Tag Archives: World War II

Heroes

Who is a hero? The one who saves the day, right? <BTW, what is with the capes? Glory Be! Like having something around your neck is not an invitation to a villain to grab it and strangle you with it? And, d’uh, why don’t they, the villains I mean?>  But I digress. Again, who is a hero? Is it enough to save the day? Today it seems like they have to save the world, no the Galaxy.  And then do what? Retire? Are all the criminals and the villains gone? I get that a story, be it a movie or series, must end. We need to know <although there is the ending to The Giver (Lowery)and the ending in Peachtree Road (Siddons)>  we are at the end of the story.

Grimm’s last show was THE END. They were honest. Give them points for that. But they tricked us. <spoiler>  Everyone dies and then everyone comes back because we have this cool magical object that says we can do that. But they went a step further–sort of like JK with Harry. They showed the next generation of Grimm’s fighting the Wessen. So, they saved the planet, well, all humans, but no one is ever really saved. So there was a smidgeon of truth.

We don’t even suspend disbelief anymore. We know there will be something to bring them back. Ironic. In the 21st century, when we say that science is fact, we all believe in magic.

There was a book I read a long time ago, [can’t remember the title]  back in the 1970s, a sci-fi/fantasy book. It was about good triumphing over evil. Evil was powerful, huge armies, lots of people participating. Good was small, a boy, if I remember correctly. And maybe an old man and not much else. The upshot is <was> that good will always triumph even with the full force of evil against it. But like with Grimm, the battle is never over. Maybe the major one is one and done, but there will always be brushfires.

I am a child of the post-war. Not the war to end all wars. That was a silly way to identify it, because the treaty of Versailles only exacerbated the problem and set the world up for a second war. I am a baby boomer. The stories I read were of the men and women who resisted the evils of totalitarianism, oppression, genocide, and communism. Primary text, I think they are called. These individuals did what they could to limit the devastation, to eliminate the threat of an over-class rule. They were common people; maybe bankers, housewives, farmers, shopkeepers, or they were not, perhaps they were earls, counts, government officials. They did not think of their lives as forfeit, but in many cases they were. There was no coming back. There was no magic.

What I read in the 50s were the original memories, the heroic stories of their realization that no one else would stand. They knew literally they had no choice. Today we say we always have a choice. What we mean is you can say yes, or you can say no. Everything we read and see brings this mixed message. The truth is no, no you can’t say no. You can’t.

At an SCBWI conference one of the speakers, Tony Horowitz, I think, said that if nothing else we should be truthful to our children, we should terrify them with the truth. And so, we are back to heroes; those who recognize there is no choice, that saying yes is the only thing, and that doing what you must, even though you are terrified is the right thing.

I call that bravery.

Shelter in Place

shelter

shelterThe Cold War brought us the term Duck and Cover. Who in their right mind, thought that ducking under a small school desk was going to really protect me from the atom bomb?

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan famously  said “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Clever and pithy.  Like the term originating in the midst of World War II when chaos was more reliable than not,  SNAFU [situation normal/all f**ked up] works with Reagan’s comment–government is unreliable by its nature.

The twenty-first century has brought us SHELTER IN PLACE. Continue reading

Spies In WWII

My senior year in high school I participated in an experimental class. Twenty five of us were chosen. Bishop Alemany was a leveled school, grouped in homogeneous classes: college prep, comprehensive and duh! I have no idea what they called the last group. I had tested into the college prep group. And almost from Day One the nuns and I went round and round about what I was supposed to be learning. For me school meant being able to have a library in the same place I was required to be each and every day, and, bonus, no limit on the number of books you could take out, unlike the Burbank Public Library on Glen Oaks Boulevard with it’s only seven books at a time requirement.

So, understand, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet and I had different goals as to what was my education and what wasn’t. By my senior year, someone said, ‘okay, let’s try her in this class.’ I have no idea who to thank for this bit of grace. It was a history class. Since I was in third grade, I had said I would be a historian. My actual learning process, despite my parents amazing and continuing commitment, resembled more of a child being raised by educated librarian wolves of the great tundra, so, in truth, there was little chance I would fulfill my goal. But history, the past of just about anything, I considered my exclusive territory clear through my bachelor’s degree in college.

For most of high school, I was, to say a fan seems almost cruel, but I was, a fan of anything and everything surreptitious World War II. I focused especially Allied spies, members of the Resistance, POWs, mostly the RAF Spitfire pilots and small cadres of individuals who risked life and limb to defeat the Nazis and their war machine. Perhaps it was due to my library access the first eight years of my schooling, at Villa Cabrini Academy, the plethora of stories on the lives of the saints, saints who too had risked life and limb in the name of Christ. So, the uncertainty of spying and defeating what was true evil in the world by people who were not that much older me was maybe a continuation of my childhood reading. And so, in this independent study class, I wrote a thesis on spies.

Before spies were hi-tech, before they had gadgets, before they wore tuxedos, played baccarat inhabiting the world of James Bond, they lived difficult, grimy, horrendously scary lives, lives without fanfare, lives without rest or respite, lives of danger and terror. And, after the war, when they had a chance to come to terms with what they had won and what they had lost, they wrote their stories, histories. The stories were gritty. There was little glory, only the end of the war or death. And yet, they did this, volunteered, said yes, despite the fear. Because of these resistors, both homegrown and foreign nationals, the Allied forces triumphed. Much was lost so that there could be a win.

Elizabeth Wein‘s CODE NAME VERITY takes up that tradition of the dread of fighting covertly behind enemy lines. It is not a pretty story. It’s not a happy one. It is a story played out slowly, laboriously, and elegantly, letting us know how excruciating it was to fight a war from the inside out, and how many people were willing to risk, to say everything is so cliché, but all. No matter how many died in battles, assaults,  landings, and no question, we needed them, we praise them, we call them our Greatest Generation, we also needed those who were willing to risk their lives and save their souls on a narrow battlefield in one on one mental combat, a not-photographed battlefield, not trumpeted or on the front page of the Times, one that was shrouded in secrecy, unknown.

Ms. Wein says this is about women and their participation in the war. And yes, this book is. But there is so much more, because defeating evil knows no gender, no age, no nationality. And it is perhaps the most unlikeliest of us who raises her hand, almost casually, and says ‘I’ll go.”  CODE NAME VERITY is an excellent reminder of that ideal.

History

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 WSJA 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.

 

 

 

anniversary

Tricky things, anniversaries. A date in the past, do we mark anniversaries or do we celebrate them? Yesterday was my parent’s wedding anniversary. Seventy-one years ago, in the middle of The Great War, not the War to End All Wars, that was what we call WWI, this was WWII, my parents married and then honeymooned in Williamsburg, Virginia at the Williamsburg Inn. We visited Williamsburg with my parents back in the mid-eighties, when the girls were little. Tom has this great video of Mom and Dad, sitting on a bench in front of a field of red and yellow tulips, discussing how life was in 1942. It was a date we celebrated every year in our family.

This past week I watched the Frost/Nixon movies, about David Frost interviewing Richard Nixon three years out from The Resignation. I remember being in a restaurant August 6, 1974, the day of Nixon’s resignation and watching the family walk to the helicopter to leave the White House. The movie was interesting, about stuff surrounding the interviews I was unfamiliar with but the story I certainly knew, growing up in California, having Nixon come back to San Clemente. Besides that whole thing was bizarre, a sitting president involved so blatantly in a crime. Ol’ Tricky Dicky, hoisted on his own petard. I did agree with Gerald Ford when he pardoned him. There was too much trauma to heal without a pardon. Some, certainly, celebrated when Nixon resigned. Some were just sad.

There are other dates we mark, not celebrate. Strange that I know this, but the beheading of Charles I, January 30, 1649. April 24, 1916, the Easter Rebellion in Ireland. June 6, 1944, D Day and the beaches of Normandy. When I was in college it felt like you had to look far and wide to mark a date in history. Not so in the twenty first century. September 11, 2001 World Trade Center, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania. March 20, 2003, the invasion of Iraq. May 20, 2010 the foiled Times Square Bombing. April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. And how many in between that I’m failing to register? Markings, not celebrations.

These anniversaries will mark the children of this century, the way they view life and the way they pass on their view of life. These anniversaries will change our sense of comfort and our sense of achieving happiness. Let us hope that it doesn’t change our essential optimism and our world view.