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 13 Confronting War's Enormity, Praising Its Glory

THE SECOND WORLD WAR transformed not only the United States but the entire world. In the United States, many of the homefront children contended with the war's enormity. First, by war's end, six million Jews had been forced into concentration camps and worked to death or systematically killed by firing squads, in gas chambers, or in medical experiments. The Nazis also exterminated 250,000 Gypsies, and 60,000 men who had been convicted of homosexuality ended up in concentration camps where they too perished. The second enormity was the atomic bomb, which the United States dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. It deepened the psychic numbing that accompanied people's knowledge that governments and their citizens were capable of previously unimagined brutality. The Hiroshima bomb immediately leveled the central city; soon after, radiation fell from the sky in oily black rain. Seventy thousand people died that day, and thousands more died from radiation sickness in the following weeks. The toll by 1950 was 200,000. "One day, one bomb," the writer Jim Miller noted. "And three days later it happened all over again--this time in Nagasaki." 1

There is no way to measure the psychological impact of these events on the homefront children, but it had to have been considerable. "Probably," wrote Norman Mailer, "we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive in these years. For the first time in civilized history..." he wrote, "we have been forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality... could mean... that we might... die as a cipher in some vast statistical operation in which our teeth would be counted, and our hair would be saved, but our death itself would be unknown, unhonored, and unremarked... in a gas chamber or a radioactive city...," More than that, the "Second World War presented a mirror to the human condition which blinded anyone who looked into it." For, Mailer continued, if death camps and massively destructive weapons comprised the policies of governments "one was then obliged to

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