Saturday, August 28, 2021

The War Back Home: World War II On The Home Front by Martin Gitlin

Mainland America awoke on a pre-Christmas Sunday morning to learn that the country was at war. In Europe, Germany had crushed Poland and was now attacking France, but Americans had hoped to stay out of what they called "foreign wars," but the bombing of much of the Navy's fleet in Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands had brought the war to United States territory, killing military personnel and civilians. President Franklin Roosevelt had no choice but to declare war. World War II had begun. Everyone's lives had changed forever on that morning.

Many men between 18 and 35, some veterans of WWI, most with wives and children, rushed to volunteer for military service. Even young men in their senior years of high school were accepted, and the country began to "draft" men of suitable age to take on the forces of three nations, Italy, Germany, and Japan, called the "Axis." Those they left behind in the U.S. were called the Home Front. Their duty was to keep the country going, to raise the foodstuffs and manufacture the goods needed by their "boys" at war on both foreign fronts. Without the work of people on the Home Front, the soldiers couldn't continue the fight.

For young readers many decades later, it is hard to imagine the immensity of what happened in that period. Martin Gitlin's World War II on the Home Front (You Choose: History) (Capstone Books) offers a "you are there" experience, in which readers can choose to live the lives and make the life-changing decisions of three different characters in this interactive history of American's Home Front.

A wife stares at her husband as they listen to Roosevelt's radio broadcast: in his face she sees that he is going to join the fight. The next day he enlists in the Navy and is soon gone. What is she to do? She can take her young daughter and live with her well-to-do mother. She could help the war effort by working at the local "canteen" there, a friendly place with doughnuts and coffee for draftees being shipped off to war, or she could try to find child care for her child and go to work in a factory making ships or tanks or airplanes to help with the war effort. Or, since she has a pilot's license, she could leave her daughter with her mother and join the WASPS (the Women Airforce Service Pilots), despite the risk. But what about her child if both she and her husband are killed?

A different choice falls to boy in San Diego. His best friend Toki is Japanese, but the boys in his class are planning to beat Toki up because they say he is the enemy now. Should you go with them, or hurry home to hide Toki in your garage? Even though you'll be called a traitor, should you go to see Toki off as he as his family are rounded up and sent to an internment camp somewhere in the desert West?

"In times of war," says your father, "people get carried away by fear."

"But Dad," you say, "if we, a Jewish family, were in Germany now, wouldn't you want someone to hide us?"

A third man, a former black infantryman who has lost his left arm in battle, has to decide whether to encourage his sons to join the army. He thinks of moving to Chicago to give his boys a chance to be one of a larger pool of people of draft age and reduce the chance of being called up. But in a just a few days his son Albert receives his draft notice and has to go.

"I'm not fighting in any war for the U.S.," says his other son Jack. "I can't vote. I can't even swim in the town pool!"

Should the father try to convince him to obey the law? He reminds his son about the concentration camps where Jews are slave laborers or die in gas chambers in Germany. Two days later Jack has changed his mind and is off to join the Tuskegee Airmen. But will Jack survive that hazardous duty?

There were few easy choices for Americans on the Home Front, and Gitlin's book on some of the hard decisions gives middle readers a taste of what it was like at home during World War II. It was a time when the fate of the world's people hung in the balance: no one knew what their future would be, and there were few simple right or wrong choices, only different results for each. It was also a time when the choices made by those left behind were critical to their futures. In this book in the You Choose series, the reader has the choice to follow each of the three characters through 37 choices and 21 alternative results of their sometimes life-and-death decisions, a fascinating challenge to elementary and middle school readers, with believable characters and authentic situations from this crucial time in history.

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