I Dare Say – No buildup (2-5-42)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 5, 1942)


No buildup

By Florence Fisher Parry

The way we feel about this war remains me of an old cartoon by – I think – Peter Arno. A beautiful blonde damsel in a taxi, startled at the thorough overtures of a white mustached escort, exclaims:

What? No buildup?

All at once we’re in it. Up to our necks. And that being so, it seems to me we’re taking it rather well.

Beside me is a radio which I bought barely two years ago. It carefully indicates the positions on the dials of Prague, Warsaw, Athens and Naples.

It was surely no longer ago than yesterday that when the news roundups switched us to Batavia, we dialed out. What was Batavia to us? And where was Java?

So can we be blamed if, suddenly up to our ears, we do a little blubbering and choking before we get our second wind and strike out with the broad rhythmic strokes of a seasoned swimmer?

The last war lasted 18 months for us, and took two million men. Just for France. Look at France on the globe. Look now at the East Indies. If you want to get a real idea what we’re in for, get hold of the February Fortune and read that superb and terrifying article on Japan.

Of course the reason we hold Hitler to be enemy no. 1 is because he had a buildup. He had the biggest buildup in history. It’s hard to tear down such a buildup. Give us time. Already we’re gone a long way. I talked with several Marines exactly two months ago.

Japan would be a pushover. Her ships are too heavy. Her men can’t see straight, they’re nearsighted and cross-eyed. One U.S. gun and she’d be washed up.

Show me anyone of our rank and file in or out of uniform who thought differently.

So we haven’t done so badly. At least our first war news isn’t all bad, as it was in Europe.

We are different

As a matter of fact, the only buildup we’ve had is the billion-dollar buildup. For 10 years now, we have been conditioned to it. Where a million used to stick in our craw, a billion was made to go down easy. From where we sit now, needing practically everything that we haven’t got and having practically everything that we don’t need, that government expenditure of the past 10 years might make us pretty sick. The very word project has a sick sound these days.

And yet – have you stopped to think – all this was the very thing that prepared us to accept the monstrous burden of war? Has it occurred to you that we couldn’t have been MADE to accept the figures of this war, if we hadn’t been made to swallow the figures of government spending for the past 10 years?

So in that respect at least, we have had a buildup.

But what other buildups for this war have we had? None. None at all, compared with all the other nations now engaged in it. The European countries knew long before Hitler’s invasion that they were straddling a volcano.

Besides, many of these countries were colonial empires. Italy, France, the Netherlands, certainly England, were but the central clearing houses of vast domains that spread around the globe. And thinking, as they had had to do for generations, for hundreds of years, in terms of colonial possessions, they could swing into the tempo of a World War with comparative ease. India, the East Indies, Africa, these were geographical realities to them; they had fought for them before; they could fight for them again.

But for us, a colonial war is new, is foreign to us, is against our whole makeup.

New to us

And there are other aspects, which dig down under all our layers of defense… The HUMAN aspects of separations, the like of which we have never known, yet which, to those of other countries inured to partings and far-flung distances, have become the very flesh and fiber of their being.

Do not think for a moment that I would underestimate the ordeal of British families, since the war began. Not one of us can listen to those heartbreaking broadcasts between parents and evacuated children of Britain without being profoundly moved.

But I do think that we here in America have not been called upon to acquire the habit of parting and of separation, as have the British. In England and in the Empire, it is the custom for parents to hand over their children to “the nursery” very early; to put their children in boarding school at a very tender age; to send them to England for their later schooling from all parts of the Empire, and later to take for granted that they will live thousands of miles apart, in different lands. This has become the very structure of British family life.

Not so here in America. Secure and isolated, together on a great and roomy continent, the family unit has been preserved to an extraordinary degree.

Now comes the great parting. We have embarked at last upon a world adventure that will scatter our young to the ends of the earth. It is a new experience, a new ordeal. It is bound to hit us hard. We haver never owed it to our country to be elsewhere. We have never had a colonial empire to populate or defend.

Lacking this buildup, we will take our partings hard, for awhile. Until the scar tissue forms more toughly over our hearts, and we can stand it better… when farewells are said… when the bad news comes that is bound to come… from Singapore and Tokyo and Berlin…