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Life in the Shadow of a Distant War

Published: July 10, 2010

Americans were busy in 1944. They were pushing the Japanese forces back across the Pacific and preparing to retake the Philippines. They were facing the German army in France and slowly shoving it back to Berlin.

But Americans were also living and working in quiet towns and peaceable cities, never hearing an air-raid siren, spotting an enemy bomber in the sky, or even seeing an enemy soldier. And, unless they had the bad luck to be born to Japanese parents on the west coast, they never saw a military operation.

Yet their lives were hardly tranquil. They lived in gnawing uncertainty about the war’s progress, the fate of a loved one in combat, and even the possibility that America could still lose the war. They also lived with food shortages, gas rationing, and the impossibility of buying automobile tires or even a new pair of shoes. For many, the 1940s looked a lot like the grim 1930s.

The future, though, was another matter. It easily accommodated any wish for a better life. The thought of peace and prosperity must have been dizzying, particularly for the young men, who would only have vague memories of life before the Depression and war.

Now, with all the new technology generated by the war effort, life was going to be better than ever. Anything was possible.

This spirit of post-war predicting is captured in a Post article from August of that year: “The Coming Boom in Vacations.” According to its authors, America wouldn’t just beat its swords into plowshares, but into fishing rods and camping trailers.

If having fun ever needed any justification, it has that justification overwhelmingly now… Our great responsibility for the future is to create peacetime work in a volume at least comparable with what we have been doing for war.

An important item helping to keep our economy in blooming good health can be the activities engendered in keeping ourselves individually healthy, mentally and physically, by getting a larger share of the out-of-doors.

A considerable part of what we mean when we say “the American standard of living” involves our power to rove and play.

And a considerable part of the new recreation industry the author anticipated would involve camping and hunting. He quoted the head of nation’s Fish and Wildlife Service:

“Right after World War I, there was a thirty-per-cent increase in the number of hunting and fishing licenses in the United States. Much of that increase was due to the fact that a lot of city boys had newly learned to live out-of-doors during their military service and had likewise learned to use firearms skillfully.  This time almost every able-bodied young man has been drawn into military service. When these men are restored to civil life, their wives and children will certainly share to a considerable extent in their newly won proprietorship of the American woods and fields and streams.”

Ironically, American industry would enable its citizens to get back to nature. The end of gas rationing, the resumption of auto manufacturing, and the growth of passenger air service would give families new access to America’s 13 million acres of National Parks.

The automobile did much to further both the use and the preservation of the parks. Among the guardians of the Yellowstone, 1922 stands as a kind of frontier year. One per cent of the visitors arrived in automobiles then. But thereafter the change was sensational. In the five years between 1922 and 1927, thanks to automobiles, more visitors came to the park than had come in the previous half century.

By saving travel time en route, vacationers are going to gain time to play. Whether you work in Hollywood or Brooklyn, if your vacation begins on a Friday night, on Saturday you can begin spending your vacation period at your goal, whether it be the slopes of Mt. McKinley, the Great Smoky Mountains, Lake Placid… etc.

The author also expected that military equipment would soon appear on the shelves of sporting-goods stores.

Will this G.I. hammock, watertight and insectproof, become standard vacation gear?

A major part of war production has been concerned with the making of new things to enable Americans to live out of doors in health and reasonable comfort.

Probably the most popular single appliance, if the soldiers were asked to vote on it, would be a companionable little stove intended to be a kind of supplement to any motor vehicle, jeep, truck, reconnaissance car, tank or your car. Its fuel is the same gasoline. When taken out of its neatly fitting cylindrical container, that container becomes a stew pan. When the folded top of the stove is opened, it looks and functions just like the burner on your gas stove. Since one of these stoves, complete, weighs only a pound, you could easily and habitually carry in your car one stove for each passenger.

There will be a companion piece to that stove. It is a six-pound item… in which a soldier can have a night’s rest in a jungle, no matter though the ground beneath him be ankle-deep mud. No tent is necessary; this is a tent. The tent part is simply a cloth roof, which is a part of a hammock with a zippered envelope of mosquito netting. As used by the military in the jungles, this little fabric home is simply tied between any two trees conveniently spaced. The soldier inside sleeps as dry as if in a cocoon.

The rubber boat, because it is not merely a portable but a packaged boat, represents, potentially, a geometrical expansion of fishing and hunting opportunities. This package, in combination with airplane, automobile or jeep, means that any trip can become, at will, an expedition.

Some of these products, with modification, became staples for modern campers. Others, like the following, never got farther than being a war-time fantasy:

Recently the sales manager of a New York sporting-goods store received a letter which confirmed exciting conjectures about out-of-doors life after the war. This letter was probably the first civilian order for an amphibious tank. It is wanted by a Maryland duck hunter, and he is ready to pay $2000 for it.

The order was accompanied by a cutting from a newspaper, a picture of the amphibious vehicle being used by the United States marines wherever they are making landings on hostile beaches.

And the amphibious tank is, of course, but one more item in a catalogue of relatively new and wonderful inventions being produced in America because of the war, all of which lead the entrepreneurs of outdoor sports to believe a boom in their business waits only for peace and demobilization.

Next: Raising a Family on a War-Time Budget

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  • Frank James Davis

    “And, unless they had the bad luck to be born to Japanese parents on the west coast, they never saw a military operation.”
    Yes, Mr. Nilsson, it was under the “enlightenment” of FDR’s “New Deal” administration that many innocent Japanese-Americans were rounded up and confined to specially prepared “camps”–merely because they physically resembled the enemy. American citizens–whose Constitutional Rights were simply dismissed.
    So it was, with the left–and one of its most revered icons–that the modern era of
    racial profiling began.

  • Ima Ryma

    It was just after World War II.
    A hunter drove up in a tank,
    Drove right into the lake – ’tis true!
    It floated a moment, then sank.
    So much for the D-Day assault.
    The D as in duck, doncha know?
    That day ducks got spared by default.
    The bubbles bubbled from below.
    At last the hunter did appear,
    Trudging out of the lake, he cussed
    His amphibious tank bum steer.
    All it was good for now was rust,

    That duck hunter never came back.
    We ducks still chuckle – what a quack!