When I was in high school I was in an experimental history class, today it would be independent study. We were given those purple mimeographed pages of reading and assignments, there were six or eight section to complete. If you completed all of them then your grade was an A, thinking that you completed them well. It was a bit revolutionary for the early sixties at Alemany, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the same nuns of Mount St. Mary’s in the hills above Hollywood. There’s a whole story that goes with this, but not the one I’m telling now.
The final section was to write a term paper. The class was on American History. If I had had the chance I would have preferred European History, 1066 to 1503 specifically, but no, it was American History or none. I’m not a fan of colonial America. I don’t particularly care for studying The Civil War. I thought the late eighteen hundreds fascinating, but it was World War II that held my attention.
War is violent, with synonyms are clash, skirmish, bloodshed, no soft cuddles there. WWII was a violent time for most of the world, but it was also a time of heroism, of bravery, of selfless courage. It was the last time we as a country, for the most part, all agreed on war. It was the last time we felt we were involved in a just war. It was the last time we were willing to give up liberties and freedoms for something greater.
And, the heroes I thought the least likely to get their turn at fame was the spies. After all they were the ones who nobody was supposed to know. I read everything I could get my hands on, those who worked with the resistance, those that really didn’t exist, those who were women and those who died saving thousands of people. I had this Trivial Pursuit knowledge of spies and war. And that was who I wrote about.
The passage of time has always been instructive for history. Rosenstock Hussy said ‘memory is tyrannical’. We have to go past memory. In the late 1990’s, television journalist Tom Brokaw called the WWII generation, the ‘greatest generation’. His thesis was that this was a generation who had suffered the deprivation of a great recession and were willing to put their lives in danger for an ideal––democracy and freedom, in a way that no other generation has done. Fifteen years latter, a book recently reviewed in the WSJ, A Call to Arms is about mobilizing for the war, the issues of shortages, rationing, and the government versus free market, and in some ways calls into question the cohesion of that greatest generation, as well as the politics of the time.
Makes you think.