Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Deprivation And Chickenshit

Popular music remained, of course, the standard material of radio broadcast during the Second World War. The crucial difference, however, was that the kind of song selected for broadcast was supposed to contribute to “morale,” that is to say, serve a propagandistic function. Outside of those that were explicitly jingoistic, such as “Remember Pearl Harbor March,” the typical song was about the need for personal sacrifice (sexual denial, the need for repression). The point-of-view of some were explicitly female,

They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old
He Wears A Pair of Silver Wings

but in most, not surprisingly, the POV was male:

I’ve Got a Girl in Kalamazoo
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To

Pleas for fidelity included songs such as

Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)
Paper Doll
Somebody Else Is Taking My Place

Desires for the unattainable (things that must be sacrificed) were expressed in dream (and wish) songs:

Thanks for the Dream
I Had the Craziest Dream
A Soldier Dreams of You Tonight
I Dream Of You
I’ll Buy That Dream
My Dreams Are Gettin’ Better All the Time
(I’m Dreaming Of A) White Christmas
Don’t Believe Everything You Dream (from Around the World, 1943)

Paul Fussell claims (in the chapter, “With One Voice,” in Wartime), “personal deprivation and hope for improvement were the themes that the troops, menaced by chickenshit and fear, responded to” (186). He says the soldiers often wept when they heard “We’ll Meet Again,” recorded in 1942 by Vera Lynn (nicknamed “The Forces’ Sweetheart”):

We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day;
Keep smiling through, just like you always do,
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds away

Fussell devotes an entire chapter to the wartime semantics of chickenshit (“Chickenshit, An Anatomy”):

Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige . . . insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances. Chickenshit is so called—instead of horse- or bull- or elephant shit—because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously. Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war.

One wonders whether the wartime films made for purposes of “morale” were considered a form of chickenshit by the common soldier. Trivial and unimaginative, they scrupulously avoided the actual conditions of the war—a “white-wash”—and had all the faux sincerity of the everyday social banality, “Have A Nice Day.”

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