December 7, 2009

Nineteen Forty-One


The steel and the fire fell from the sky,
Although we were never really told why,
Few questions were raised by father or son
In nineteen hundred and forty-one.

The newsreels were spun in the same black and white
That colored the answers offered that night
To the few questions raised by father and son
In nineteen hundred and forty-one.

The call was to arms, it came as a song,
We all had the words, we all sang along,
We all knew exactly what had to be done
In nineteen hundred and forty-one.

The steel and the fire have fallen and burned
A thousand times since, but what have we learned?
Only that fire burns father and son
Just as it did in nineteen forty-one.

The dust of the fires, the dust of the years,
The smoke in our eyes, the sting of our tears,
Have turned black and white to shades of dun
In the many long years since nineteen forty-one.

And still we are called to sing the old song
Though some think the words may now be all wrong
And some think the questions from father and son
May not have been answered in nineteen forty-one.

The steel and the fire fall again from the sky,
Again, we are never really told why.
Six decades have passed, or is it just one,
Since nineteen hundred and forty-one?



  1. Those who gave everything, May they RIP!

  2. Er... hang on... seems to be some mistake: surely the 4th line should read: "In nineteen hundred and thirty nine"?

    That is, after all, sixty years ago this year that the balloon went up.

    "...we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender"

    Ok, that's all Churchill I can quote before choking up. Didn't even manage to get to our finest hour (also 1940).

  3. JP, I wonder if the Chinese would agree with you statement? 1937 is when Japan invaded China. The Rape of Nanking took place on December 13, 1937.

  4. The solutions of 41 may have worked then, but they haven’t worked since. The song of 41 is a classic, Grammy winning, best song of the 20th century, that gets into our heads and just won’t go away. Even “oldies” stations don’t go back that far anymore, so why does this song stick in our heads? Can’t we “Imagine” another tune?

  5. JP, when I was growing up in the '50s, my country may have been more of an island than yours. I think that was probably more so in 1941. It took me a while to learn that we're all on the same island.

    Yarg, I think you've said it better than I did.

    Blame Mr. Tillerman for this, by the way. He posted a link to this ancient Pete Seeger video a few days ago on his Facebook page, and it's been in my head ever since.

    He's spending some time on islands that somehow manage to remain real islands.

  6. Just posted the lyrics of a song in reply :)

  7. December '41 sure changed my dad's life; he wound up being married early in '42, in the Army by spring, crowded aboard the gray-painted Queen Mary in August, and driving a weapons carrier in North Africa before the year's end. He never talked much about his war experiences, so I had to put together bits and pieces. I also get the impression that the GI's did their best to create as much of a "normal" life as they could manage.crial

  8. My mom's life changed also. The family house was bombed, and they had to flee to the mountains to avoid capture by the Japanese. Her cousins were stuck in Manila and interned by the Japanese until liberation. War is fucked!

  9. I've been lucky enough not to have been directly touched by war, although I'm not sure that war leaves any of us completely unscarred.

    I know just living through the war affected my parents' views on many things for the rest of their lives. Maybe the worst of it is how the minds of subsequent generations on both sides may be poisoned although they had nothing to do with the hostilities or the politics that led to them.

    Vietnam and the wars that have followed have left me increasingly wary and skeptical of all politicians, even those I would otherwise like to trust. I do know that the truth about most wars is seldom told in contemporary speeches and policy statements by those who would lead us into war, but is left for the historians to sort out years after the fact.

    Pat and Joe, my heart goes out to both of you.

  10. I count myself lucky that I haven't had to experience war directly, but there are family stories. And then, many of my students have had experiences. In my classes I have had both Vietnam-era vets and those who have returned from the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The essays they write are chilling.

    When 9/11 happened, I had two students who were engaged to men who were called up for immediate deployment. One couple made hasty plans for an accelerated wedding, so if something happened to him, she would have the advantage of his benefits, as well as having had at least a short time of wedded bliss. The other couple postponed their wedding plans indefinitely, because if something happened to him, it would be unfair to her to be a widow at 19.

    I currently have a student whose uncle was a Navajo Code Talker during WWII, and whose three children are now all deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. She understands service and patriotism, but at the same time, she lives in fear that something might happen.

    War just simply warps life, making uncertainty and fear where there shouldn't be any.

  11. O, war is fucked up. What does war give us? Destruction and dead people. How come the guys who have never served a second in the military are the ones gung ho to send young ones off to far away places to die in wars of unknown origins? (You guys know who you are: Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney...Barry Obama) I'm sorry, but it makes me mad.

  12. Wars are inevitably ugly and destructive, but, still, some wars have been necessary. We live in a world where armies and police both are needed sometimes to restrain the psychopaths, predators, and true believers who are undeterred by words or mild gestures. Historically justice and liberty have come at great cost.

    Sometimes non-violent, creative responses work. Sometimes they don't. Leaders who are responsible for protecting their people sometimes have no choice but to respond with force. Part of history has been the debate over just how much force can or should be used in self-defense, by either individuals or a state.

    Although it's an oversimplification and covers a lot of sins in its simple-mindedness, some truth remains in the bumper sticker slogan that runs something like, "War never solved anything ... except for tyranny, slavery, genocide, and fascism."

  13. Pat, I have no problem with wars declared by the Congress.

    I lived in the Philippines when the US supported financially and militarily a statist dictator who extorted money, confiscated property and imprisoned political opponents. That dictator, Ferdinand Marcos (anti-communist), was a tyrant. (His antics were exactly the same as Hugo Chavez, another vile human being.)

    On the other side of the globe, my Spanish relatives lived under another dictator who was also a close ally of the United States. Francisco Franco was both a tyrant and a fascist.

    As a military veteran, I am extremely hesitant to send young men and women into harms way. If a person thinks that a cause is just and blood must be spilled, then that person should be the first to volunteer. I can't stand people who are willing to sacrifice others and not themselves. It pisses me off.

    Okay, I'm done with my rant.