Thursday, April 9, 2015

"All Quiet on the Home Front, WWII" --- Why?

Historians, as a group, are beginning to reverse themselves over their earlier contention that the postwar civil rights, feminism, gay rights movements (et al) were born during the social protests and social advances of WWII.

They did so because a closer look at the hard evidence for this earlier claim reveals the actual reverse : the war period, as a time for civil protest, was as deathly quiet as the early Cold War period of roughly 1946-1956  ----- and far quieter than the activist years of the Great Depression and of course during the civil rights era of 1956 -1966.

Why this Wartime Quietism ?

One doesn't need only to think of the many, many protests that occurred in parallel to the Vietnam War.

For in 1917-1918, Alice Pal and her tiny band of determined supporters successfully kept the issue of votes for women alive - she and her followers willingly enduring repeated jail time, for daring to continue civil protests during a war crisis, to forward that cause.

Alice Paul proclaimed, in a sense, a need for a Double V victory over Kaiserism - at home as well as abroad.

Fumbling the Shoah response

A pity then that no single individual with a handful of dedicated followers like Alice Paul emerged among American Jewry to lead as prolonged and as determined a protest on behalf of Europe's Jews.

The efforts of Peter Bergson come closest - including a mass march on the White House.

But no arrests for Bergson and his band for repeatedly silently picketing the White House as Paul did in another war situation - certainly no chaining for self to the fence to awake America to six million Jews being killed.

Black organized protests : where ?

Similarly, the famous plan to march on Washington on behalf of fair job opportunities for black Americans never went ahead as much because there were no sign the promised numbers were actually going to come as because of the sop FDR promised if the march was stopped.

And the only civil protests I could find over women's rights and black rights during WWII that I could find were made by white men, desperate that if women and blacks got jobs in factories they would lose their occupational deferment and actually have to fight Hitler with their bodies --- and not just win their mouths.

For once, no need to 'round up the usual suspects'

Peaceful civil protests are usually led by people on the left or progressive side.

And they were decidedly cross-pressured during the war against Hitler.

Yes, they saw that the unfairnesses they had protested during peacetime only worsened in WWII, but they knew if Hitler's Germany won, they and the people they hoped to help would be the first on his list to face the bullet or the gas.

It is too hard for us young ones today to understand the exalted amounts of faith in Germany's technological superiority held by the middle-aged  to old people of the 1940s.

For seventy five years, Germany had seemed to be on a roll - though in fact it was being increasingly challenged, from the 1920s onwards, by America, Russia, Japan and even Britain.

Many people during WWII - right up to the bitter end, thought Germany could actually pull off a belated victory, based solely upon some fabulous war-winning weapon.

'Nazis ruling the Americas' did not seem far fetched to them --- though it always was so, based on the current actual facts, not upon half remembered news stories from the past half century about Germany's technological triumphs.

So they met this apparently serious existential challenge to their own lives, by putting domestic inequality on the back burner to become hyper loyal to the Allied war cause : Jews, blacks and other visible minorities, feminists, gays, socialists and communists, unionists -- even the handicapped, knowing their eugenic fate if Hitler won.

Dr Dawson bucks the trend to Quietism

A bit of a low keyed Alice Paul himself, Dr Martin Henry Dawson led a rare individual wartime protest on behalf of those handicapped.

In that process, he successfully gave us a rare bit of good news from WWII's bad news war :  for his desire to see wartime penicillin available to all in need actually became a reality - just months before he died in April 1945.

Himself dying throughout the war, Dawson was much too sick to once again pick up a gun to help defeat the Kaiser  abroad,  so he sought to defeat Hitler's American eugenic mentors at home instead - and succeeded, at least on this issue.

An early and crucial, if quiet, victory for post-modernity's science.

But we all know : from acorns, oaks grow....

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