I suppose it's possible to wax nostalgic about an era you didn't live through. Look at the Little House on the Prairie phenom, or think about America's one-time fascination with the Western. A host of millennials can't wait for the new Star Wars, even though Luke Skywalker, the Force, and that wacky space saloon never existed. All of that seems like a weird species of nostalgia, don't you think?
I was born in 1948. I'm one of those aging boomers whose opening movement happened when and where it did because my dad was finally back from three years (or whatever) in the Navy, the Coast Guard to be exact, most of that time somewhere in the South Pacific where he couldn't do what needed to be done to make me.
All I know about life in these United States during the Second World War is history and hearsay and what can be gained by taking note of posters like this one in the Kansas Historical Society's Museum. There's an old mower blade in that empowered fist and what not else, mostly metal stuff, a handful of scrap iron that somehow makes that American fist even more daunting.
A poster like this is impossible to duplicate now, so many years later. The campaign to stop America from smoking created some memorable images, but this kind of propaganda is created only in a nation united mightily in a common cause that threatens its very soul.
Did people "get" the image? Of course they did. The common enemy was right there before their eyes. The entire nation journeyed down a single track. An old church bulletin from Orange City, Iowa, sometime in 1944, listed 35 of their own "boys" overseas. People got the message. They understood the fist.
I see a poster like this, and I get nostalgic for a time I never knew, for a common cause, for a citizenry united, for an era when it seems to me people pulled together.
She's patching his pants while he's fixing the lawn mower because we're at war, and it's not just "our boys" in the thick of it but our labor and goods too. I wish this great country would still be a place where posters like these would help us not to forget "the cause."
But it's not.
And we're not at war, at least not at a war. In 1945, my father was one of 85,000 in the Coast Guard, one of 3 million in the Navy, one of 12,200,000 in the U. S. Military. Amazing numbers.
And were the these United States fully united? If you needed farm machinery in Sioux County, Iowa, there were people who could get them. If you needed tires, you had to look in the right places. A woman I once knew never forgot those local farmers who took agricultural deferments when her betrothed took a bullet on June 6, 1944. War is hell.
I can't help but feel a little nostalgic because instead of the kind of ethic that makes these posters speak, we've got the Donald creating the national conversation and Planned Parenthood people talking about organs as if an abortion clinic was a packing house.
I don't know who said it, and it hurts to repeat it, but the old line seems ever to work: "tragedy unites, politics divide."
That there are no posters like this today is not as sad as the plain fact that even our best minds couldn't create them.
All of that having been said, neither you nor I would ever want to go back to 1944 or 45. I'm aware that U.S. fighting forces are in harm's way throughout the Middle East, but this morning I'm thankful no church in town is missing 35 of its boys at war. This morning, despite the appeal of these old posters, I'm thankful for peace.