Tom Hull on "The Good War" by Studs Terkel



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Perspective B: How America Changed

Paul Pisicano (pp. 142-143):

Suddenly we looked up, we owned property. Italians could buy. The GI Bill, the American Dream. Guys my age had really become Americanized. They moved to the suburbs. I think American suburbs are bound by their antiblack sentiments. That's the common denominator. They're into it very easily, it seems. They feel they've achieved.

But they're worse off than they were before. That's the part they don't understand. They really haven't been assimilated. They're just the entrepreneurial rough-riders. They'll still take a tougher tack than most guys, getting what they want. Not one of my friends has taken an intellectual direction. The war bred the culture out of us. The opera, all the good things. My father could whistle every damn opera I ever heard. Of course, every house had Caruso records. There wasn't a family that didn't have a lift-up phonograph. Opera was like cars for us. What the automobile is to Americans, opera was for us. My friends in the suburbs know nothing about opera, nothing about jazz. Just making money.

Jack Short (pp. 144-145):

In a way, World War Two had a positive impact on me as an individual. I can say I matured in those three years. I certainly did want to obtain an education. I wanted to better myself rather than, say, hitting a local factory. I didn't want to be a blue-collar worker. This was basically all we had in our area. Fortunately, I was educated on the GI Bill. I obtained a nice position in the company, have a nice family. Everything in my lifetime since the war has been positive. I don't mean that war is positive. They're all negative as far as I'm concerned.

The war changed our whole idea of how we wanted to live when we came back. We set our sights pretty high. If we didn't have the war, in Poughkeepsie, the furthest you'd travel would be maybe New York or Albany. But once people started to travel -- People wanted better levels of living, all people.

I come from a working-class family. All my relatives worked in factories. They didn't own any business. They worked with their hands. High school was about as far as they went. I went to college, studied accounting, and that's all I've been doing for thirty-two years.

Admiral Gene Larocque (pp. 190-191):

After the war, we were the most powerful nation in the world. Our breadbasket was full. We enjoyed being the big shots. We were running the world. We were the only major country that wasn't devastated. France, Britain, Italy, Germany had all felt it. The Soviet Union, our big ally, was on its knees. Twenty million dead.

We are unique in the world, a nation of thirty million war veterans. We're the only country in the world that's been fighting a war since 1940. Count the wars -- Korea, Vietnam -- count the years. We have built up in our body politic a group of old men who look upon military service as a noble adventure. It was the big excitement of their lives and they'd like to see young people come along and share that excitement. We are unique.

We've always gone somewhere else to fight our wars, so we've not really learned about its horror. Seventy percent of our military budget is to fight somewhere else. [ . . . ]

Our military runs our foreign policy. The State Department simply goes around and tidies up the messes the military makes. The State Department has become the lackey of the Pentagon. Before World War Two, this never happened. You had a War Department, you had a Navy Department. Only if there was a war did they step up front. The ultimate control was civilian. World War Two changed all this. [ . . . ]

Nuclear weapons have become the conventional weapons. We seriously considered using them in Vietnam. I was in the Pentagon myself trying to decide what targets we could use. We explored every way we could to win that war, believe me. We just couldn't find a good enough target. We were not concerned about the opprobrium attached to the use of nuclear weapons.

I was in Vietnam. I saw the senseless waste of human beings. I saw this bunch of marines come off this air-conditioned ship. Nothing was too good for our sailors, soldiers, and marines. We send 'em ashore as gung ho young nineteen-year-old husky nice-looking kids and bring 'em back in black rubber body bags. They are a few little pieces left over, some entrails and limbs that don't fit in the bags. Then you take a fire hose and you hose down the deck and push that stuff over the side.

Lee Oremont (p. 315):

The Depression ended with the war in Europe. The market business at once ceased to be competitive. The problem of making money disappeared. It became automatic. The immediate concern was how to avoid taxes. All of a sudden, there was an excess-profits tax. It was avoided by increasing officers' salaries, inflating expense accounts, and handing out large bonuses. I remember salesmen coming in to sell you gadgets or systems. Their first selling point was: "It doesn't matter. Uncle Sam pays most of it anyway." You could spend money very freely. It was the government's money.

When we started out, our net worth was $65,000. I told my partner, with all the problems coming up -- rationing, shortages, labor scarcity -- if we could hold on to this at the end of the war, we'd have done a good job. Instead, business jumped crazily. You could sell anything you got, it just walked off the shelves.

It was hard to get certain merchandise. Bags, for instance, were in short supply. You did without. Customers brought their own shopping bags. Every shortage became an added profit. If you were short of help, you did with less. You couldn't get new equipment, you used old stuff. The net result was substantial profits. During our first year, we made $100,000 out of a net worth of $65,000. [ . . . ]

It didn't take a genius to make money during the war. I know a number of people who still think it was their brilliance that made them so successful. They get pontifical and tell you how efficient they were, how hard-working and smart. Bullshit. They happened to be in the right place at the right time. All you had to do was to open a store and not get dead drunk. You had customers ready and willing and able to buy all you could get. It didn't take any brains or hard work. If it was true of smaller firms, imagine how it worked for the big ones.

We were offered a chance to invest in a housing development. Our stores were in the heart of the aircraft industry. We put in $15,000. In six months, we got double. We were just small investors. The builders were getting financing from the government. They built tracts in ninety days. They started out selling the houses for $4,000. By the time they were ready, they were getting $6,000. That extra money was just clear profit. Right now, those houses are easily $60,000.

I'm really pissed off by people who have such horror of price controls. Price controls really saved us from a devastating inflation. I don't think they went up more than five percent. In spite of being violated in a chickenshit way by black marketeers. Overall, prices didn't go up. Interest rates were down. [ . . . ]

I think the war was an unreal period for us here at home. Those of us who lost nobody at the front had a pretty good time. The war was not really in our consciousness as a war. In spite of the fact that I think I'm politically aware, I never had the personal worry of somebody in real danger. We suddenly found ourselves relatively prosperous. We really didn't suffer.

John Kenneth Galbraith, who was put in charge of price controls in 1941 (p. 323):

There is with World War Two no memory of inflation. Unlike World War One and Vietnam. It was partly due to our coming out of the Depression. There was an enormous opportunity for expanding output as distinct from raising prices. In the war years, consumption of consumer goods doubled. Never in the history of human conflict has there been so much talk of sacrifice and so little sacrifice. Another thing was the mood of the country. The war, unlike Vietnam, had almost unanimous support from the people. There was a strong objection to people who tried to circumvent controls. There was a black market, but it was small. There were troublesome moments in the case of meat, but there was a great deal of obloquy attached to illegal behavior.

We greatly feared we'd hold the prices and see a decline in quality. It didn't materialize. Manufacturers, protecting their trademarks, were unwilling to risk reducing quality. There was a certain flow of shoddy goods, but it was unimportant.





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