Wednesday nights were best. I would carefully disassemble my Dad’s .22 caliber Remington field rifle, remove the violin from its carrying case and replace it with the carbine. A short distance walk to the meeting place where our scout master would be waiting and our car-full of eager boys would be on our way to an adult gathering place known as The Swiss Hall, at whose upstairs bar old men with blonde walrus mustaches and a schnauzer dog drank German beer, but in whose basement a superb rifle range waited. We would each be handed two boxes of .22 long rifle ammo., donated by the NRA and the scored competition would begin.
It was 1943, and our country was at war; every one of us at the age of ten or twelve was serious about getting ourselves prepared. At school we ran an outdoor obstacle course set up by military advisors, performed close-order drill with make-believe 1903 Springfields and climbed rope ladders tied to the roof girders of the gym. Every school day began with the Lord’s Prayer and a flag pledge. (We had two boys who for religious reasons were excused from the latter, but after a while they changed their own minds and joined in.) Most middle and high school classes in my schools devoted some time to reviewing the latest media coverage of war news and encouraged students to share family letters from the front. Weekly assembly programs often featured combat veterans home from the war, recovering from wounds, ferrying planes, giving advanced training, etc. They were invariably treated like the “heroes” they were.
A majority of teen age American boys knew how to tune a carburetor, adjust or replace spark plugs, repair a flat tire, diagnose a wide range of automotive problems and drive anything from a soapbox derby entry to a flatbed farm truck. (I had driven a Sherman tank on a test track at a nearby university as a young student!) Our enemies – despite a militaristic cultural background – were deficient in ways they had not bargained on. When Italy militarized as an Axis partner, it was forced to settle for a horse cavalry as its youth had almost no mechanical skills. My own most prized Christmas gift of the WWII period was a simulated airplane cockpit with a full instrument display, hand throttle, stick and rudder pedals. All I needed was two kitchen chairs to go flying.
Even more important we were constantly reminded by the people and ethos which surrounded us that we were on “God’s side” and it was okay to hate and mock the evil enemy, and our goal was to defeat them “unconditionally”. We vied for prizes in art class by drawing posters which pictured people like Hitler, Tojo, Hirohito, Mussolini, Himmler and Goering as warthogs and worse; the nastiest and most disgusting image got first prize. We were constantly reminded in artistic detail that Loose lips Sink Ships, the Marines need a Few Good Men and the Enemy Laughs while You Loaf! Beneath a picture of an evil looking and rictus-faced Hitler, a poster urged Destroy This Mad Brute!
The use of pejorative descriptive terms such as Kraut, Jap, Nip and Meatball were daily fare in the media and in public usage (of course the same license applied in the way we referred to ourselves and each other when it came to ethnic identity anyway – PC had not arrived on our shores yet.) The music which aired on radio and wherever people met also reflected a similar indifference to linguistic niceties when it came to our national enemies, with titles such as “I want that Monster (Hitler) Dead!”and “Right up the Fuehrer’s &#%!” and more. Every movie show began with war films and the National Anthem.
Our national enemies were pictured with slanted eyes, thick eyeglasses, monocles and with blood dripping from fang-toothed jaws, and described as too stupid to build ships that didn’t roll over when launched.
And as for a public “outcry” over something as mild as “water-boarding”: I can almost hear the coast-to-coast, border-to-border laughter from here!