May 20, 1985 12:00 PM

by Mark Jonathan Harris, Franklin Mitchell and Steven Schechter

As oral histories of World War II go, this one is nowhere near as comprehensive as The Good War by Studs Terkel (who graciously wrote the introduction to this volume). But it is more manageable in size and focus, zeroing in on what went on stateside during the four years of the war. Numerous photographs from the period are included. It is somewhat strange, though, that this book, taken from a PBS documentary by the three authors, all affiliated with the University of Southern California film school, contains no new photographs of those interviewed. Nevertheless, the book is especially instructive at a time when there is so much discussion of the relationship between those who served in Vietnam and those who were in the United States during that war (the term homefront had an entirely different meaning during Vietnam, when there were battles here, too, albeit of a different kind). On the one hand the contrast in attitudes toward the two wars is obvious. One man is quoted in The Homefront as saying that during World War II, “They were bad, we were good and God was on our side.” There were blackouts, internments of Japanese-Americans and rationing (“choke the Japs with your girdles—we want rubber,” read one store window sign). Other experiences detailed in this book were universal. One woman recalls how World War II combat changed her husband: “[He] couldn’t deal with his feelings, so he sat around and drank and brooded. The men rehashed their war experiences to each other, of course, but he felt he couldn’t talk to me, that I wouldn’t understand, and I don’t think I could have, for I hadn’t been through what he had.” Another woman remembers how she reacted after she received the telegram saying her son had been killed: “I started screaming. I don’t know why, but I did. I screamed and my neighbor next door heard me and she came over…I had prayed so hard before that he would come home, but if he didn’t I prayed that I would have the courage to take it. I don’t know whether I had the courage or not, but it was a terrible feeling—he was lost, he was gone.” The authors don’t provide any biographical information about the 37 people they interviewed, which tends to depersonalize them a little. Still, memories this book contains are so powerful and so vivid, it is inevitably involving. (Perigee, paper, $8.95)

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