Stern reminiscences include air-raid drills: lights out and curtains drawn as wardens in doughboy helmets patrolled Cleveland streets to ensure compliance. Newsreels frothed balcony-thumping images of Hitler and Mussolini and, with family gathered, I would make strutting entrances and amuse with mocking imitations, arm raised in the Nazi salute. And how I hated the enemy just because they were America’s enemy and Uncle Lewis was away fighting them. How we sent him care packages and, in return, received letters, a stamped and addressed coconut with my name written right on it, and an aluminum fragment from the wing of a downed Zero. Playing war-games, I mowed down thousands of Nazis and Japanese.
The death of President Roosevelt came in a morning radio bulletin while sitting in the kitchen with Mother. Taking immediately to the sidewalk, I earned a niche in hell: of Republican family background, I found it not unpleasant to watch passersby crumple when I broke the news. By early evening, after Father returned from the office, I had graduated to this: standing in the front yard and spotting Jenny Lou Hansel and her girl friends playing jacks, I yelled: “Hooray, the president’s dead!” Reaching out to seize my collar, Father yanked me straight through the open living room window. Formative lessons ensued!
And how the war ended with fire crackers and with merry-making in a neighbor’s rec-room! Whether it was VE or VJ Day I don’t remember, but recall dartboards featuring Hitler and Hirohito, the latter stereotyped all in yellow, squinting eyes and buck teeth, all against a rising sun backdrop!
We bathed in American righteousness, victory and glory, certainties reconfirmed well into the 1950s by revelations of Axis crimes committed beyond the battlefield. The atomic bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seemed fully deserved; America had not only saved itself, but the world. Patriotism reigned and what we now call “globalism” was an alien Marxist construct.
Such home-front formation steeled millions of young Americans to face Cold War challenges in Europe, Korea and Vietnam. In Korean War days, youngsters maintained a map of that ravaged peninsula in order to trace American advances.
But the sway of any generation’s thinking is short-lived. When I returned in 1964 from two years of active Army duty, America was not the same country; radicalism had spread like fire from Berkeley. Many grad school students, too young to have experienced home-front formation, thought it necessary to “shoot society” in order to “start over.” And in early 1969, my Indiana University buildings were occupied by mobs and the library torched. In Washington, Nov. 15, 1969, I waded into hundreds of thousands of anti-war demonstrators. “What makes them this way?,” I asked a tiny group from Chardon, Ohio, holding the flag and signs in support of President Nixon.
I still ask that question and, sadly, conclude that we now lack much of that single-minded patriotic focus and determination formed by the WWII home-front experience. Rather, with globalist, class and racial struggle orientations, much of modern formation is not only confusing and contradiction-filled, but destructive. How well does that equip the generations coming up to bat?