Petal Amidst the Thorns - Part 4: A Grim Unanimity
December 12, 1941
Things are spiraling out of control, and I don’t think the world will ever be the same. It seems we aren’t just at war with Japan anymore. Yesterday, both Italy and Germany declared war against us also. The President immediately asked for a declaration of war against them and Congress unanimously voted in favor.
I know it’s not very ladylike, but I snuck the paper out of the garbage where father had thrown it after reading it to prevent my mother and I from “becoming unduly distressed,” by its contents. I don’t think he was even going to tell us about it, at least not right away. I copied down some of what the paper said and at least on this occasion, I can understand why father though my mother and I might be distressed.
The paper quoted President Roosevelt as saying, “The forces endeavoring to enslave the entire world now are moving toward this hemisphere. Never before has there been a greater challenge to life, liberty and civilization." I don’t know what I thought the war was about, exactly, but are these three countries really aiming to enslave the entire world? There’s no one I can ask and none of my friends at school know anything more than I do.
Jeremy stayed home sick from school that day and spent all of it in his room. I heard mother tell father that he wouldn’t eat any of the meals she had left outside his door. I tried to sneak him up a bowl of ice cream, rocky road, his favorite, but he just told me to go away. I just don’t understand what is happening.
Somehow, it didn’t seem so scary when it was just Japan. Maybe because they seem like they’re from a place on the other side of the earth and I never knew anything about them. We never studied Japanese history in school or Asian history or whatnot. So I figured if they didn’t rate important enough to include in any of my classes, how dangerous could they be?
I know they destroyed a lot of our ships and planes in Hawaii but that was because we weren’t paying attention and they caught us by surprise. I just thought that now that we are paying attention this whole war thing would not really become anything major, that we could send troops over to wherever they are and just put an end to things before you know it.
“The forces endeavoring to enslave the entire world now are moving toward this hemisphere. Never before has there been a greater challenge to life, liberty and civilization."— President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
After what Mrs. Roosevelt said, well, I guess I felt confident nothing much would change, even with the opportunities she spoke of. Truthfully, after that day, things seemed to go back to normal for the most part. Oh, mom and dad were on edge, preoccupied I suppose you’d say. Preoccupied to the point they didn’t seem to notice me much. Not that they ever do, except to find fault.
They always say their job as parents is to make sure I am always taken care of and that I turn into a person that knows how to ensure the same for my children. It made me wonder what the point is, Dear Diary, you know what I mean? As if until I’m considered an adult I’m supposed to just keep my mouth shut and do what my parents tell me to do, act the way they say a young lady is supposed to act if she is to find a good match.
Then when I do get married it starts all over again except then I have to keep my mouth shut, look pretty and provide a peaceful sanctuary for my husband to come home to. And when I have children I have to turn the girls into what I am, while encouraging the boys to become what my husband is. It just doesn’t seem like much of a life, Dear Diary. If that’s all there is why do I have to study arithmetic and history. Women do not stoop to doing sums nor do they need to know the course of time when all that is expected of them is to keep a pleasant countenance and peaceful home for their husbands.
I know this sounds selfish, but that’s why I’m just admitting this to you. It seems like my entire life is about someone else, not me. It’s like I have to please this one or that one, make sure everyone is taken care of, and through that I’ll be provided for. But I don’t just want to be provided for. I don’t know if I’ll ever be afforded one of those opportunities of which Mrs. Roosevelt spoke. Yet the hope and excitement I felt when just thinking about another option for my life, even if it doesn’t last forever, awoke something within me.
If I could at least live a little in the time between being my parent’s child and my husband’s wife, I think I could do what I’m supposed to for everyone and be satisfied. I hadn’t even had such thoughts as these until there was the chance of something else, something that I could do for me. It never crossed my mind that there might be. And now with the war growing and mother and father so preoccupied and Jeremy in a temper much of the time, well, I just don’t know what to think.
Jeremy graduates this year and you think he’d be happy about it. Senior year is supposed to be the best. They don’t expect nearly as much out of you except for the boys going to college and even for them, by now they’ll have sent all their applications in so nothing they do can mess things up. Jeremy’s were all in over a month ago.
Of course, he’s expected to go to Harvard, Father’s alma mater but he also applied to Georgetown, Dartmouth, Cornell and the University of Michigan. Though I can’t admit it out loud, I’m hoping he’ll go to Georgetown so he’ll close by. I know he wouldn’t still live at home but at least if he’s in the same city, I could see him regularly and Harvard’s so far away. Father said there’s a train that runs between Baltimore and Cambridge where the University is. But it takes practically a day to get there so I can’t imagine he’d be home much.
Oh, but I was writing about the war. I can’t say I much understand it. Other than what I read in the paper, I only know a bit more from what I overheard Father discussing with Mr. Winthrop and Mr. Allistair when they came over last night. If father or mother knew that I could listen in from the vent in large storage closet which happens to be situated over father’s study, well, I don’t have to tell you how much trouble I would be in.
Jeremy showed me how easily you can hear what goes on below when I was only 9 or 10 year old. I can’t say I’ve had much cause to bother with listening in. Father and his friends are quite boring really, and much of the time they seem to go on about stocks and bonds and land and politics, none of which I find particularly interesting. Yet times such as these, the ability to learn a little something about what is happening given no one will tell me straight out, is of benefit.
They didn’t say much about Italy, just that their leader, a man named Mussolini, made the declaration of war from a terrace overlooking a place called “Piazza Venezia.” Had it not been the location of a declaration of war, specifically war against us, I might have thought the name quite romantic. Father said Mussolini made his announcement from a balcony, as if thinking he was “Romeo seducing a nation.” I just read that to mean he’s pretentious, though this is not an ideal quality for a man who is running a nation that has just declared war against you.
As for Germany, evidently they are ones that seem to be running the show for the other side. Even though Italy declared war against the U.S. first, Mr. Allistair is under the impressions that was because Germany didn’t want to look to eager to enter into war with us. It seems that Germany is run by a Chancellor father refers to as, “that funny little mustached man,” a man name Adolf Hitler. To hear tell of it, Hitler doesn’t much care for the President or Mrs. Roosevelt for that matter, and has been complaining about his policy for several years now.
Germany apparently is backing Japan because they think that once the U.S. is defeated, Japan will help Germany take over Russia. As for why they want Russia, I cannot tell you, Dear Diary. Mr. Winthrop seemed to be of the opinion that Germany wants to “take over the world,” but that seems a bit extreme to me. No one can truly rule the entire world, can they?
Mr. Allistair said that Hitler is a madman, that he’s stirring up anti-American sentiment by accusing President Roosevelt of having started the war because he’s against peace in Europe. This does seem rather mad to me. Why on earth would the President be against peace in Europe or anywhere for that matter? And as for starting the war, we were minding our own business when Japan decided to come out of nowhere and attack us, sinking much of our naval force and killing well over a thousand of our young men. So how could it be our fault?
We’re not looking to take over the world, so what could we possibly get out of such a war? Surely they didn’t expect us not to fight back after Japan attacked us. It’s not like we intended to go after Italy and Germany also. But once they declared war on us we really had no other choice. It’s not as if we could simply act like an ostrich and stick our heads in the sand until this all blew over. I’m becoming frightened of where all this may end, Dear Diary. How can we possibly fight against three nations? I’d better leave off here, Dear Diary. For some reason tonight, writing about all this is making me rather anxious instead of the opposite. It’s all just so very confusing. Goodnight Dear Diary.
© 2017 Natalie Frank