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FRED SEE Steven Spielberg and the Holiness of War For Herb Schneidau: Some must employ the scythe Upon the grasses. Philip Larkin, "The Dedicated" To admit the truth, my feelings about World War II amount to a kind of popular piety. My sequential memories begin with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the very moment that commmenced to shape my childhood imagination. There I was at the age of four, reading the Sunday comics on the living room floor, the Phantom, Prince Valiant, gaudy heroic pictures, when the front door burst open and my father and uncle blew in like a tempest. On their way back from a professional meeting in New York City they had heard the news on the car radio. I remember big black overcoats, wrath and fedoras. My father at once had a stiffhighball, and it made him fiery. A sober and deliberate man, he died at the age of ninety after a life of robust good health and conservative investment policy. I suppose that may have been the only time anyone ever saw him, as we say now, impaired. But it was really his passion, and not the rye, that elevated him that famous day. After some ranting and seething—the image of that indignant red face is suspended in my memory like a flag—father took steps. He placed a call to Tokyo and asked to speak at once to the Imperial Palace. If only he could give Hirohito a tongue-lashing, he thought, he could end the nonsense right there. But the operator kept telling him that the long-distance connections across the Pacific were disabled. This only increased his frustration, and thus of course his wrath. Not until my adolescence was father again so stirred. Arizona Quarterly Volume 60, Number 3, Autumn 2004 Copyright © 2004 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 610 no Fred See Here my mother, anticipating something even more dramatic than a diplomatic gesture, bundled me up and sent me outside to play. The sun was shining brightly. There had recently come up a great storm, then a thaw, then a quick freeze, leaving a surface crust on the snow that I could slide on for a few feet before breaking through. That's my final memory ofthe day: sliding a ways, then breaking through, then balancing on top, then breaking through, over and over. That war has haunted me ever since with its surfaces and depths. My father was commissioned and went to Europe on his grand adventure, leaving me with a handsome soldier suit and sole custody ofmy mother, paradise for a four year old. Exhilarating v-mail arrived at frequent intervals . Great battles were reported in the papers and newsreels. The comics were saturated with grotesque Nazi and Japanese villains and clean-cut American superheroes. War movies came almost every week to the two theaters in town. What's more, advertising and publicrelations firms intensified the nation's morale, "and provided for hometown consumption the necessary heroic-romantic narrative and imagery " (Fussell 153)· The military itself made matters of publication an official business, a question indeed of duty. The Officer's Guide, a text to which Fussell refers (154)—I quote from my father's own copy, dated "Camp Claiborne Louisiana/March 20th 1943"—advised all commissioned personnel that "It is important to the nation that matters concerning the National Defense be presented in a favorable tone," and identified this issue as an "essential of American life" (309). No wonder then how willingly we all filled the margins of our schoolwork with furious airplanes—obedient to this American essential, my classmates and I were all, in Wilfred Owen's phrase from "Dulce Et Decorum Est," "children ardent for some desperate glory." Each birthday and Christmas my presents reflected the war, but tamed it, gave it an easy form and function. So did most of my games. War was pleasure. Once, just before the Battle of the Bulge, a huge package came filled with German helmets, bayonets, cartridge pouches, armbands and knapsacks. Of course I have them all still. They are precisely, in their way, icons. In the fullness of time father returned, promoted, decorated, laden...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 109-141
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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