In this age of stark divisions, a look to the past is a reminder of what America once was
There is trouble in our beloved republic. Political division heads the list, along with hate crimes, road rage, verbal assaults, old friends who do not visit or not even talk to one another due to political differences, holidays that are bereft of family for the same reason. You can add mass shootings, spousal and clerical abuse. I could go on and on with this litany of societal maladies, but everyone—I mean everyone—realizes there is trouble in America.
Hot-button issues like immigration, freedom of speech, health care and more divide us; the wider the gap, the more extreme (and dig in) people’s positions become.
People raise constitutional issues, yet Civics is no longer taught in schools. People do not understand how the government works, and most do not trust it. I wonder what is going to bring our fractured America back to civility—not to the Ozzie and Harriet fantasy but to a time when we could at least listen to one another. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to suggest a television series that every American should view, especially our high school students. It’s Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, “The War.” This seven-part series, six years in the making, chronicles the impact on four WWII families from Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and Luverne, Minnesota.
The tapestry of this horrible four years is woven together through the experiences of these families whose sons fought in a war where 417,000 American lives were lost. America came together then, mobilized and made sacrifices to support our soldiers in defeating the Germans under Hitler in Europe and Africa and the Japanese throughout the vast Pacific. We were one country then, united, working toward a common objective. Although we do not need another great war to unite us as a nation, this series is a poignant reminder of how much we could do if we worked together.
Our automotive companies were shut down for four years to produce tanks and military vehicles. Airplanes were produced every 59 minutes. Ships were built in Mobile, brass factories in Waterbury produced bullets and shells. Women worked grueling industrial jobs while their children were tended to in homes and churches.
It wasn’t all one big happy family, though—even then. Japanese families in California were interned in camps. Segregation remained at home and on the battlefield. One black man commented that he was fighting for freedom in the world for a country that didn’t recognize him.
For the most part, however, America stood together for our flag and our freedom. American factories were closed in order to produce planes, ships, weapons. There was rationing of sugar, rubber for tires, butter, gas, nylons. To fight wars on two fronts created great hardship, enduring pain and sacrifice. However, the resilience, teamwork and discipline of this country’s citizens depicted in this series are remarkable. It is what we need today, and we don’t realize it. We are a country under siege. The very freedoms our dads and moms fought for has been forgotten.