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Between Two Fronts

Abroad awaits the cry:
“The Second Front is opening—Stand by!”
At home, already two fronts we stand between—
The front of today and the front of tomorrow.
Our perspective must be clear-cut and keen.
When the detonation of Pearl Harbor blasted millions of ears
And closed the senseless front of yesterday,
Like empty urns along the curb we passed them by,
Those beautiful babies of yesterday.
Battered and smudgy and hardy they grew,
Like empty urns now they gathered rust
With every wind that blew—Protection they never knew
Push or be pushed—survival now—
Instinctive nature’s cry.
It’s God’s world and no man lives for himself alone.
God’s spirit must survive.
We’re duty-bound to serve our Father’s will.
The curtain rises on the Lost God of this Tragedy of the Age.

1941

What strikes me most about this statement is its deep anger and sense of senseless tragedy. It is a fragmented grouping of ideas, probably written just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. There is no attempt to revise or re-order it. I imagine mom wrote it down to express her strong opposition to war as a way of dealing with conflict, seeing it as a clear violation of acting in accordance with God’s plan. Everything was measured against the backdrop of her religious faith. I’m sure she knew, too, the U.S.’s long-standing official policy of trying to stay out of the war, though that policy was becoming increasingly untenable as Japan continued its march across Asia and "a second front was opening."

Ironically, this poem has some inner chaos in it, reflecting the chaos on the ground and ships during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Technically, I don’t think mom meant it to come out that way. However, this bit of fragmented thought must reflect her fragmented feelings at the time, being so close to the Navy personnel through the USO at Newport Naval Station. That had to be a shocking time for everyone, especially there in Newport which was so dominated by Navy families. Dad, too, as Director of the USO, had to be very worried, for he was close to so many of the officers and sailors stationed at the base. The “battered babies of yesterday” were the 2,300 soldiers, sailors and civilians killed at Pearl Harbor, as well as the tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians that had already been killed in the war up to that point. Also, I imagine she had in the back of her mind the thought of her own five sons: that someday they, too, might have to go to war. She had lived through WWI and knew the costs in human lives: 37 million casualties, military and civilian (15 million dead, 22 million wounded) and was now seeing America enter another major conflagration. Her phrase, “This Tragedy of the Age” echoes President Roosevelt’s words about Pearl Harbor: “This is a day that will live in infamy!”
Before it was over after the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, WW II would prove the deadliest war in history: 66 million deaths worlwide, including 37 million civilians and 22 million military. One can almost hear her sense of these numbers, which she couldn't have known yet at the time of Pearl Harbor, the shocking senselessness of them, in her final line: "The curtain rises on the Lost God of this Tragedy of the Age!" When I think of the "less deadly" (to dare to use such a phrase) conflicts that followed (Korea, 54,000 dead, 103,00 wounded; Vietnam, 58,800 dead, 128,00 wounded; and now Iraq, 2,842 dead, 21,077 wounded, all U.S. military personnel only, not counting the millions of other military and civilian casualties), I can only imagine the horror mom (and all mothers) must have felt, knowing the nation was about to crank up its military operations and send over a million of its sons and daughters into combat. Over 350,000 women served in the military during WW II.

I was born a year after Pearl Harbor, but I do remember hearing mom express her opposition to war as a mean to resolve international conflicts during the Korean war, when my oldest brother Mike entered the army, and throughout the Vietnam War, especially when I went off to boot camp in 1966. I remembered from my studies in English literature a statement of the British writer, G. K. Chesterton, that seemed to echo mom's sentiments about speaking out against war even as we are waging it and going forth to fight in it: "A man who says that no patriot should attack the war until it is over...is saying no good son should warn his mother of a cliff until she has fallen." I knew her to be a solid patriot as well as a thoughtful person. Afterall, one of her heroes was Eleanor Roosevelt! She knew of the cliffs that lay ahead, for both her and her sons and daughters. As I left home for boot camp, not knowing whether or not I'd be sent to combat in Vietnam, I saw a tear in my mom's eye as well and a look of sheer strength and resignation, a smile even, of pride, hope and encouragment. It was this look, this look of strength and faith in the face of the unknown, that I carried with me and still carry today, have recalled in times of my own turmoil and drawn strength from for forty years now. In it I have come to understand the multiple meanings of mom's words: "...no man lives for himself alone." (On the left is a picture of mom helping me collect seashells on Newport Beach. This was 1944, a year before WW II ended. I was two years old.)


This post first appeared on Inspirational Poems Of A Prairie Girl, please read the originial post: here

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Between Two Fronts

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