As I look back on the reading I did for 1942 and the facts that I collected, it seems to me a bit of a stalled year. I will not be born yet for five years and although the United States is now officially in World War II, it takes almost an entire year for our country to truly mobilize and get our troops "over there" and get our war strategy going. In 1942, the Germans and the Japanese are enjoying most of the victories, while the Allies grimly hang on.
In the bestsellers, we have a saint, a missionary priest in China and the life of Jesus Christ for the religious angle. War is covered in only two but one of those books is about Japan invading China. There is just one truly historical fiction and three about American life so far in the 20th century. In the other books I read, again only two are about war.
In film, "How Green Was My Valley" won Best Picture and Best Director (John Ford); "Sergeant York", a war picture, won Best Actor (Gary Cooper); and "Suspicion", the famous Hitchcock classic, won Best Actress (Joan Fontaine). Popular songs included "White Christmas", "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" and "That Old Black Magic."
However there are signs of changes in the country due to the war. For one thing the munitions makers and the companies making tanks, ships and planes were doing a booming business, even if the owners of these concerns were bellyaching continuously about the income tax. As much as big business wanted to hate FDR, he sure was bringing them plenty of business. In science and technology, there were almost daily advances: Fermi split the atom, the first electronic brain was produced, recording tape was invented, the turbo-prop engine was developed and the first United States jet plane was tested. Also Henry Kaiser, whose Willys Motors made four-wheel-drive vehicles, adapted assembly line techniques to building ships. His 10,000 ton Liberty Ships were coming off the line in just four days.
In American life, the Supreme Court ruled Nevada divorces to be valid; another blow to family life. Japanese people living in California and other western states were rounded up and put into camps, lest they aid a Japanese invasion of US soil. Sugar, gasoline and coffee were now rationed. I understand about the gas, but from what I have read about the coffee that our soldiers had to drink while overseas, I wonder where all the coffee went.
My parents were engaged on July 4, 1942, but would not marry until 1944. They were discouraged from getting married by their parents, who felt you shouldn't get married in war time. This is another example of what a conservative and careful family I come from. When my dad's draft number was about to come up, he enlisted. Of course, he did not go overseas because of his bad vision and flat feet but was stationed in Philadelphia, PA, doing bookkeeping (what else?) and some kind of teaching.
My maternal uncles, Carlton and Jim, were already in the service. Carlton was drafted just after marrying my Aunt Phyllis and sent to the Caribbean. Uncle Jim was in the Navy and stationed in Alaska. Uncle Jerry was working at Ford Motor Company so was exempt because he was vital to the war effort. There were to be no war casualties in my family.
My mom continued teaching in Michigan, as male teachers at her school were being drafted and gas was a problem because of rationing. The teachers would save up their gas coupons and use them to get the sports teams to away games. How American is that? The rationing and her delayed marriage are about all my mom remembers about the impact of the war on her life.
As I was finishing the books, especially King's Row, Norma Ashe and Candle in the Wind, I was struck by how some of the strong interests I have had in life show up here. Mental health was for the first time becoming something doctors studied in the 1910s and 1920s (in Vienna, of course). So by the 1940s it was a hot topic. And amongst the writers was a look back at philosophy for answers to what makes man go to war and commit such atrocities. My parents were very opposed to psychiatry or psychology of any kind when I was growing up, but I was always curious about how the mind works, what makes people do the strange and irrational things they do and whether or not there was a way of curing mental illness.
Overall I am thrilled to be learning all this about the world I was born into this lifetime. Of course, as a child I had no idea and I was raised in a family and a socio-economic bracket where they did not want me to know. They were just glad the war was over. Although I am an anti-war person, I can now understand that once Hitler got going, there was nothing else to do but fight him, because his plans were not constructive and were a threat to freedom and democracy. In the overall history of the United States, it was in the country's destiny to take its place as a world power.
What I don't see is that we have learned very much about how to avert these major breakdowns where evil fascist types go nuts. I wonder how I would feel if I was in my twenties or thirties right now. I think for the average citizen, world events, economics, armed conflicts seem out of our hands. History has shown that while bravery, patriotism, common decency, religion, education and the arts have been effective in the short run, none of these things have been able to prevent war, destruction and suffering on a large scale. And long range planning? Boy, I can see in these novels that that went out somewhere between the first and second world wars. It just didn't seem realistic anymore.
By the time I finished the books for 1942, I started to become a little tired of the 1940s viewpoint. I thought of moving on, figuring that I had gotten what I was looking for from what I had read so far, but I decided to stick to the project. I had decided though that the world is not any worse off now than it ever has been. We seem to be in terrible treacherous times and heading for disaster at a mad rate, but I think that has always been true. It is just easier to see now because of the high-tech capabilities of the media. Everywhere I look on TV, the papers and magazines, it is all about marketing and selling material objects or about making people feel worried and afraid.
So my search for understanding at this point appears to be leading me to more confusion and hopelessness, but I think it is just a progression and I will come out of it with something. 1942 was the first year that the US was in WWII and the world was reeling with the horror of it. At this point, they didn't even know the whole of the horror. When I get to 1945 and the war is over, things will get happier and then we have the delirious 1950s when I was growing up, being prepared for absolutely nothing.
In 1943, I will get into some philosophy (Jean Paul Sartre) and I am reading Will Durant's Story of Philosophy to get some background. In Plato and Socrates, I found the basis for the idealism in Norma Ashe. I don't know that it does any good for me to learn all this stuff, but I am somehow uplifted by the knowledge. I am already so old and I wish I had paid attention or found it meaningful 30 years ago. Well, I didn't and I am learning it now. Hopefully I can do some good with it.