Tuesday, March 2, 2010
At the level of the common soldier (as opposed to that of the war’s “upper tier,” its commanders), credit “became a crucial concept” (Paul Fussell, Wartime 155). “That all-important home-town audience the troops never forgot,” argues Fussell, because for the soldiers, “ultimate value is assigned by the distant, credulous” hometown crowd—what people were saying back home (155). Curious, then, that in the Kay Kyser wartime film, Around the World (released November 1943), the name of the Marcy McGuire character’s father, killed on a transport ship before he ever actually was able to step onto the battlefield, is never given. Obviously, his proper name, unlike a General’s (the General’s name more significant by virtue of his having to shoulder the heavy demands and responsibilities of power), is not important. The proverbial “unknown soldier,” her dead father becomes an emblem of sacrifice, the sacrifice necessary for all Americans during wartime. Informed of her father’s death (perpetrated by cowards, as the ship was torpedoed), she is asked to put on a stiff upper lip, to buck up, in effect, to sublimate the loss. She is told that her father did, in fact, fight in the war, he just wasn’t able to fight for very long. His death was as valuable to the war effort as any other, since war by its very definition demands a sacrifice by everyone. Names are not important.
These are not idle ruminations, without application to our own time, for as Paul Fussell observes, “The postwar power of 'the media' to determine what shall be embraced as reality is in large part due to the success of the morale culture in wartime. It represents, indeed, its continuation. Today, nothing—neither church, university, library, gallery, philanthropy, foundation, or corporation—no matter how actually worthy and blameless, can thrive unless bolstered by a persuasive professional public-relations operation, supervised by the later avatars of the PR colonels and captains so indispensable to the maintenance of high morale and thus to the conduct of the Second World War” (164).