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Foxhole buddies.

ANTI-CATHOLIC BIGOTRY, directed at Al Smith, the Irish-American Governor of New York, was prominent in 1928's presidential election. While it reduced the number of pro-Smith votes, it wasn't the only factor in his defeat. Opponents also pointed to his Tammany Hall heritage, intent to repeal prohibition, and New York accent. In addition, Smith was running against an entrenched Republican Party in the midst of prosperity. Thirty-two years later, American voters gave a narrow majority to Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the presidential race. What had happened to diminish the anti-Catholic dimension of American nativista?




According to Thomas Bruscino, experiences of approximately sixteen-million servicemen in World War II bred tolerance. He concentrates on the army but members of the Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine shared many experiences of soldiers. Before they enlisted or were drafted, army personal embraced the ethnic, religious, and racial antagonisms of their communities. While most friends and relatives on the Home Front held on to their prejudices, rough basic training, which intentionally reduced individualism; sharing boredom escapes--drinking, gambling, sex, battle dangers, and filthy crowded fox holes reduced or obliterated differences between Catholic, Protestant, Jew and people from different parts of the United States.

Although GIs had sex with foreign women they generally didn't find them more satisfactory than the food. To GIs members of the Women's Army Corp and American nurses represented their ideal of femininity. Working and fighting together, depending on one another, and disliking, sometimes hating officers, blended into an affectionate brotherhood.

Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains advised and consoled members of all faith. Frequently soldiers attended services of different religions, especially in battlefield areas. Bruscino makes clear that tolerance among whites of different nationalities and religions did not include African Americans, usually isolated from other troops. On occasion, when in combat alongside whites, brave performances won mutual respect.

The main thesis of Bruscino's book stresses that returnees had been transformed by war. Although some veterans complained about a lack of employment opportunities or housing shortages, in general the government was generous to ex-servicemen. The 1944 Servicemen's Readjustment Act (G.I. Bill of Rights) provided college, professional, and trade school expenses, twenty-dollar checks for fifty-two weeks for those not working, generous housing loans and medical care.

For many postwar years, ex-service personnel dominated American life in the arts, education on all levels, politics, and business. In college and university classrooms they outperformed students who hadn't been in the military. They wrote some of country's finest literature and dominated politics in local governments, state politics, both houses of Congress and the presidency. Such organization as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and AMVETS were powerful veterans lobbies as well as social clubs. Once discharged, veterans were quick to marry, build or buy homes, and raise children. They often either moved to suburbs or altered the complexions of urban neighborhoods. Tight ethnic and religious communities began to disappear as cities and suburbs diversified. Catholic and Protestant parishes lost their ethnic identities. But as in the war, blacks remained isolated in ghetto situations. In many ways, suburbs and more glamorous city neighbors reflected white flight from an increasing African-American presence in urban areas.

After World War II the United States was deeply troubled by the Cold War with Russia. Tensions and anxieties didn't interfere with friendly relations between white ethnics. However, Bruscino underestimates ethnic revivalism, seen in nationality organizations and festivities. There probably was a connection between rising black pride and the new emphasis on white ethnic identities.

Bruscino is obviously right when he contrasts the tolerance of servicemen and civilians, but the war also increased patriotism and cooperation on the home front. For example, women in defense factories developed friendly social and working in relations with people who didn't share their religious beliefs or ethnic loyalties. While there was a contrast between open-minded servicemen and the folks back home, in non-combat situations the former tended to hang out more with their own kind and those they considered strangers. In combat and other wartime risks everyone was your own kind whether on land, sea, or in the air.

A Nation Forged In War is an important and highly readable book; it is also a valuable contribution to ethnic and World War II historiographies. Bruscino makes good use of primary and secondary sources and writes excellent prose. Despite the horrors it produced, he demonstrates that the War had a positive impact on American conduct for many years after Germany and Japan surrendered. Perhaps later wars may have reduced, certainly not erased, racial prejudices that still contaminate the nation. In these conflicts blacks and whites trained and fought together. But not as many soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen were as involved as in World War II. Integrated athletic teams have produced more respect and tolerance than the military.

--Loyola University of Chicago
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Title Annotation:A Nation Forged in War: How World War II Taught Americans to Get Along
Author:McCaffrey, Lawrence J.
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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