So soon after the annual “Christmas Story was set in WWII, so why wasn’t the war mentioned?” discussion. Now I’m on a blog reading reviews of Marilyn Sachs’ works, and people are wondering why WWII wasn’t mentioned in those books. Because they were set in the late 1930s, that’s why. Namechecking FDR is not an indicator, because he served two full terms before we got dragged into it. One of her books was very definitely set at the start of the war, but that’s the one read by the fewest people, and it’s at the end of the timeline. When I read her books, I was well aware that it was the Depression: people were struggling, and yet there was no aura of war. Because it hadn’t happened yet. But she did acknowledge it…when it was appropriate.
My parents were kids during the Depression, and they’re…well…old. This may have something to do with it: people with parents who survived that era are now parents themselves, and the grandparents are dying off, so no one hears the old stories, like I did about my great-uncles riding the rails looking for work. But doesn’t it get taught in schools? Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong starts with a ten-minute filmic essay about breadlines, Hoovervilles and worker’s strikes. That was only five years ago, and most people saw it; did it just whoosh them? Are there any active politicians who were around then? Although I think I know the answer to that.
It’s just irritating me a bit that people seem to think anything set pre-rock’n’roll is set in WWII. I know it was a long time ago; I know that nowadays, people who served in Vietnam are achieving elder-statesman status. But so was the Civil War a long time ago, and people haven’t forgotten that. The 1930s and 1940s were not the same, and in fact, the '40s might not have played out quite the way they did if the Depression hadn’t happened, and embittered people. And especially in light of the current economy, it bugs that so many people have this gap in their knowledge. So is it just going to go completely down the memory hole when the last person who lived through it dies?
I do several cost-cutting things which I learned from my parents. The explanation for doing them that way was basically from them having lived through the Depression. I’ve passed these things along to my kids. My daughter (24 yrs old ) uses the same reasoning. She’s aware of the connection, so I think the memory will live on.
Right. Two years before we got dragged into what had until then been a European war.
Anyway, it’s the Marilyn Sachs discussion that prompted this. FDR was mentioned, so that means it was wartime. :smack: The blogger is younger than I am, but not that much younger. I found it astounding that she could know who FDR was, and yet not know that he’s the reason there’s now a two-term limit on the presidency. Next thing you know, someone’s going to read Grapes of Wrath and wonder why Tom didn’t join the army, since there was a war and all.
It’s easy for a high school history class to run out of time toward the end of the semester. Since the material is arranged chronologically, that means the stuff that gets skipped or compressed is the more recent stuff. I think my European history class in high school only got as far as World War I.
The problem with history classes is that there’s always more material being added on to them as more stuff happens. Something has to be cut to make room for the new material, but it’s not always obvious what. It’s not like a class in something like astronomy, where new knowledge often supersedes the old. A modern astronomy class wouldn’t spend much time teaching about Steady State cosmology, and that frees up time to cover more modern theories.
Pretty much everyone seems to remember The Great Depression, but I think that over time, the Depression and WWII somehow got conflated into a single concurrent period of time for some of the younger folks.
I think part of the problem is that it gets harder and harder to carefully separate the events of one decade from another after a certain amount of time. When it comes to stuff that happened a long time ago (ie. so long ago that your grandparents were just youngsters), it’s a big indistinguishable blur… kind of like most people use “Victorian” as shorthand for “the 19th Century”, despite the fact that Queen Victoria wasn’t even born until 1819.
Two funny things. One, I don’t usually make this mistake re: the great depression and WW2, but I did indeed think that ACS was set in the late 40s/very early 50s (not during ww2, because as you say the war is not mentioned. I guess I never caught the Roosevelt reference.
Two, although I do not conflate the GD with WW2, I do lump 1946-1962 in one long era called “the 50s”.
There’s another disincentive to teach recent stuff in history classes. Recent stuff is more likely to still be controversial. There are still people who feel strongly, one way or the other, about FDR and whether or not the New Deal was effective or a good idea. There are people who feel strongly, one way or the other, about the Vietnam War. There are a lot fewer people who feel as strongly about, say, the War of 1812. (The Civil War is something of an exception, because it is linked to the still-relevant issue of race relations) If you are a history teacher, and you spend a lot of time in your class on controversial topics, you’re more likely to get a student or parent angry with you than your colleague who avoids controversy is. A motivated and ticked-off student or parent can make trouble for a teacher.
I think of “The Sixties” as a time that ran from 1963 (Kennedy’s assassination) to 1974 (introduction of unleaded gasoline, Clean Water Act and rise of the “ecology” movement, Watergate). “The Eighties” ran from 1978 (rise of punk and New Wave music) to 1992 (election of Bill Clinton, decline of glam rock and rise of grunge, big hair becoming less fashionable, widespread Internet availability at academic institutions).
Also, it seemed like after those sneaky Japs surrendered, all the big bands broke up, and crooners took their place. That’s also when women let down their hair from those Joan Crawford telephone operator-style buns.
My parents remember the depression.
On my mother’s side, things were not too bad (my grandfather had a job all through the decade). She remembers her grandmother feeding people who had come to the door, asking for a meal (in exchnage for a day’s work around the house).
My father’s family was different (my grandfather was a stonemason, and lost his job in 1931). Still, he owned a 3-family house, so with odd jobs and the rent, they made it through. They ate a lot of rice, beans and potatoes, and new clothes were a once-a-year thing. Still, despite their poverty, they made it through OK. My father remembers seeing unemployed WWI veternas, living near a trash dump in Boston-those guys had it rough.
And the Twentieth Century as a whole ran from 1914 to 1991. Look up “The Short Twentieth Century” and “The Long Nineteenth Century” (1789-1914) sometime.
The past does telescope in on us. For example, there were distinct periods within the Great War (the initial German expansion, the periods before and after the Miracle of the Marne, and so on) but most overview studies of history ignore that. It’s all one big mass now.
Going back further, The Hundred Years’ War wasn’t even a war: It was a period full of smaller conflicts between many of the same countries, with peaces in-between. The people who lived through it knew that but we, by and large, do not.
When, do you think, will we cease to distinguish between the First and Second World Wars?