To make the current war a credible version of World War II, as this Administration is attempting to do, we would first have to reinstate the universal draft. There were few families in the 1940s who did not have a son or daughter, niece or nephew, grandson or granddaughter in the service. Those who did not, had friends who did, so the entire nation, in one way or another, had an emotional stake in the fighting.
Lives were impacted in many ways. Imagine, if you can, being unable to replace a tire if you had a blowout, settling, if you were lucky, for a recap of reclaimed rubber. Imagine price controls and rationing. You'd need ration stamps to buy gasoline, which was in short supply for civilians. Highway speeds were reduced to stretch the supply of that precious liquid. The zipper on your fly might be replaced by buttons. High school and college sports were severely restricted, and night games were no longer allowed because of the blackout. Taxes were increased to make a down payment on the war. A twenty percent luxury tax was added to such things as jewelry. Items such as coffee, sugar, cooking oil, and cigarettes were both scarce and valuable commodities. Fresh meat, if you could find a butcher who had meat to sell, required ration stamps. High school and elementary students bought saving stamps each week that were turned in for war bonds when the proper amount had been reached. Cooks saved bacon grease for use in munitions production. Automobile factories turned out tanks, jeeps and military trucks in place of passenger cars. The airplane industry built only military planes—fighters and bombers. Children collected tinfoil to help build them. The shipbuilding industry built only merchant and warships for the Navy. Junkyard owners rose quickly on the social ladder. Civilian Defense volunteers watched for enemy planes at night, calling the authorities to report fly-overs. They were also on the lookout for lighted windows. Coastal cities and towns had blackouts for homes and automobiles. Grateful citizens gave rides to hitchhiking service personnel.
These and many other sacrifices and inconveniences brought the war home to us all. We did not consider many of them particularly restrictive—it was a time of lowered expectations. After all, we had just come through the Great Depression. Spoiled generations were yet to come. Everyone, in one way or another, was involved in the war effort. Nowadays we'd have to find other ways to sacrifice, and that's precisely why the comparison is truly a fairy tale. We have not been asked to sacrifice at all. In fact, our president has encouraged us to act as if nothing has happened. We are expected to be afraid, but that's just so we'll vote Republican. It's the current version of the bloody shirt that kept the GOP in power for decades following the Civil War. It's hard for a leader who has never had to sacrifice anything to know what to ask a nation to give up.
If this really were a modern version of World War II, we would all be well acquainted with sacrifice. It's not that we as a nation are unwilling, it's just that this war is a lot like a bad movie. There's no real plot or story line. There's no prospect of it ending with a kiss and money in the bank, as classic Hollywood once aimed for. The best that Bush can hope for is to salvage his legislative majority and to ride out the war for another two years.
Most of us no longer believe in fairy tales, so we're not looking to live happily ever after. But, we would like to start the ever after part soon. That would be close enough to a fairy tale for most of us. It would be for me.