wives and their children we took in could have our bedrooms and another, the guest room. I'll admit that, as a little girl whose home was suddenly not my "home" as I'd known it, I rather resented the imposition! Space to play and activities were all severely limited. And of course, for my parents it was surely more so, though I never recall one complaint. We all knew it was necessary.
The pace of life was quickened unmistakably all during those war years. And the pace of death, - more so, as families received news of their loved ones who died in battle or of wartime theaters' diseases and injuries.
Afterward, everything was different, as I wrote about in my Magnolia hub series.
Ever since then, the Earth has been plagued with CONSTANT war. Korea, Vietnam, The Cold War, Central America, Desert Storm, Africa, iraq, Afghanistan, The War on Terror and many another war in which my country was not directly involved. War's effects constantly trickle down into every household and every human action. Everyone is affected either directly or indirectly; everyone suffers the effects of wars. And they are waged for intangible "reasons", fueled with greed and intolerance.
War is such a tragedy. Those who risk their lives and serve deserve all the honor we can bestow and it is right to pause to remember them. But WAR itself and those who stir it up and fan its flames deserve no honor. It is a crime with multiple criminals and multiple upon multiple innocent victims involved. Whichever “side” one’s people are “on”, it is a travesty against all humanity. The youngest and most potential lives are snuffed out and families bereaved from then on.
I knew a young Vietnam vet in 1973 who'd returned to his prominent Louisville family and wife, all of whom rejected him because of his ordeal and what it had done to him. At times he'd seem to want to talk about it all, but really just couldn't voice it. It was like a thick aura around him, clinging to him, enclosing him, shutting him off.
I wrote this poem sabout it:
They took away your childhood
And put you back a man,
Estranged from Man.
They gave you nothing in return
To mend the tears within your heart.
And when you tried
To kill the pain,
They punished you.
You feel despair.
To live, you must jump gaps
Beyond the common stride
To find a peaceful place
The other side,
To heal, to grow, to be.
And find recovery.
Had they shattered your body
And left it lay, untended
As they did your soul,
It would have been an outrage.
______© Nellieanna H. Hay
There are other alternatives to resolving differences but until human beings are willing to try to resolve them with fellow human beings and to tolerate differences in civilized ways, this planet will be in turmoil. It is vastly more practical to find ways to reason together. My beloved George, who knew the horrors of WWII and did his duty valiantly, always said of conflict, "Come let us reason together".
War destroys. Why do we CHOOSE to destroy our lives, our civilization, our WORLD?? It makes no sense at all. Past are times when being a "dove" was pie-in-the-sky idealism. War has become a hideous luxury we can no longer afford.
No other species upon Earth mass-kills its own species, let alone takes out the most virile of its members, as humans do. We think we have the “higher intelligence”. Do dolphins war? Do even whole colonies of even “natural enemies” in nature war? NO. So why don’t homo sapiens use our superior minds and hearts to resolve our disagreements and live in peace and harmony amongst ourselves at least as successfully and well as the intelligent dolphins do?
In time and in space
No matter whose,
No matter where.
We touch in each similar
Adhering in each exact same place,
Ad repelling where opposed.
Yet in each place we touch each other,
In all the Universe
There is no other
______© Nellieanna H. Haywritten Dec. 7, 2010