Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Back in World War II, there was no television in which to follow political news, nor to see the faces of the people leading the country in Washington. In today's world, Franklin Roosevelt may never have become president. There is no way he could have hidden that wheelchair and so many people would have refused to vote for a handicapped man, a polio victim, a man incapacitated by his illness.

All we had was a radio. At first, the only radio we had was a battery type that Hubert gave me. He was a little slow in bringing us batteries, though, so there were long periods of radio silence. I was very young, so I listened to Jack Armstrong, All American Boy or the Green Hornet, and I would scare myself out of a good night's sleep by listening to spooky programs like the Inner Sanctum. When the battery died, it was inevitably during an exciting episode and I would miss out on the death-defying solutions to the various problems.

When we moved to the Farm, despite the lack of plumbing facilities, there was electricity. It was marvelous, and one of the first things Hubert did was buy us an old used radio. It was an upright chest-type monstrosity, with its speakers covered with dusty cloth. Mom polished it up as best she could, and we spent many evenings clustered around this radio, listening to the news.

I can remember the day Pearl Harbor took place and the anger that everyone felt over this atrocity. I remember, too, FDR making a speech that declared War against Japan. I was so young that the seriousness of this occasion slipped past me, but I can remember both Mom and Pop with frightened, alarmed faces, worried about the effect this would have on their family.

The only time in my life that I have seen Pop cry was the day that Deed went to War. He was only around eighteen years old, and his term of service was preceded by that of Hubert and Bud, both of them in the Army. Somehow we all felt that Hubert and Bud would survive any battle, but we weren't sure at all about Deed, who was rather foolish at times, with his shock of light brown hair and his juvenile air of recklessness. So Pop cried! He went to the woodstove in the living room and stoked the fire with poker that lay by the stove. I followed him and watched his every move, my eyes round with worry. He was crying, my Pop, a man who never cried, never showed an emotion, never displayed any concern, but who loved to play with the children piled on his lap. He was crying, and so I walked outside and I knew right then that somehow our lives had changed. War was something that took people away from loved ones and made men like my father cry!

So, with three sons in the War, our lives went on, but our days were peppered with scrambled dashes to the radio, where announcements were made about this battle or that, and the President gave his talks. We listened to Churchill, too. Occasionally, his speeches were broadcast over our radio. I heard his words and, even as young as I was, I felt like picking up a cudgel of some sort and marching off to battle. FDR had a similar power, not as enthralling as Churchill, but inspiring to all Americans. Fear not, he said. We can do it. We can and we will. So we all did our parts, whatever we could, convinced that we would win the war.

I heard a speech today by Barack Obama, and I could not help but think back to those World War II years when we were uplifted by the voices of these magnificent orators and followed them on to victory and years of peace. This young man, half Black, half White, cannot have had an easy life. But he is clearly highly intelligent and he doesn't smell of the stagnant mildew of Washington, D.C.

If Barack Obama does not become our President, will we have suffered an irretrievable loss? Do our young people need some hope for the future, someone young enough and brave enough to try new things and lead them back into prosperity? Could World War II have been victorious without the leadership of Roosevelt and Churchill? Possibly, but would Americans have worked together, fought together, sacrificed together to attain this goal? Or would we have been as we are today, divided in political ideology and a way of life?

Often, in life, it is time for the old to give way to the new. Pop was a farmer. He had farmed all of his life, selling horses and tending his fields. After he died, farming took on a rebirth. Small farms gave way to bigger farms and then the conglomerates that feed our world today. Times change. Old ways give way to more modern ideas, while old folks shake their heads and predict doom, remembering the "Good Old Days" that, in truth, were not so good after all. Some things never change. The teenagers you struggled to control and guide grow up to have teenagers they struggle to control and guide. Aside from certain fundamental truths, the world keeps evolving. Where there were once a hundred million people, there are three million people and, in some places, so many millions that it boggles the mind. Small farms are a thing of the past, like the gas stations where the attendant checked your oil and wiped your windshield. Pop wouldn't understand the world could he? Even I can't understand much of it.

Men still cry when their sons go off to War and we have never learned, as a nation or a world, to talk over differences and avoid killing each other. We probably never will. However, what really matters to a country is its leadership. We are as good as the guy at the top. We are as intelligent as the man or woman making the decisions. If those leaders can inspire, comfort, explain and uplift with the beauty of their words, it matters. Can we ever do this? According to Barack Obama, "Yes, we can!"