Every generation has its war. With war come issues of service, sacrifice and patriotism, news and propaganda, with deep and lasting implications in family and community life. To what extent has your life been touched by war? If this is a resonant topic, you might explore it here.
8.1. Consider some generational issues. What time period are you talking about? What was going on then–in popular culture? in your social life? in your family? What were some of the prevailing attitudes? When and where did disagreements surface?
The fall of 1967, every morning before school we listened to AM radio. My brother and I were both in high school, which meant we were on an early schedule, up before 7:00 a.m., grouchy and silent, worried about how our hair would look that day, about whether we had something cool to wear to school. We ate cold cereal for breakfast. Our mother got dressed for work. On the radio, tuned to WKNX or WTAC, they played “Something Stupid” by Nancy and Frank Sinatra, “Chapel of Love,” by the Dixie Cups, “To Sir with Love,” by Lulu.
They played “Ode to Billy Joe,” by Bobbie Gentry, a song with a haunting refrain: “Billy Joe McAllister jumped of the Tallahatchee Bridge.” A small town kid, like us; a guy our age, dead. But why? The end of innocence–it was in the air.
II. What did you think about war? How was it talked about by your friends and family?
When we were kids, we played war down on the river flats. There was a popular television series called “Combat.” I watched it, Danny Leman watched it, Dean Gaul and Ronnie Fritz watched it. It fed into our pretend world. We picked up sticks from the ground that were just the right length to become rifles. Sergeant Saunders, played by Vic Morrow, carried a Thompson machine gun. That weapon required a slightly shorter stick. There were half a dozen recurring characters on the show, but we all wanted to be Sergeant Saunders. We had to agree to take turns. In battles we each had our personal submachine gun sound we made when we sprayed the pine trees with gunfire. In imagined conflicts, we imagined getting shot. Lying in the grass, holding our hands over imagined bullet wounds, we staged our deaths. After a short interval, we hopped up and continued the play.
III. Focus on your viewpoint here, on “where your head was at,” on what you thought, what you did. How did your views compare to those of your contemporaries? Did you know people who fought in a war?
What to do about the war?
In the summer of 1917, Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act, also known as the draft. Once a guy turned eighteen, he could be selected to serve his country in the military. During World War II, 10 million men were drafted; in Vietnam, 2.2 million.
Where I grew up, if you were called, you went.
There was a guy you saw around town that walked with a limp. He had lank brown hair, an open face, and a ready laugh. When I saw him limping across the drive of our gas station once, I asked my dad about him. “That guy,” he said, “shot himself the foot.”