Thursday, June 24, 2010

Civil War Was Then - WWII Is Now

Recently I visited a World War II reenactment. Although I have been to these events here and there, I've noticed that lately this era of the early 1940's seems to be gaining greater interest amongst visitors as well as reenactors, especially the younger set - those in their twenties.
I think it's great.

To show (hopefully accurately) another important era in our country's history is so important. And for the reenactors - both soldier and civilian - who portray people from the early '40's, the information directly from those that lived it is right at their fingertips. These reenactors can actually speak to and hear first-hand just what it was like at home and across the ocean straight from the mouths of those who lived it. My mother, for instance, tells us nearly every night stories of her youth from the '30's and '40's, including where she was when she first heard about the attack at Pearl Harbor. She's also explains the details of how she and her sisters ran throughout the neighborhood to collect tin, rubber, grease, and newspapers for the "war effort." And then the 'home-y' stories of listening to her favorite radio shows, playing games such as 'kick the can,' and working at the local 5 and 10 cent store.

My mother at the end of WWII

Then there is the music she (and my father) used to listen to: Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Kay Kyser, and all the great band leaders, along with their main singers such as Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Ginny Simms, Johnny Desmond, Peggy Lee, Anita O'Day, and so many others. Music that, because my parents were of the era, I heard almost as often as The Beatles when I was growing up.
Besides the memories we hear/heard from our parents and/or grandparents, we also have the original movies and newsreels readily available to help us learn of the era in even greater detail. Movies we grew up watching, such as Casablanca, Meet Me In St. Louis, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Citizen Cane, and even Dumbo, are as familiar to us 'baby boomers' as any modern movie. And, the houses so many of us lived (and still live in) were built during (or shortly before) the WWII era.
One would think that with all of this first-hand information readily available that someone like me - an amateur social historian (amateur only because I am not college accredited) - would be jumping at the chance to participate in such a time-travel opportunity.
Heck, I even live in one of those WWII houses - built in 1944! And with mid-20th century Americana collectibles easily accessible, I could quickly and accurately convert my house to look as it did when it was first built.
Although I dearly love the early 1940's era - the movies, the music, and the patriotism - I have absolutely no interest in recreating that time. I have no interest in 'becoming my parents.'
When you think about it, except for television and music, the year 1967, for instance, was not very far removed from 1944: radio, records, movies, style of cooking, the electric light, photography, the nuclear family, plastic, automobiles and all that goes with them: gas stations, traffic jams, buses...also, airplanes, refrigeration of food, bicycles, fans, even some clothing styles...I could go on and on.

All were in existence in very similar forms in both years.
I guess what I am trying to say is that the life I lived growing up in the 1960's and early 1970's was very close to the 1940's style of living in comparison to the 21st century way of life filled with Droid phones, home computers, GPS's, and cable TV. And cars, planes, CD's, DVD's, etc.
All three eras (1940's, 1967, and 2010) are modern in their own way.
And that's why I have no interest in reenacting the WWII era. It's just too close to my own early life, and I have no interest in reliving that - been there, done that!
Attempting to live in the 1860's, to me, is far more interesting and exciting. To learn how to recreate a world where none of the things mentioned above exists is a pleasurable challenge that I can't seem to get enough of. And the way of life is far enough removed that every time I read a new book about the Civil War era, or speak to one who has studied the era much more extensively than I, or even when I attend a reenactment, a whole new (old) world opens wide for me.

And I love that!
Like I said, I am very glad that we have WWII reenactors and living historians to keep that moment-in-time alive, and I enjoy visiting the WWII reenactments, but that's where my interest ends. I guess I am a true Victorian in my reenacting sensibilities, and that's where I plan to stay.



Jen said...

Interesting post. I have to say that the 40s are one of my favourite eras, and one we are slowly re-creating in our own home. It is funny what appeals to different people!

Historical Ken said...

Thanks Jen.
I have numerous friends who are also recreating the 1940's era in their own home. And I really think it's pretty neat.
I know they are as die-hard 1940's as I am 1860's = very interesting for sure!
We are a unique generation, aren't we?