Final of Born on the Fourth of July

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 8th, 2007 by kokoro

After being released from the hospital, Kovic returned home to his family. He was in the town parade, discovering that many of the town’s boys were dead or injured. He didn’t really feel like the hero the speakers called him, and he felt that many had no idea what they were talking about. In trying to deal with his disability and loss of masculinity, he spent the summer in Mexico at a home of others like him. He went to whorehouses often, hoping for someone to love him, to experience feeling again.

Kovic went back home, attended the university, and eventually got an apartment of his own. While practicing leg stretches, as he hoped to walk again with braces, he shattered his thighbone. He spent six months in a VA hospital under unbelievable and completely unacceptable conditions. He was ignored, left in his own filth for days, treated with broken down machines, and sometimes ridiculed. We had read about poor VA hospital conditions, but this is the first first-hand account. It was shocking. Was this supposed to be one of the improved hospitals we read about?

When he was released from the hospital he went back to the university and started to become involved in war protests, which he had previously been cautious about, only being an observer. Kovic began giving speeches at schools and joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War, where he felt comforted and accepted by his fellow veterans. At one non-violent protest he was beaten by the police, including one that had been disguised as a veteran, and held overnight.

After this he retreated to a little house near the beach with an intention to write. He suffered from depression, isolation, nightmares, and had a difficult with people. At one point he had planned to marry a woman with two children, mostly because he didn’t want to be alone for the rest of his life. He attended another protest during Nixon’s acceptance speech, where he managed to get into the Convention Center with a few other wheelchair-bound veterans. He talked to one newsman with a live feed for a moment, and the vets shouted when Nixon began his speech. One man spit on Kovic, calling him a traitor, and they were taken out of the room.

The last chapter of the book covers the bits of information about Kovic’s time in Vietnam that he often referred to throughout the book. The corporal from Georgia, the kids, and the night he was wounded. The corporal was shot by him, his first kill, and he was guilt-ridden. It was nothing like the movies where the good guys only killed the bad guys. He was given an opportunity to redeem himself, he felt, as a scout leader. One mission ended in the Marines shooting up a hut full of children and old men, which was extremely difficult to read. These two events led him to become reckless with his life. He wanted to be wounded and sent home, but not killed. On that fateful night he took dangerous risks, standing out in the open and not backing off as soon as his leg was shot. He was shot through the shoulder and paralyzed, leaving more than half of his body essentially dead. I felt it was very appropriate to end the book like this, with the moments that completely changed his life forever. I think that though the book is rather depressing in many ways, there is a sense of hope. The war may have killed Ron Kovic body in many ways, but it didn’t kill his spirit, though he felt like it had at many times. He turned his disability into words and actions to help stop the war that was harming so many Americans in so many ways.

Part One of Born on the Fourth of July

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 5th, 2007 by kokoro

Ron Kovic was a shy, athletic kid who joined the Marines because he wanted to be a hero. One wonders if he would’ve joined if he hadn’t been raised on John Wayne movies and others like them. He found out pretty quickly that the military wasn’t as glorious as the movies made it out to be though. One might say he would’ve been better off following his other dream of playing with the Yankees…

So far, I definitely like this book very much. Kovic’s style is very realistic: it’s harsh and often painful to read, and I think that was very important for him to get across when he was writing it. You smile or cringe at the childhood stories, some of which are very familiar because we’ve all gone through those kinds of things. Despite the change from first person to third person perspective (which he seems to do a lot), you feel his uncertainty, fear, and determination at the Marine training camp. You experience his degradation and almost insanity while he is in the hospital living (though he wouldn’t call it that) with being paralyzed from the chest down. It’s very powerful reading and a perfect example of the kind of damage war can cause.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Posted in FSEM100RR on November 4th, 2007 by kokoro

I was inclined to like The Best Years of Our Lives from the start, what with it being directed by Willam Wyler, who gave us such gems as Jezebel, Mrs. Miniver, Roman Holiday, and Ben Hur, and also starring Myrna Loy, who I loved since I saw Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and the various Thin Man movies. The movie swept the 1947 Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor (Fredric March), and more. Harold Russell (Homer), a real veteran with no acting experience who lost his hands in a training accident, won Best Supporting Actor.

I felt that the movie correctly addressed many of problems that WWII veterans faced, as we covered in class. There were quite a few scenes that stuck with me. For instance, despite knowing that Homer would be handless, I was still unprepared when he pulled his hooks (or whatever you’d call them) out of his pockets. As Homer said about his family, they knew about what had happened, but they didn’t quite know what it would look like. I’d say the same went for me.

Then there was the moment when Butch was talking to Homer and said, “Give ’em time, kid; they’ll catch on. You know your folks’ll get used to you, and you’ll get used to them. Then everything’ll settle down nicely. Unless we have another war. Then none of us have to worry because we’ll all be blown to bits the first day. So cheer up, huh?” I think this quote really expresses the uncertainty of the time: the fear that there would be another war, and with the use of atomic weapons it probably would be the War To End All Wars.

I also enjoyed Al’s drunken speech at the Bank dinner and Fred’s walk through the field of discontinued planes. I thought the flashback scene was handled well. Because of the music and the visual cues we knew what was happening to him without it needing to be shown.

The movie has its problems, of course. I mean, what was the point of Al’s son? He hardly showed up or interacted with his father at all, and he wasn’t even at the wedding. Did they forget about him? Then there was the fact that everyone seemed to have a hunky-dory, “all is well” ending, which didn’t happen for a lot of veterans. Really though, that’s what I’ve come to expect (and enjoy) out of most classic Hollywood movies, so it didn’t really bother me. Perhaps one could say that it was a message to veterans that though things may be bad at first, they’ll get better, so hang on. That may be reaching though…

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.