Sunday, December 25, 2011

by Sophie


I've spent the last few months steeped in research set in the World War II era, and it has me thinking a lot about the way we, as a nation, participate in our foreign wars. So much of modern warfare is antiseptic, removed, cleansed and sanitized for a television audience, and it's easy - way too easy - for us to choose to ignore what is going on on the other side of the world.

I'm not, at heart, a political person, and I have no desire to discuss the merits of our participation in the various conflicts in which we now find ourselves embroiled. But I do think it's fascinating - and rather shameful - that we can so easily choose ignorance and non-participation. Seventy years ago, such a stance was unthinkable. War was participatory, and not just in the sense that families with young men made terrible sacrifices in every block of every neighborhood - every citizen was affected.

Some of the ways people were included in the war effort were heroic. Others were shameful. All of them give me pause, as I learn more and more about the hidden history of that time.

Americans longed for peace to return, but they understood it could not happen without the involvement of every family and individual. I feel like that climate could not be duplicated today. Ours is a sated culture that expects immediate gratification with a minimum of sacrifice; we expect our government to deliver peace even as we remain ignorant, indifferent, unfocused.

Americans planted victory gardens, saved fats for glycerin, participated in metal and clothing drives, made bandages. They did without new cars and appliances as plants moved their entire production cycles to the war effort. Women took over the jobs men left behind.

Here are a couple of magazine ads which I found nothing short of stunning:

How do you think our nation would respond to such pleas today? "Peace can be yours - if you all ratchet down spending for another year?" I just read an analysis of saving behavior on the part of our citizens, and it turns out that we have a fight-or-flight response - we'll spend until the bitter end, and then we react with a complete shut-down of our personal economies. We know no moderation in our spending behavior. Since we have proved to the economists that only something personally catastrophic - job loss, foreclosure, etc. - will evoke spending changes within our homes, I wonder what our reaction would be today to the suggestion that we modify our habits in the interest of supporting our military engagements?

It's not quite resolution making time, but I'm mulling over something that is quite a stretch, for me. It might be time for a deliberate increase in awareness. My reasons for being apolitical are personal, but my reasons for change are not: simply put, it is starting to feel like a responsibility shirked. I've enjoyed personal peace for 48 years; it might just be time to stop taking it for granted.


Rachael Herron said...

I feel so powerless sometimes, but all the stuff that's happened recently has really made me change my attitude about spending money. I want to spend it locally and support MY world, the Oakland/Bay Area that I love. It's hard -- you can't buy gas without profiting some war or another. But coffee? And groceries? I can keep that local, and that makes me feel a LEETLE bit better.
Oh, and I just booked an apartment in Venice, so I am also completely hypocritical. :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

You are *far* from hypocritical, sugar. You are one of those people I keep in my mind who act, often quietly, on their convictions. That is what I strive for. I have never been, and never will be, comfortable with strident participation, but I would like to live more consistency with my beliefs.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Beautifully written: "Ours is a sated culture that expects immediate gratification with a minimum of sacrifice..." I think you're right, that recognizing the importance of personal sacrifice for community gain is essential for our future. So I guess it's time to force ourselves to get just a wee bit political? Don't panic, we'll do it togheter ;-)

Sophie Littlefield said...

aaaaahhhh! so scary, JB. I hope you'll never wonder if you've had an impact on me. :) Between you and my brother, you're forcing me to become a responsible citizen!

L.G.C. Smith said...

Part of the trouble is that many of us come from backgrounds where ANY political participation that questions the status quo in the teensiest little way is perceived as strident, however mild it might actually be. We fail to notice that our lack of overt participation is an active choice and has consequences. Personally and globally. Yet, as you say, peace requires effort. Thanks for a thoughtful and heartfelt post.

Jon said...

I think also that so often we see change as an all or nothing proposition: If we can't make it all better, then why even try. When in reality I can make things a little better day by day. Maybe it's more important to not lose (much) ground than make great stride most days.

Sophie Littlefield said...

LGC - you hit the nail on the head. I imagine i will always consider the political to be personal, for myself, because of the way political discussions were framed in my family.

But as you say, Jon, that should not stop me from taking the steps that I *can* take. That's what I propose for the year ahead...some small steps, assessing along the way, welcoming the lessons, - and still keeping it very much internal, until I figure out how I fell about things.

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