On the Home Front


By Elizabeth J. Normen

(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. 2003 Nov/Dec/Jan 2004

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Last spring, during the buildup to the war with Iraq, when opinions and passions ran high both against the war and in support of President Bush, this issue of HOG RIVER JOURNAL was born. In discussing a possible war-themed issue, HRJ’s usually collegial editorial team got a bit hot under its collective collar. The topic was hard to ignore, not only because of the looming conflict but because the State of Connecticut has participated in and been affected by every American war since the Revolution.

I grew up (albeit in the comfort of my suburban living room) during the Vietnam War. Seared into my young memory were images of the war and protest as announced on front pages of newspapers and from the nightly television news. In our discussions of a war-themed issue of HRJ, a number of themes quickly emerged that—for me—put the current magazine conflict in stark relief against past wartime experiences. I offer two reflections.

#1. The Tenor of Political Protest. One legacy of my childhood remains in clear focus 30 years later: the “average” person’s participation in civic culture, through voting, political protest, and speaking out, is at the core of a healthy democracy. Fast forward to 2003. Both pro-Bush and antiwar groups waged protests in my town last spring. Oddly, the opposing sides seemed most upset—not by political or ideological differences but by a lack of courtesy. Letters to the editor in The Hartford Courant expressed outrage at the rudeness of the opposing group when allocation of sidewalk space was contested. Have we forgotten that substantive public discourse can—and sometimes did get ugly? War is an issue of life and death, after all.

#2. To Shop or Not to Shop? War is also about collective sacrifice, but you’d hardly know it stateside in 2003. Certainly now, as in the past, individual sacrifices are made as families lose loved ones, are separated, and endure hardships. Most of us, however, have gone about our daily business relatively untouched. Not so in times past, when everyday tasks were proscribed, often for long periods, by ration books, collection drives, shortages, air raid drills, blackouts, and war bond initiatives. Home front patriotism in WWII was defined by the exhortation, “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.” (Emphasis is in the original, see page 22) Those most cynical among us would say it is now defined as “Support the economy and go shopping!”

You will find many opportunities for reflection in this issue, too. We’ve temporarily set aside our usual format to let images, objects, and eyewitness testimonies speak directly to the patriotism, protest, industrial innovation, heroism, and horror of wartimes past. In these primary documents, you’ll find a few strongly objectionable words. We’ve included them exactly as they appeared in the original. We’d like to also thank a number of readers for bringing material to our attention.

Happy Anniversary!

With this issue HOG RIVER JOURNAL also begins its second year of publication. We are grateful to our subscribers, advertisers, writers, and organizational partners for supporting the launch of this unique non-profit publication about Hartford and the region’s history, culture, and the arts. Subscribers are what it’s all about—so help us spread the word. Share us with your book club, favorite history or social studies teacher, local historical society, library, and community

organization. You never know when a story about your town, your neighborhood, or your family might appear. I can personally attest to the latter. The photo on page 23 of Emelia Gworek was selected by photo editor Nancy Albert from thousands of Library of Congress images without any knowledge that she was my husband’s grandmother! My family had no knowledge of this photo and is thrilled with its discovery. Unfortunately, the names of the women in the accompanying photos were not recorded. Do you know them? If you do, please let us know and if you’d like to explore the Library of Congress photo collection, visit loc.gov.

Read more stories from Vol 2, #1 2003 Nov/Dec/Jan 2004

Read more stories about Connecticut at War on our TOPICS page


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