Social Commentary

What We Are Not

1940s War Diary, anonymous author.

I came across a war diary from the 1940s. While not sure how it came to be mine, it likely came from a box of odds and ends at an estate auction or from the used book section of a thrift shop. The first entry, tells a story of an Iowan at the time of U.S. entry into World War II:

I’m not much of a writer and don’t suppose I even will be but this isn’t supposed to be a great work of literature but rather a common down to earth story of a common down to earth boy.

Undoubtedly you know him. He is any of those numerous boys who left the farms, villages or cities — the fresh smelling earth of the farms or the clamoring errands of the city — to take up for you and me, the battle of survival between right and wrong.

The boy joined the Army.

Discarded 1940s Iowa Journal, Author unknown

The views reflected in these paragraphs were commonly held.

A single life was the story of broad society. There was a need to record that story in writing. Individual will was suppressed in favor of a greater good. People had an innate ability to understand each other. Right and wrong were easily definable and commonly held views. The relativism that infected our society a couple of decades later is absent and makes the journal entry stand out.

When people speak with gauzy reverence of the generation of men and women who fought World War II, I get a bit nauseous. I knew men and women who participated in the war effort and if you asked them, they wouldn’t want special treatment. Most of them hardly talked about the sacrifices they made or about the war. None of them paraded around in uniforms afterward. If they kept their service uniforms, they were packed away and seldom, if ever, mentioned. Many women worked in domestic defense plants and wore no uniforms. They are often forgotten.

What struck me about this journal entry was its clarity. One notices where the author fit into society. There were shared beliefs and those beliefs were positive and affirming. 21st Century society has no such clarity. It may no longer be possible.

It took a lot to decipher the script yet I think I accurately captured it. I would never write the sentence, “Undoubtedly you know him,” about myself. We’ve become a society where no one seems to know anyone outside a small clique of friends, relatives and co-workers. The idea there are common goals? Just look at U.S. reaction to the coronavirus pandemic to see the absence of a common response. We no longer are common, down to earth people and that’s one source of today’s social problems.

What we are not may define who we should be.

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