Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children

By William M. Tuttle Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2 Depression Children and War Babies

WAR WAS ON THE MINDS of the homefront children. "I was born September 3, 1939," Wrote one girl. "Some date, right?" Germany had just invaded Poland, thus triggering the Second World War. "For me," she continued, "there was always War until I was six years old." But the effects of the war were variable, depending upon numerous factors, one of the most important being chronological age. Clearly, children's perceptions of what the war was varied from one age to the next. 1

An important book, based on observations made by children during the war, was published in 1946. Entitled The Child from Five to Ten, the book's authors, Arnold Gesell, Frances L. Ilg, and their colleagues, asked children to give their perceptions of "war." Before age five, the children had little comprehension of the subject, but at five and six they devised plans for ending the war: "Get up behind Hitler when he isn't looking and shoot him," suggested a six-year-old girl. It "would be fine," she explained, "if there were millions of Americans on one side, and only one Jap on the other side. That Jap could be Hitler. Then we would say [cooing tones], 'Come over here.... We won't hurt you.' Then when he got here--Bang! We'd blow him all to pieces. No more Hitler."2

Beginning at age seven, children talked more openly about their worries; fearing that spies were living in their midst, they had nightmares about the war. One girl dreamed that a spy asked her: "Do you like your government?" At age eight and nine, however, these fears subsided, and factual questions began to arise: Why did the war start? What was the difference between democracy and fascism? Children also became interested in war movies and comic books, and increasingly they participated in the war effort through scrap-collection drives and by purchasing war bonds. They also played war games. Although psychologists advised parents to furnish outlets for children's fears, one mother expressed concern that her eleven-year-old son, far from being upset, "seems delighted at the war.... He and his friends talk constantly about going out and 'blasting' Hitler. 'Just my

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