Under the Ivy
a column by Jane Martin firstname.lastname@example.org
Its allure and its perilIn the winter of 1941, America entered
World War II. PAW went with her. Certainly, hockey and basketball
prospects still find their pages, along with Class Notes ("With
the Alumni," as it was called) and a wonderful ad from Princeton
University Press ("To Princeton Wives: We're not interested
in your husbands now, except indirectly ... It's Christmas time
again, and we'd like to suggest that you give your husband a PUP
book. There's a book for every kind of man, even the novel reader!")
But there's no escaping the war. Covers show alumni in training
at their bases. Ads flaunt companies' contributions to the war effort.
An editorial describes "What the Declaration of Hostilities
with Japan Means to the University."
In early 1942, PAW ran two articles, one by a young alumnus and
draftee, the other by an undergraduate struggling with the decision
whether to enlist. The undergraduate's concerns are unsurprising.
"We know that the sanest thing to do is to remain in college,
to continue on our present job...Yet balanced against this is the
insistent desire for action." He concludes that the best course
is to complete his studies in an accelerated fashion, after which
he can join up with a better idea of where his talents will be put
to best use.
The young alum's thoughts are more enlightening, and so well written
I wish the piece was signed. "Everyone thinks he knows what's
wrong with the Army," he begins. He goes on to list the many
complaints "everyone" has, saying "there is not one
man in a thousand who doesn't feel that there is something wrong,
and that if They Would Only Listen to Him, everything could be set
to rights with a minimum of effort and a maximum of splendid results.
That, I submit, is what is wrong with the Army, and it is also what
is wrong with the nation as a whole."
His point is that Americans government officials as well
as ordinary citizens had been deluding themselves, trying
to ignore the fact that a full-fledged war was coming. "I am
not concerned with the pros and cons of our actions; I am very much
concerned with our ostrich-like attitude toward them. ... We didn't
want war, and we hated to do anything which would have convinced
us that we were going to have to fight one," he writes. "We
have a cause now; we could never have hoped for a better one. I
think it will be seen that it makes a difference."
It's impossible to read his words without comparing his time to
ours. The attitudes of Americans are much the same; we would all
prefer to stay comfortable and avoid war at all costs. Today, of
course, the feeling that we are striking back at a different enemy
than the one who attacked us doesn't help us rally round "the
cause." Still, it does raise the question: In our society is
there a cause that could compel Americans solidly to support a war?
Would a 21st-century undergraduate ever write, as did PAW's 1941
student, "I want to fight against a movement which I know is
evil and wrong. I want to fight for the cause that I believe to
be right, and moral, and just"? What would that cause be?
Jane Martin 89 is PAW's former editor-in-chief. You can
reach her at email@example.com