As a dentist, my dad became a captain in the US Army during World War II, stationed at a major supply depot in a small town in England. Thankfully, he didn’t see combat. He treated soldiers’ teeth, also essential!
The base had been the estate of a wealthy family, which turned it over to the government for military use during the war. That was common because many upper class families couldn’t keep up their property at the time. The sprawling grounds had courts where my dad learned to play tennis. He played until he became ill in mid-1987.
I don’t know much more than that about my dad’s experiences during the war, which makes me sad. I’m a major league question asker, but I guess I was too wrapped up in myself as a young woman to learn more about what it was like during that period in history.
Not only didn’t I learn much from my father; I learned nothing in school because history back in the day was taught as a compilation of a trillion dates, places and people – which we had to memorize so we could pass midterms, finals and Regents exams (state-wide New York standardized tests.) Most lessons were as dry as the Mojave Desert. My preoccupation with doing well on tests far exceeded my appetite for understanding the context of historical events.
Now I’m far more interested in the history of WWII, especially Germany’s plan to conquer all of Europe. The War, a seven-part series directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, was one of my favorite documentaries. It tells the story through the personal narratives of a handful of ordinary men and women from four quintessentially American towns.
Last night I discovered a PBS British drama series – World On Fire – that gripped me from the opening scene. Taking place from the 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland to the 1940 fall of Paris – it follows the intertwining fates of ordinary people in Britain, Poland, France, Germany and the US as their everyday lives are thrown upside down.
While I don’t want to minimize the horrible reverberations of the 2020 pandemic on our lives, it’s worth reflecting on the experiences of Europeans at the start of the war. Jews weren’t the only ones tortured or gunned down in cold blood on the streets in Warsaw when the Nazis attacked. Young Catholic women were beaten and raped. Talking back to an enemy soldier was enough to provoke your death. Homes were razed to the ground. Shops were looted.
Some of us feel we’re being “stripped of our rights” because we’re asked to wear protective masks, can’t go to baseball games or to have a latte at Starbucks. Think of how we’d feel if we were herded like sheep – at gunpoint – into a stadium because of our religious or political affiliation, stripped of everything we owned, then transported to a detention camp.
The only war on which we should all be concentrating now is one with a virus. We may not all see eye to eye on how to interact with this “enemy,” but make no mistake. Anything that kills 90K people without provocation is indeed an enemy. Giving it further provocation isn’t wise.
I strongly recommend World on Fire. Anything that puts life into perspective is worthwhile.