July 24, 2009
I love reading history. Thanks to Harper's magazine and it's fantastic archive I can read history as if it was today's news. I'm able to look over a persons shoulder and in the perception of hind sight determine if they were dreamers or realists, right or wrong. Today I have been reading articles written in 1942 and the immediacy comes through in article or poem. Two articles and a poem in part follow.
This is the first page of a ten page article, a poem in full, and one page of another article only, but enough to give you the essence and immediacy of the writing.
ENGLAND IN THE GREAT LULL
BY JOHN DOS PASSOS
THE most beautiful autumn weather of
the century. Day after day the sky
over London was clear and sunny.
Nights of sharp cool moonlight brought
no bombings. Late afternoons the streets
had a holiday air under the silver barrage
balloons; when you saw them end-on
against the bright patches of sky and
cloud they had funny faces as if a child
had tried to draw a cow or a moose. The
British, like a man crawling out unhurt
from under a car he has just wrecked,
were feeling themselves allover and deciding
that they were alive and that,
moreover, it felt remarkably good to be
alive. To an American a walk round
London was as solemn and stirring as
reading the Hebrew prophets. Never
before had I understood the significance
of Jeremiah's curse: "And Babylon shall
In the West End the damage is scat
tered; you tell yourself that the accidents
of war don't stack up to much more than
the ordinary accidents of peace. But as
you walk east down the Strand and past
the gutted churches into Fleet Street
you see ahead of you, framed between
scorched stone facades that have no
buildings behind them, St. Paul's stand
ing up oddly alone at the top of Ludgate
This is the region of what people are
starting to call the Second Fire of London;
A whole tangled quarter of overbuilt
lanes of the old City has been obliterated.
In places you can't even find
where the streets went. Stumbling over
heaps of rubble, looking up at a grate
high in a wall, or at tangled lianas of
twisted steel machinery still dangling
from some attic clothing shop that has
lost its floor, or at the white bowl of a
piece of plumbing hanging from a ledge,
you begin to feel a sort of remote archaeological
interest. What kinds of people
were to have worn the burnt shoes piled
in that pit? Why should this brick pile
be littered with small tin trays? You
rather resent the husky young fellows
with pickaxes and crowbars who are risking
their necks to bring these remnants of
a strange past crashing in dust to the
ground. It's surprising how many trees
there are and how green and leafy they
grow. Nobody ever knew there were so
many trees in the City.
Beyond the City the East End begins.
The first thing I noticed there was that
people looked better than the last time I
had been in London. I had never remembered
seeing before people in the
East End with color in their cheeks. The
sidewalks are less crowded. Most of
the stale little shops are closed. Today
there is neither smoke overhead nor
mud underfoot. Walking through almost
empty streets of the old slums which
were so densely packed with people three
years ago gives you an odd, ghostly feeling.
There are places where avenues of
flattened wreckage through block after
block of jammed-together houses give
you vistas to the river that no Londoner
had seen for two hundred years.
The lady from the Ministry who
drove me down to visit one of the eastern
boroughs was an anthropologist from
OFFICE FOR THE DEAD
BY MARTHA KELLER
Rocking a little, rolling in the tide
At waterline like any swollen skate,
Here is a boy, lost, lying on his side-
Ashore at last, poor sailor, but too late.
Here where the shells lie broken on the beach;
And scavenging gray gulls above the bay
Wheel, and the sea sucks in, and pebbles bleach,
A little crowd has come.••• If you must stay--
Comfort him, girl. Except you be his wife,
Give him your eyes at least for an embrace.
Remember him. Remember all your lift.
How dare you scream or turn away your face?
TWELVE THINGS THE WAR WILL
DO TO AMERICA
THERE are two things about this war
that all Americans take for granted.
The first is that we shall win it.
The second is that we shall have to make
the greatest national effort in our history
to achieve victory. To foresee what the
war will do to America we must, therefore,
keep these two assumptions in mind.
We must first consider just what has to be
done to win the war. Then we must
consider what our victory will do to us
and the rest of the world.
The national effort required to win the
war has already revolutionized the American
way of life. We not only have military
conscription, but plans are also
under way to draft men and women from
the entire population into war work of
one kind or another. The government
is telling private industry what it shall
and shall not make; it is fixing prices and
taxing away profits; it is rationing raw
materials and consumer goods. Organized
labor has surrendered the right to
strike for the duration. There will soon
be a ceiling on wages as well as on prices.
Many farm prices are already fixed.
The President and his numerous administrative
agencies have taken more
and more power away from Congress.
Virtually our entire foreign trade is being
conducted on what amounts to a barter
basis under the terms of the Lease-Lend
Act. The press and radio have submitted
to a voluntary censorship. Taxes
and war bonds consume surplus buying
power that might, in other times, have
gone into private investment or savings:
To see what the war has in store for us
we need only look at what has happened
in Britain, Australia, Canada, and New
Zealand. Those countries have not
gone Fascist or Communist, but their
people have surrendered many of the
liberties that went hand in hand with
capitalist democracy in times past. But
the people of Britain and the British
Dominions have gladly sacrificed certain
liberties in order to win the war. They
are prepared to make still more sacrifices
-and so are we.
Before the war President Roosevelt
used to twit his Republican critics by
reminding them that the New Deal reforms
duplicated in many respects what
the Tories had already done to give England
more social security. In both
countries the national government encroached
more and more upon free enterprise
and individual liberty. The war