Tags: Recapturing | the | American | Spirit | World | War

Recapturing the American Spirit of World War II

Monday, 21 March 2005 12:00 AM

Terrorists may hold individuals hostage, but Communist China holds our entire economy hostage by threatening to dump its dollar holdings, or even just by threatening not to buy any more. And, far from attacking China's wretched and unimproved human rights behavior, our leaders don't even call it "Communist China" anymore. Not even the "People's Republic of China." Just plain old neutral, ordinary, non-judgmental, business-as-usual "China."

No mystery there. When's the last time you insulted somebody who could bankrupt you with one phone call to his accountant?

Meanwhile, all that good news from the Middle East is as comforting as more and more hot water in the tub on a freezing day.

Ours is the conflict of the deep-sea diver successfully finding treasure on the ocean floor who gets an urgent call through his earphones: "Hurry on back up! The ship is sinking!"

While those concerned with an overstretched military may long for the draft of World War II, I long instead for the American spirit of that era. Yes, an unending supply of uniformed fighters would be welcome, but if I had a choice, I'd prefer the civilian chutzpah that got America through the challenges then and could get America through the challenges now.

Curiously, President Bush did nothing to unleash that spirit in the wake of 9/11. Instead of aping Winston Churchill's blunt notice to the British people that he could offer them nothing but "Blood, toil, tears, and sweat!" President Bush actually said, almost literally: "We're going to fight terrorism and win. Meanwhile, go shopping!"

President Bush wasn't being flippant. He was making the point that we should all do our part to get the economy buzzing again. And massive shopping would help. Meanwhile, there I sat disappointed that I wasn't being asked to give up anything or discommode myself in any way.

Many permanent injuries are caused by nostalgic ex-athletes imagining they can get back on the mat, the track, or the playing field and do what they did 50 years ago. Maybe an attempt to exercise that "American Team Spirit" would meet that same dire fate; but as one who remembers how well it all worked during World War II, I'm spoiling for the president to call us all together and ask us to zip back six decades and once again become that Greatest Generation, doing it with guns over there, doing it without butter and coffee over here.

Gasoline for civilian use was in short supply then. It was stringently rationed. President Roosevelt taught us to ask ourselves even before we climbed into the car, "Is this trip necessary?" So many times we had to admit it wasn't, so we didn't even turn on the ignition. When we did drive, we kept our speed at (Can you BELIEVE it?) 35 miles per hour, the speed the auto engineers told us was best for maximum fuel efficiency. Fifty-five or 60 mph would probably be recommended today.

A magazine cartoon showed a fight manager whispering to his badly battered boxer on the stool between rounds: "I got a great idea, Babe. Next time he hits you, hit him back!" No matter how many times we're hit by high oil prices, we never even try to hit back.

Oh, there's some little folk-agitation against gas-guzzling cars, but that's it. And that's not enough. Fighting high oil prices by demonizing SUVs is a bit like pretending to protect and preserve our forests by throwing an occasional rock at a woodpecker.

It is the instinct – maybe the DUTY – of every American who remembers the Home Front Effort of World War II to restrain his contempt for the vapidity of today and try to comment constructively about what's going on and what's NOT going on.

In fairness, a heretical thought: Maybe we don't NEED that old unified "let's-all-sacrifice-for-the-cause" galvanic to win the present war. An airplane that requires 30,000 feet to clear mountains doesn't need 40,000 feet. We didn't need the atomic bomb to defeat the Japanese. We didn't need Turkey's permission to launch a second-front invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Still and all, as an American who took an active part in World War II at the age of 12 (air raid warden messenger, victory gardener, scrap metal collector, war bond buyer, electricity and gas saver, etc.) I'd like to see the Old Effort rolled out again, just to see if we're still capable.

Except for the brilliant performance of our military, America may as well be brain dead in the War on Terror. When's the last time you heard an American pre-teen say to his buddy, "We've got to get in this thing and WIN it?" That was our most frequently expressed aspiration on the junior high school playground after Pearl Harbor propelled us into war.

Lock me up for criminal insanity, if you have enough time to fool with the paperwork, but I honestly believe we could ELIMINATE A FULL 25 PERCENT OF OUR OIL IMPORTS just by invoking the spirit of World War II!

Keep up the pogrom of shame against the gas-guzzlers. Don't let zealous pre-teens deface SUVs with hostile graffiti; a thank-you note under the windshield wiper allegedly from Osama bin Laden might raise a conscience or two.

BETTER ROAD SIGNS would save a significant amount of fuel, particularly with today's roads, where an ambiguous sign might sentence you to another 18 miles before you can find an exit to turn around. When you feel you've been rolled by a bad road sign, report it to a special Web site we could set up. Let a volunteer committee of locals visit the offending road sign and rule on the validity of the confused driver's accusation.

Forced (read: energetically encouraged) car-pooling would save bigger puddles of gasoline and progenerate friendships and possibly marriages, or at least relationships. "Is This Trip Necessary?" is as understandable in 2005 as it was in 1942.

We learned to speak out into the faces of those who allowed a shaft of light to penetrate their blackout curtains during air raid drills. We can save a little gas by educating the next driver we meet whose foot is heavy either on the gas pedal or the brake at all times. Let him know what a joy he is to OPEC.

Pride is supposed to goeth before a fall. Political correctness, never! Look how deep into the oil crisis we were before Congress finally approved drilling in Alaska.

My beautiful America reminds me more and more of that famous French legend about a farmer whose donkey was halfway between a bucket of water and a bucket of food but the donkey was so damned dumb he couldn't decide whether he was hungrier or thirstier, so he fell down and died halfway between the buckets! What shall it be: American oil or unspoiled Arctic wasteland? We finally decided – depressingly late!

And the computer programs that were supposed to save us all! I was waiting for a driver from Morristown, N.J., to pick me up on the upper west side of Manhattan. He eventually came, very late. "Mapquest told me to enter Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel," he explained. If you don't know the New York territory, those are just words. If you DO know it, you'll realize that going through the Holland Tunnel to get from Morristown, N. J., to the upper west side of New York is like sailing all the way around the bottom of South America because you forgot there's a Panama Canal!

Obviously Mapquest has been taken over by al-Qaida. Special Forces must be dispatched immediately to get it back!

You can save on home heating fuel during brutal winters by teaching everybody in the house to harness the warmth of their exhalations! Yes! You heard correctly. If you learn to inhale in bed with your head OUTSIDE the covers and exhale with your head UNDER the covers, you'll not need to expend precious fuel.

I'm far from through, but I'll quit. Those of you able to get it have already got it.

We did a lot more that should be remembered even if it's not necessary to be repeated. Many times during World War II, I waited for a "national-crisis-correct" lunch at the Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., the same lunch counter later made famous as the site of the first "sit-ins" by young blacks out to break legal segregation.

They offered a delicious lunch of roast beef, mashed potatoes and pickled beets – for a grand total of 35 cents! We often patiently lined up one and even two people behind the one seated at the counter having lunch.

A magazine cartoon at the time told of another kind of sacrifice that's interesting but not relevant today. It showed three men sharing a bed in a hotel room in D.C. There was nothing sexual about the tableau; it was our wartime capital, buzzing with more necessary players brought in than there were hotel rooms to accommodate them. The cartoon caption had one of the men in bed saying to one of the others, "And what brings YOU to Washington, Mr. Jones?"

Any American who bridled or protested against the privations was abruptly told by the nearest patriot – and there were plenty – "Hey, pal. Don't you know there's a WAR going on?" If you asked for more butter, coffee, sugar, you'd get told, "Don't you know there's a WAR going on?"

Bureaucracy's finest moment, its quickest decision, occurred on August 15, 1945, when Japan surrendered. There was no delay in ending gas rationing. The announcement of the Japanese surrender and the end of gas rationing came together.

The fabled comic Bob Hope was driving down Hollywood Boulevard when he heard the announcement. He immediately coasted into a gas station and said, "Fill her up!"

The gas station attendant had not yet heard the good news. He replied: "Whaddaya mean, ‘Fill her up'? Show me your ration cards."

Bob Hope had the last word.

"Hey, Pal. Don't you know there's a PEACE going on?!"

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Terrorists may hold individuals hostage, but Communist China holds our entire economy hostage by threatening to dump its dollar holdings, or even just by threatening not to buy any more.And, far from attacking China's wretched and unimproved human rights behavior, our...
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Monday, 21 March 2005 12:00 AM
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