|Portrait of Rockwell painting|
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
World War II
The New Deal at War
I’m behind, and it happens every semester. This week, we should be discussing the 1950s. I should be scarring them with a McCarthy-like “I know someone cheated on the exam, now everyone write down the name of someone who cheated or I’ll assume that you cheated; if you do not turn in a sheet with at least one name listed, you will flunk this class” game that terrifies the class. (students always hate me after it for about a week; one cried a few years back and so I now stop it before anyone actually writes anything down) But alas, we haven’t even ended the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt isn’t dead yet; he’s on his way to winning the presidential election not once, not twice, not thrice, but frice (sic!)!
So how to catch up. In the past, I would kick the lecture into overdrive and talk like the old Fex-Ex or Micro Machine commercial guy. Instead, I’m going to make the books work for me and just chop out some material. The first 10 minutes of class will be working through the Hist chapter on World War II (where I highlight for them what to read) and the second part will be juxtaposing Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want with the discussion of a family during the Japanese American internment (both of which are in the chapter on World War II in Major Problems). The contrast is striking. Rockwell’s painting features a table with a beautiful turkey. Grandpa (looking awfully like an aged Roosevelt) wears a nice suit and is about to carve the bird. The white grandchildren and children have big smiles and the tabletop china is magnificent. The tale from the Japanese American internment camp is disgusting. It’s full of stories of “cramps and diarrhea” and latrines that hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. Looking at what the image and the stories include (and exclude), my students are prepared for the next discussion: the use of atomic weaponry.
By the end of class, we’ll be at 1945 and ready to kick into the Cold War and the new age of affluence. But the terrain will be set, I hope, that “freedom from want” was a racialized concept and that the nation’s new military might could be used for good (no doubt that defeating the Nazis was good), but that might could also be used in troubling ways and for uncertain causes.