The Greatest Generation Comes Home Chapters 4-6, 8, Wages of War Chapter 20

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 29th, 2007 by kokoro

During WWII women and minorities served in the military, and despite discrimination, proved themselves to be invaluable to the war effort in administrative or combat capacities. In many ways they faced the same problems as returning white male veterans, but to a more extreme degree as society expected women and minorities to retain the social roles they had before the war. The war, however, had provided them with self-confidence, discipline, and more, and they were unwilling to return to conventional social norms and discrimination.

The GI Bill, described by Gambone as gender blind and color blind, provided women and minorities new opportunities to change their traditional outlooks. However, much of the medical, job training, and educational benefits were lesser than those provided to white men. For instance, female colleges were often ambivalent towards female vets and made no effort to have them join their ranks, and black colleges were much poorer than their white counterparts (a point that motivated desegregation). Veteran organizations made no move to allow women and minorities to join, though newer organizations gladly accepted women. Minorities created their own organizations to represent their interests, such as the American GI Forum for Hispanic vets. Blacks, Latinos, and Japanese veterans battled through the court system for inclusion into the mainstream society they had been denied. Female and minority vets led and inspired the next generation to fight for equal treatment, and the liberty they had fought for, in all aspects of American society.

Gambone discusses Hispanic veterans, their standard of living at the time before the war (very poor), their exceptional war performance, and the discrimination they faced and their reactions. I’ll admit I often don’t think about them in this context, so I certainly found this interesting to read. Oddly though, he makes no mention of Native American veterans, who were certainly a minority and also made a rather important contribution to the war effort.

The movies Hollywood produced during the war were often blindly patriotic and morally (as well as visually) black and white. The general public, who had no real concept of war, accepted them as generally true. However, returning veterans, knowing the realities of war, were uninterested in such simple depictions, and Hollywood realized it needed to keep the interest of such a large incoming population. The results were movies not about the glory of war, but about what its lasting effects. Many films followed the veteran and his trouble readjusting to a changed society, to his disablement, and to his conscience. In a world of cynicism and moral ambiguity, film noir arose as a popular genre, with the veteran often displayed either as a disillusioned criminal or a victim of mistreatment and greed, both largely forgotten by society.

The Greatest Generation Comes Home Chapters 2 and 3

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 24th, 2007 by kokoro

Once the war ended, there was an influx of wounded veterans being shipped home. The American public, according to Gambone, took this well and completely threw themselves into aiding the wounded and helping them adjust. Perhaps a slight overstatement? Congress, much more liberal after FDR’s four terms, was also willing to help. With the general approval of the government, the Veteran’s Administration, under General Omar Bradley and Paul Hawley, managed to make major changes in VA hospitals. Plans were in the making for new hospitals, and rehabilitation and psychological care was expanded in already existing hospitals. These hospitals suffered from a lack of doctors, mostly consisting of civil service employees, before and during the war, but after the war extensive medical programs and research grants were introduced in order to attract doctors and nurses. Problems arose, however, when Republicans took control of Congress, cutting much of the funds to the VA. The public, as well, felt it was time to move on.

Returning veterans were left to fit back into society. With the government paying, some finished up high school, others went to college as they had originally planned, and some who had not intended to go to college made plans. Many more vets than expected attended higher learning institutions, creating a much larger population of college-educated people than America had ever had before. There was an increase in white-collar jobs, contributing to the rising middle class. On the unfortunate side, colleges had less focus on teaching humanities than they traditionally had, and the bigger classes and student-to-teacher ratios created a less personal atmosphere. Most veterans, however, went straight to work. Some got vocational training and some got jobs related to the specialized skills they learned in the military. The increase in pay in many blue-collar workers also helped produce the growing middle class.

Veterans also became social leaders, raising money for various organizations, charities, and hospitals. They became involved in national politics, with more than half of the Eightieth Congress being veterans from various wars (making the VA funding cuts ironic). Military records were expected, and service exploits were often used in campaigns, though sometimes embellished. Veterans, however, did little to change policymaking, overall. Some veterans took time to adjust (wandering the country) or never adjusted at all. Veterans “found the company of other veterans, the distractions of civilian freedom, or their own silence to offer sanctuary within and from wartime memories (89).”

So Gambone, who is relatively young and, as far as I know, not a veteran, writes from the general point of view that all is hunky-dory for the returning veterans. Compared to what vets from previous wars got (that is to say, not much of anything), things were pretty good. As we mentioned in class, WWII is considered the “Good War,” and that is the approach Gambone takes. He does discuss problems and negatives that arise, but nothing to the extreme. I notice, though, that he has yet to make much of a mention of black veterans. Did they experience the same homecoming as white vets? Did the GI Bill provide equal opportunities for them? I highly doubt it.

Fussell, as well, has his bias. He’s a pessimist and a skeptic so he tends to take a hard line in his thoughts about his homecoming and the condition of American life at the time. Fussell writes of his personal feelings, while Gambone is able to have a more objective stance. On the other hand, Gambone can’t truly understand the experiences of veterans without being a veteran himself. Also, while Gambone relies on many sources for his information, Fussell just uses his memory, which is not always reliable. For instance, when he was describing the point system, he incorrectly described the number of points given to soldiers with children.

Overall, both books are important to read in order to understand the subject of WWII veterans, despite any bias they may have. Every author writes with some kind of bias, and this is why it is important to read and research from as many sources as you can before making any judgments.

Doing Battle

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 22nd, 2007 by kokoro

When he got out of the Army, Paul Fussell finished up his education at Pomona College. The war had changed him, however, and he was unhappy with the optimistic and leisurely Californian life. Fussell also suffered from symptoms of what’s now diagnosed as PTSD. After Pomona he went to Harvard (with the G.I. Bill paying for him), intending to become an English professor, as he felt, like many other veterans, that literature would save to world. He was bitter and hostile at Harvard, and the faculty was snotty, acting much like senior officers acted towards their junior officers. Fussell married Betty Harper in 1949, and they eventually had two children.

After getting his Ph.D. he taught at Connecticut College for Women, a job which he found below himself. Fussell was annoyed by the shallowness and high-mindedness of post-war America, and the women’s college represented this perfectly. He accepted a job at Rutgers in 1955, which he much preferred over the women’s college. Fussell grew tired of America, as it “seemed more than ever bellicose, ignorant, selfish, and greedy, shot through with quasi-religious fraud and hypocrisy (229).” He got a teaching job in Heidelberg, Germany for a time. Heidelberg had a European sophistication that Fussell admired. In spite of war guilt and a preoccupation with the idea of inherent goodness in human beings, Fussell felt that postwar Germany was on its way to an ideal republic, one that he wished for in America. He returned to America, and with the assassination of JFK and later Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, he lost the little bit of optimism (mostly the hope that literature could fix the world) that he had left.

Fussell eventually left Rutgers and taught at Penn, finally an international school. He was considered a troublemaker of sorts, as he had been at the other schools, mostly for speaking his mind (often in as rude a way as possible). He wrote essays and books supporting the atomic bomb droppings and argued against claims that the war wasn’t so bad. Boy Fussell had long been dead, ever since a piece of metal tore into his leg in the woods of southeastern France.

I found Fussell’s book to be an interesting read and very insightful. Unfortunately, I’m not as well versed in literature as I’d like to be, so some of the authors and works he mentioned threw me off. His pessimism was also disconcerting for me, as I’m generally as optimistic person. Of course, if I had seen the worse of humanity and then come home to a superficial and increasingly crazy and out of control America, I’d probably be a pessimist too. His general enjoyment of post-war Germany was slightly surprising, but it’s good to know he didn’t maintain a grudge. Also, Fussell’s feelings about the atomic bomb droppings made me consider my own thoughts about it. It’s something of a moral dilemma for me. I consider weapons in general to be horrible, especially of the atomic variety. I feel that we shouldn’t have had to resort to using them, but there really was no other choice. Thousands of lives were extinguished, but millions more, both American and Japanese, were saved.

WWII Propaganda Posters

Posted in Uncategorized on October 18th, 2007 by kokoro

Some of my favorite propaganda posters, whether humorous or just plain scary…
Waste Not!
Hitler's Chauffeur
Scariest Poster Ever!
More posters can be found here.

In Preparation for WWII…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 17th, 2007 by kokoro

Springtime for Hitler- The Producers, 1968
[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

And if you’d like to download the song…
Download link 

Doing Battle and The Greatest Generation Comes Home

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 17th, 2007 by kokoro

As I’m a discussion leader tomorrow I’ll be brief-ish.

Paul Fussell’s Doing Battle covers such traditional aspects of war that we often read about. The civilian boy trained to be a killing machine, the loss of innocence and basic human compassion that comes with seeing and causing death, the guilt over losing comrades, and more (even the classic crush on a war nurse while hospitalized). Fussell learned many lessons after only a few months in combat, including the job of a lieutenant (sort of useless and mostly symbolic), not to trust novel equipment, to carry everything in your pockets, survival techniques and the dangers of friendly fire, that night operations (for him) never work, and about courage and its diminishing storage after each battle.

The book discusses the changes Fussell goes through, the causes, and the results. At this point, we haven’t quite read about the results, but we have read about Fussell’s growing disrespect for the army as it becomes even more pronounced than it was before, especially during his description of the military’s desire to keep him in service after the war’s end.

The Greatest Generation Comes Home covers just what the title suggests. The first chapter discusses the soldiers’ view of home, what it meant, and how it changed the longer the war went on. Gambone writes about, as Fussell also frustratedly described, the demobilization process and the point system to send soldiers home. As usual, the process was slow and the soldiers and their families were irritated and angered. When the veterans finally returned home, they found that things had changed (less regional differences, for instance), and they had to deal with the difficulties of postwar life (inflation, housing shortages, employment problems, etc.). They also had to adjust to family life, as in the case of fathers and husbands whose children didn’t know them and wives who had grown accustomed to working. On top of it all, veterans also had to deal with their actions in the war, the friends they lost, and the violence and destruction they saw, while trying to live a normal life that was about more than just simple survival.

WWII period music

Posted in Uncategorized on October 11th, 2007 by kokoro

Gone With The Draft- The King Cole Trio, 1940 Download link 

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy- Andrews Sisters, 1941 Download link 

He’s 1-A In The Army And He’s A-1 In My Heart- Les Brown and his Orchestra, Betty Bonney, 1941 Download link 

Blitzkrieg Baby (You Can’t Bomb Me)- Una Mae Carlisle, 1941 Download link 

We Did It Before (And We Can Do It Again)- Barry Wood and The Wood-Nymphs, 1941 Download link 

Cowards Over Pearl Harbor- Denver Darling, 1942 Download link 

There’ll Be A Little Smokio In Tokio- Don Baker with The Polka Dots, 1941 or 1942 Download link 

Der Fuehrer’s Face- Spike Jones and His City Slickers (I believe) Download link 

More music can be found here.

Wages of War Chapters 15-18

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 10th, 2007 by kokoro

So, chapter 15 revolved around the discrimination faced by blacks and Italians. Discrimination against blacks is, of course, nothing new. Discrimination against immigrants is also nothing new. However, with the influx of immigrants coming in from Southern and Eastern Europe as opposed to Northern Europe, people found a new reason to complain. Italians were thought of in much the same manner as blacks, meaning unintelligent, incapable, and barely even human. So much for Michelangelo and da Vinci, huh?

Both blacks and Italians volunteered for the army during the war in order to gain respect, and in the Italians’ case, gain citizenship. Blacks were segregated, and most never saw action, but were instead assigned to corpse duty. Italians faired better, and were allowed to mingle with other white soldiers. For the most part, serving did not change the reception of blacks or Italians. It did, however, make them more inclined to stick up for themselves, leading to racial violence and riots when they got home.

Chapter 16 dealt with the complete inability of the government to create any competent organization for veterans’ affairs. The Federal Bureau for Vocational Rehabilitation that was meant to help train vets for jobs mostly just annoyed and drove everyone ways because of its ineffectiveness. The Veterans’ Bureau wasn’t handled any better with a shifty fellow named Charles Forbes as its head. President Harding was, unfortunately, a very bad judge of character. With the exceptional amount of money he was put in charge of in order to build vet hospitals, etc., Forbes couldn’t help but put one (or many) over on the government.

The next chapter discussed the American Legion and its attempts to get bonuses for veterans. The Legion was essentially an All-American, anti-communist vet group that the government felt more comfortable with, as compared to some other vet organizations. Though Legion leaders were cautious about asking for a bonus at first, the poor conditions many vets faced finally forced them to try. Vets were angered that industrial workers at home during the war got higher pay and bonuses than the men who were fighting overseas did. In the end the Legion was damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. Comments were made about the greedy Legion for wanting money, but on the other hand, some believed that it wasn’t fighting hard enough.

Chapter 18 covered the Bonus March, for the most part recapping what we read with Keene. Severo and Milford take a personalized approach by describing the past history of Walters Waters, the ‘leader’ of the march, much like they did with Shays. They do, however, get a little overly dramatic in writing that the Bonus March was, “the ugliest, most violent and heart-wrenching confrontation between veterans and the Government since the crushing of Shays’ Rebellion…(266).” Despite Pelham Glassford’s, police chief and former career military officer, attempts to keep things peaceful, the vets were forcibly removed. MacArthur was, apparently, always a headstrong, disobedient kind of fellow. The government, and surprisingly most newspapers (much like the Revolution), portrayed the Bonus Expeditionary Force as a group of communists, or fascists, or just plain criminals (they couldn’t seem to decide) rather than the veterans that they were. The public didn’t seem to agree with this view though, as President Hoover soon found himself replaced with FDR a few months later.

“Wilson’s Heros, Hoover’s Bums”

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 8th, 2007 by kokoro

For the most part, the sections I read of Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America managed to keep me interested. Things taught in general school history courses, like the first Red Scare, Great Depression, etc., were narrowed to the specific case of veterans. As well, there were mentions of things not always covered in general courses, such as American activity in Russia and the Influenza outbreak. When I was learning these things the first time, I never considered the experiences and reactions of WWI veterans to these important historical moments, as well as the roles they played in some of them. But I suppose that is the point of this course, after all.

With the Armistice signed, fighting in Europe was officially over. However, citizen-soldiers of the Great War had a long wait ahead of them before they could go home. Demobilization in Europe was a slow process, and added with the continuing deaths caused by the Great Influenza Epidemic, many soldiers became aggravated. They raged against officer privileges and censorship. AEF officials worked to appease soldiers in hopes that they would provide support for a larger peacetime army. As censorship let up, soldiers sent angry letters home and as well as to their state representatives, hoping to speed up their return home. Soldiers in Russia, however, we still fighting against Bolsheviks for seemingly no purpose and were stuck when winter cold left ports iced in. Back in France, soldiers started up the American Legion to represent the affairs of returning veterans.

When soldiers finally got home they found little employment opportunities and the economy in recession, as well as social chaos in the form of the Red Scare and increasing racial violence. Veterans soon formed close relationships with the working class of America, leading to many veteran and labor organizations uniting. Some veterans, more likely those returning from Russia, had Bolshevik sympathies and joined socialist organizations. For the most part, veterans weren’t looking for compensation, not wanting to be compared to greedy Civil War veterans who cleaned out the treasury. The first call for compensation came from more radical veteran organizations. Eventually, vets felt that the government that conscripted them had a duty to make up for the time they had lost while in the army.

In 1924 legislation was passed making compensation law. The veterans were given bonds that could be cashed in for full price in 1945. However, when the Great Depression struck, bonds proved not to be enough, leaving the vets wanting cash. Unlike most Americans suffering from the Depression, this was the second time veterans had to start their lives over. Many vets had never recovered from the time lost during the war, so many were hit extra hard, making up quite a large amount of the unemployed. In 1932, not backed by the Legion, thousands of veterans (and theirs wives, who were sometimes more furious than their husbands) converged on Washington and camped out for months. They organized camps much like those they experienced during the army. Officials worried that things might become violent and were also cautious of turning public opinion against the government, so the vets were not mistreated. The Bonus Army managed to maintain itself with donations from civilians, proving that public support tended to favor the suffering vets. Eventually, the military forcefully ended the Bonus March, running the vets out of Washington. The American public was angered, seeing this as another sign of Hoover’s resistance to helping individuals who needed it rather than big companies and banks.

When FDR took office, he put into action his New Deal programs. He also removed much of the compensation going to veterans, including cutting down aid to the disabled. With the Legion, veterans, and the public in favor of returning compensation, FDR reinstated aid. Veterans continued to make marches every year, with many being given jobs with the CCC or other New Deal organizations. By the late 1930s the world was on the verge of another conflict and a new generation of Americans would be called upon to fight for democracy. Over twenty years after the end of their fighting, Great War veterans would influence government policy one last time in the form of the G.I. Bill, preventing history from repeating itself.

WWI music

Posted in Uncategorized on October 2nd, 2007 by kokoro

Over There- Nora Bayes, 1917
Download link 

Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning- Arthur Fields, 1918
Download link 

How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm- Harry Fay, 1918
Download link 

More music, from many different eras, can be found here.