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Yale 62

By George Snider

In those dark days of 1939 – 1941, when the Class of 1962 was born, war loomed over growing portions of the world. Germany had invaded Poland, Japan had invaded China and both conflicts were quickly spreading. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a neutral United States went to war as well.

In an instant, we became war babies. Many of our fathers went off to fight abroad, while our mothers did what they could to protect the home front and support the troops. Ration cards told families how much food and gas could be bought, while women did without nylons and children without trikes and bikes.

Some 80 years later, how much of our lives have been framed by war.

Five years following the end of World War II, my mother and I were listening to the radio in our kitchen when news that the North had invaded South Korea interrupted the evening’s programming. If war in Korea was not enough to haunt young children’s minds, along came the Civil Defense duck-and-cover drills of the early 1950s, when officials feared that a Russian nuclear attack might happen at any time on U.S. soil. Against that backdrop, my parents sent me off to Culver Military Academy in 1954, with its memorials to the dead of Argonne, Chateau-Thierry and other World War I battlefields.

At Yale in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, we enjoyed a brief respite from major wars.

Then, at age 23, I was serving as an Army officer at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana when some of the captains’ wives started whispering about their husbands’ “secret orders” to Vietnam, previously site of the French Indochina War. Returning to civilian life in late 1964, I watched as the peace and prosperity of the early ‘60s began to sour. On my television set that fateful year of 1968, I watched Chicago police attacking antiwar protesters at the Democratic National Convention. Almost two years later, on May 4, 1970, came news of a more deadly attack on students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. It felt like war at home, as well as in Vietnam.

With peace at last in Vietnam, hedonism exploded – perhaps best exemplified by New York City’s Studio 54 with its beautiful (and sometimes naked) celebrities, open drug use and Donald Trump sightings. I had moved in 1978 from Procter & Gamble to BF Goodrich, whose executives favored the yellow ties, suspenders and cigars so popular in the 1980s. On a more serious note, the Cold War was winding down, and in 1987 Ronald Reagan, standing at the Brandenburg Gate, urged the Soviet Union’s Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Gorbachev didn’t, but citizens of East Berlin did, in 1989.

War, however, was never far away. On January 16, 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced the start of what would be called Operation Desert Storm to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The first Gulf War was followed by the second in 2003, launched by the second President Bush. My wife and I watched the “shock and awe” of the Baghdad bombing, broadcast live. In between, of course, had come 9/11 – which led U.S. and allied forces into Afghanistan, where they remain today. Over these past 19 years, various portions of the Middle East have been at war with each other, with terrorist organizations and, in the case of Syria, with their own citizens.

Apart from armed conflict, we have experienced other wars as well – for instance, Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs. Individually, many of us have fought against racism, sexism, environmental pollution, income inequality and more. In fact, as early as spring break of junior year at Yale, I can recall a few brave students heading South to join the civil rights movement. In more recent times, we have seen the emergence of cyberattacks as a brand-new tool of war.

Right now, as if we needed another front on which to fight, we have the war against COVID-19, a global pandemic whose ultimate defeat or containment may be some months or even years away (if not, as Trump had promised, by Easter). If there is any solace for the Class of 1962, it lies in the fact that we have been through all kinds of war – time and time again. Somehow the world has always muddled through.

We invite your comments.

14 comments to Wartime

  • Steve Hoiward

    Spectacular article, George

  • Jim Pearson

    Your closing sentence used the phrase muddled through, and “muddled through” is indeed the best that we Americans can hope for, because we are presently being “led” by an incompetent, egotistical fool.

  • Jan Greer

    Well said, George. I hope it “works” this time around, as well. And well said by you, too, Jim P.

    • George Snider

      Thanks as well, Jan. I am presently happy each day that I wake up well — although not getting out except for walks is getting old. And it’s only April 1.

  • Bill Weber

    George, Nice job on recanting our 80 (or nearly) years of life here in the USA. It brought back memories for me such as:
    Remembering the black outs in the Monongela Valley when I lived in Carleroi,PA and the “Mon” valley was where 50% 0f the world’s steel was produced in the war years.
    Remembering when a neighbor’s son was one of the first soldiers in our community to be killed in the Pacific.
    When our family moved to Corning, NY and my father was given a speeding ticket for exceeding the 35 mph limit in 1945.
    When the factory whistles went off signaling the end of the European war in May of 1945.

    I lived in England from 1965 thru 1970 and remember well the news of the Vietnam war as it was presented in the newspapers and TV. There were some American students protesting and I remember a person I think was named Clinton being involved in one of the protest groups. The debates at the Oxford Union had some American service personnel extolling their adventures in the war. At one of the lectures I attended the speaker said in the most explicit terms the US endeavor was doomed to failure in what he described as a guerilla war, similar to the failures the British had suffered in Africa in the 1950’s and very early 1960’s.

    Upon my return home to Corning, NY the general attitude seemed to be somewhere between mild interest in the war, the protests and patriotism. Having been gone for the formative years of the Vietnam war, I did not realize what was happening locally.

    And then,when the second Iraq disaster was emerging, I remember (painfully)correspondence with Steve Buck, which in a short time,I discovered how wrong I was in extolling the virtues of whatever it took to eliminate Saddam, not realizing the terrible consequences to follow.

    And now, as I look back on my first 80 years, I wish I had been as clever as I am today!!

  • Ken Merkey

    Great article, George.

    Times like this bring out both the best and the worst in people, even well educated folks such as us. The Never-Trumpers just can’t get over the loss in 2016. Can you imagine that Hillary would have done a better job. This is the biggest pandemic in our lifetime, one of the biggest ever. Had San Fran Nan had her way we would have funded Planned Parenthood in the relief act just passed. It was bad enough that NPR and the Kennedy Center got funded. What do they have to do with recovery?

    Sleepy Joe called Trump a xenophobe for closing the border to China. Now that shows leadership and foresight. I could go on for pages about how liberals relish bashing the leadership while making no contribution to the issue. Does it feel good to bash Trump? What does it really accomplish?

    Now is the time to stick together and work for the common good. As my Daddy used to say: If you can’t speak well of someone, then hold your peace.

    • George Snider

      Thanks, Ken. While I am not a Trump fan, he is the only president we’ve got at the moment. He seems to be getting religion on the seriousness of the pandemic.

      To you and other classmates, stay well!

  • George Snider

    Hi Steve. Rare praise indeed, which I appreciate very much.

    Stay healthy!

  • Wyllys Terry

    Great retrospective. Hope the ending works as well this time.
    From a different perspective, We live 6 months each year in Antigua, Guatemala. This is a very poor country with the oligarchy firmly in control. The poor (50+%) have no safety net and are out looking for work and scrounging food. The government claims few cases, 39 as of yesterday in a country of 17M, but none of the quarantine precautions are being well observed and there is limited testing. My projection, and that of medical friends here, is that it will explode in the next few weeks.
    They are trying to be ready but tests, masks, ventilators, and other protection gear are practically nonexistent. We are competing with the US for all of this. Guess who wins!
    Just another view! Stay safe everyone.

  • George R Snider III

    So proud of my father for his historical perspective on how our country has responded to war and crisis over the last 80 years. I too, served in the military, and as a U.S. Army Reserve First Lieutenant and Battalion S-2 in the Fall of 1990, I remember the phone call I received one evening. There was an emergency staff meeting at the Battalion that night. Upon arrival, we were told we were a bunch of lucky SOB’s… our mobilization to go to Kuwait had just been rescinded 30 minutes prior. So with anxious anticipation, I kept my duffel bag packed beside my front door for six months. That may be my parallel universe now. It may very well take us several months to get through this current crisis with this new enemy. But as my father so eloquently put it, our country will persevere. We will muddle through. Well done, Dad.