World War, THE PEOPLE: Smug, Slothful, Asleep?

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Mrs. Roosevelt said—she was talking about Pearl Harbor—that official mistakes only reflected the people. Senator Walsh, tireless foe of smugness, spoke of the "general smugness of the American people." "In too many instances," said Connecticut's Senator Maloney, "our people are concluding that the war is won and that there is no great danger or difficulty ahead." Yes, said the New York Times's military expert Hanson Baldwin, "we are slothful with fat pride."

Last week these wordly-wise politicians, newspapermen, experts, used such emotional terms to describe what was wrong with the people. There had been nothing quite like it in U.S. political history. Many a time in the past newspapers had run a thundering headline over some smaller attack on some smaller group: TAMMANY FLAYED BY REFORMER, or SENATORS FLAY BIG BUSINESS. But if last week's attacks, complaints, warnings, exhortations, condemnations of the people were boiled down to one headline, it would read: THE PEOPLE FLAYED.

"The general public . . ." said General Johnson, "simply does not seem to give a tinker's dam. . . ."

Even the executive head of Civilian Defense joined in the outcry. Said James Landis:

"The greatest trouble with civilian defense is that people have not awakened to the fact that the United States is at war."

William Batt, Director of Materials for the War Production Board, told an audience gloomily: "Not since the days of the Revolution have we had much of a chance to lose a war. We have a chance to lose this one."

By & large the people seemed unaffected by this universal obloquy, however darkly their critics talked. When the Gallup Poll asked, Do you think the United States is doing all it can toward winning the war? some 78% offhandedly answered: Yes.

From Boston to Seattle the story was about the same. The U.S. people were working—nobody could deny that. They were awake—Pearl Harbor had done that.

They were not content with themselves—the letters to the editor, the complaints about the way the war was going, the arguments were all proof of that. Reporters in general agreed on the main points —that the people were doing what was necessary, that they showed little excitement about the war. Cars were being put away, tires were being given up (Cleveland and Chicago did not exhaust their quotas), busses and streetcars were taking the place of taxis. The lack of outward expressions of excitement was so obvious a fact that all sorts of theories were developed to explain it. It was because the U.S. still viewed the war as a spectacle, said Edward Murrow, CBS commentator, winding up a coast-to-coast tour: "as spectators with an inadequate understanding of our own responsibility." But even as spectators, the U.S. people were so silent that other explanations were necessary.

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