Veterans Day in the United States honors everyone who served in the U.S. military. Since Veterans Day is coming up on November 11, I'm reading Molly Guptill Manning’s nonfiction book, When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II.
Americans were hesitant—and sometimes outright opposed—to enter the war in Europe. After all, a mere eighteen years had passed from the armistice of the Great War in 1918 to the invasion of Poland in 1939.
Hitler’s military rampage across eastern and western Europe eliminated any doubts that Americans might have had regarding Nazi goals to obliterate not only armed forces, but also free thought, democracies, and the cultures in which they thrived. After France fell in June 1940, the U.S. Congress passed, in September 1940, the Selective Training and Service Act: the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Act into law on September 16. Barely fifteen months later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
In 1939, the U.S. armed forces consisted of outdated equipment, scant supplies, and approximately 334,000 volunteers. From 1941 to 1945, the armed forces grew rapidly from approximately 1.8 million to over 12 million men and women in uniform. Throughout the war, books played a critical role in building morale and winning the battle for ideas.
Current-day readers like you and me can enjoy the engrossing story of that role in Manning's 2014 book, When Books Went to War. You'll learn why and how Americans made fiction and nonfiction books accessible to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.
Are you looking for time capsules back into the 20th century?
Advertising is a perennial repository of culture brimming with hints of "the way it was."
Some of my favorite ads recruit women to the Women's Army Corps (WAC). I started collecting WAC advertisements while writing my novel, Women's Company - The Minerva Girls, about WACs in the 1960s and 1970s.
I invite you to take a look at two ads that I added recently to my collection. Both ads appeared in popular women's magazines.
Advertising is a perennial repository of culture.
Consider the advertisements used by the U.S. Army to recruit women during World War II. You’ll find a wealth of hints regarding not only the culture of the Army, but also the American public. As you look at the ads I’ve selected, ask yourself, “Who’s in the ad? Who’s left out? Are they depicted in an accurate or idealized fashion? Why or why not?”
Nine Movies? Plus One.
Memorial Day is in May in the U.S., and that makes this month a good time to catch up on military movies. Since my novel, Women’s Company – The Minerva Girls, is about three young women in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I’ll focus on ten movies that feature women in the WAC.
Many of the selected films not only cast well-known actors of the period, but also stars such as Tony Curtis, Cary Grant, William Holden, Janet Leigh, Rosalind Russell, Ann Sheridan, Lana Turner, and Richard Widmark.
Most of the stories share an underlying theme: how Army service changes a person.
Not until July 1, 1943, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed a compromise bill passed by the U.S. Congress to establish the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) giving women full military status.
Minerva is the ancient Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom, warfare, and handicrafts.
Unlike the god of warfare, Mars, she had nothing to do with bloodlust and brute animal strength. When Minerva showed up on the battlefield, victory came through courage, sound strategy, and military skill. After the fighting was over, she led through victory to peace and prosperity. Not surprisingly, the WAC chose her--in her Greek form as Pallas Athene--to be their insignia, and I chose her to be in the title of my novel Women's Company - The Minerva Girls.
What's So Important About Insignia?
The armed forces take insignia quite seriously. The creation of insignia for the WAC initially stumped designers. Why? Because insignia usually depict the function of the corps concerned and, when The Women's Army (and at that time Auxiliary) Corps was created in 1942, no one knew exactly what work the women would do.
According to historian Mattie Treadwell, an early draft for the insignia tried to resemble a busy-bee-like insect. In the eyes of the WAAC director, however, it looked like a bug, and she "had no desire to be called the Queen Bee." When designers came up with Pallas Athene--a goddess associated with "a variety of womanly virtues and no vices either womanly or godlike"--she won hands down.
What Does the Insignia Look Like?
A profile of the head of the Greek goddess, Pallas Athene, was selected for the WAC's lapel insignia, together with the traditional U.S. cut out for officers, and on discs for enlisted women.
Lynne Schall is the author of three novels: Women's Company - The Minerva Girls (2016), Cloud County Persuasion (2018), and Cloud County Harvest (November 2022). She and her family live in Kansas, USA.