Thursday, Sept. 17, 1942
“The Greatest Generation,” the title conferred by Tom Brokaw on those who survived the Great Depression and WW II, is well deserved. This generation — my parents and grandparents – truly was remarkable but the title has blurred our awareness of the ambivalence and even outright distaste quite a few Americans felt about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Fireside Chats notwithstanding), the New Deal, and the war.
The spate of bad war news didn’t help. The Nazis were pushing into the outskirts of Stalingrad and the Navy disclosed the sinking in June of The Yorktown during the Battle of Midway. In Britain, a Chicago Tribune headline announced, the Germans had resumed daytime raids. On the home front, Chicagoans anticipated rubber shortages and watched how fuel gas rationing was affecting the East Coast. The GOP was “elated” with primary victories in Michigan and Wisconsin. The Democrats were getting skittish. People were ambivalent.
But not in my mother’s family. For several years her parents had been alarmed at the ease with which Hitler’s panzers rolled over Europe and at the global acceptance of each altered status quo. As Jews, they knew what this meant. In an undated letter, probably from 1940, my grandfather wrote:
“Life is going on as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. All the nations keep face. I remember when the U.S. Navy battered down the Santiago fortress, had it surrender, swarmed into town, and found the gay theaters going on as if no war was taking place. The Dons have forced face saving. … Although the rumblings in the munitions factories are increasing like a threatening volcano, nevertheless the actors (and who isn’t) always have something of their own uppermost in importance to them. Little wonder that liberal powers have neglected to hear or ignored our hysterical cry for help. The wonder, really, is that they finally did hear it. I did not believe my ears and eyes until last Wednesday night when I learned from a speaker of the Farband* that influential Jews have started the ball rolling, asking church leaders to call upon noted speakers and writers to raise the roof. Do you hear them!”
*a loose federation of two Jewish organizations with some ties to Communist organizations abroad