Perceptions of WWII while it was on

A Gallup poll taken in the summer of 1941 showed that a large majority of respondents agreed that America was bound to be drawn into the war eventually; a slightly smaller majority even agreed that it was more important to stop the Nazis than to stay neutral. (Japan wasn’t mentioned; even then nobody thought of Japan as a likely enemy.)

Yet “eventually drawn in” really meant “not now.” That was what routinely stunned travelers returning to America from the war zones, even late in 1941: how unworried everybody in America seemed. Crowds still swarmed heedlessly on undamaged streets; city skylines still blazed at night, like massed homing beacons for enemy bombers. But if you’d even mentioned the possibility of an air raid out loud, you’d have been laughed at. New Yorker reporter A. J. Liebling wrote a piece that summer about coming back to Manhattan after the fall of France and discovering just how impossible it was to get his friends to take the thought of war seriously: “They said soothingly that probably you had had a lot of painful experiences, and if you just took a few grains of nembutol so you would get one good night’s sleep, and then go out to the horse races twice, you would be your old sweet self again. It was like the dream in which you yell at people and they don’t hear you.”

LOSING THE WAR by Lee Sandlin

(The New Kings Of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass)

Published by

Krista Stevens

I'm a runner, reader, writer, and editor.

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