March 3, 2019 - I spend most of my off season time researching the names of the fallen. Trying to uncover the details of their service; where they deployed, what their units accomplished, and how the particular service member fell and who may have gone down in the same incident. The procedure is a stroll through many forms of archived materials. Usually it's a written report published in an old newspaper or military unit log. Sometimes I am able to locate an audio or video recording that generally describes the action or the battlefields. It can bring a smile, empathetic tears, and always a good measure of admiration for my fellow veterans that marched off in uniform and never marched back.
World War II civilian propaganda and entertainment recordings stand apart from the field reports and battle assessments of the era. They often reveal some disturbing facts about the attitudes held by the ninety-nine percent of our population that has not served. They understand, sometimes, that they benefit greatly from the service and sacrifices of those in uniform. But, to say in a slightly vulgar manner, it's obvious their ass isn't on the line and their appreciation of that fact is difficult to objectify.
The newspapers and radio networks of the time had to walk a fine line between populism and patriotism. Their livelyhood depended upon keeping their advertisers happy and that meant their content had to continually keep the audience engaged and reading or listening. Continual reports from the battle fronts around the world were depressing, especially in 1942 when Japan was killing American soldiers and capturing and imprisoning them by the thousands.
Eighteen months later there was an obvious understanding that America's industrial capability to outproduce any other global munitions effort would eventually win the war. The fevor to buy bonds, support our troops and stand proudly beneath our flag was unshakeable. It was going to be a long slog through hell, but WE were winning! The discussions about those actually carrying the fight to the enemy were just beginning to focus on how to appropriately compensate returning veterans. And buried in those discussions was a serious concern that the men and women who served might truly become a threat to our peace on the homefront - when the homefront became the only front. Some Americans were actually afraid our veterans would not put down their arms, that they would instead turn the muzzles of their guns toward the 90 percent that had not served.
In June of 1943 the National Broadcasting Company began to air a summer replacement show for "Fibber McGee and Molly." It was a filler, nothing more than that. It was cheap to produce and bridged the chasm between casual entertainment and the chilling topics of war. It was a half hour program that highlighted recently published books written about the war, the world and the men fighting so far from home.
The program was received well enough that the summertime program continued through the fall and winter. By the next spring "Words At War" had become more of a public affairs program that encouraged the audience to discuss the 'what ifs' and 'how do we' topics important to a society that had time to plan the transition back to a largely peacefull existence.
The broadcast of September 5, 1944 was entitled, "The Veteran Comes Back." The writers were trying to promote a wave of interest in properly compensating and accomodating the returning veteran. But it may have missed the mark - it planted trees of intimidation that bore questionable fruit. Was the populace of America justified in thinking that battle hardened combat veterans would really be a threat to our homeland?
Listen to the program. Imagine that you are a factory worker of 1944 that might soon be facing the influx of sixteen million men that want YOUR job.
At the end of the program please ask yourself; "Has anything changed?" And don't compare todays limited number of returning veterans to the amount that came home in 1945 and 1945. Those veterans come home by the millions, not thousands.