Loss of innocence in a more innocent era

September 11, 2001 was only the latest of several times that America supposedly has lost its innocence. An argument could be made that American naiveté was lost when we entered World War I in 1917, or when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, or when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, or when President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974.

Still, what happened six years ago today in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania was a uniquely chilling moment in our history. And I think that something in our national psyche did indeed change profoundly on that frightful day.

It seems appropriate to show the flag in a respectful way on today's somber anniversary. But I think we've lost much of the respect we once had for displaying the flag. Today, the American flag seems to be more of a sign that says "Open for business" at gas stations and used car lots or a demand that says "Look at me, I insist that I'm patriotic."

And it's commonplace to see a flag that's been left outside for so long that it's become shredded and torn. I think this bothers me the most--that someone would put up a flag as a sign of patriotism and then ignore it until it becomes a red, white and blue rag. I still have my 1959 edition of my Boy Scout Handbook. The section headed "Taking Care of the Flag," says this: "The flag should be cleaned when soiled, mended when torn. When worn beyond repair, destroy it privately by burning."

I dug up these poignant photos of patriotic observances at the Library of Congress website. They were shot in the early 1940s, another era when America was shedding its innocence and undergoing profound changes with our entry into World War II.

The first photo shows a color guard of black soldiers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The exact date of the photo and the name of the photographer are unknown, but it was shot sometime between 1941 and 1945. In those days, the U.S. military, like the rest of the country, was strictly segregated.

These Boy Scouts were photographed in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. in July 1941. The poster they're holding shows the flags of the nations supporting the United Nations Fight for Freedom. The photographer was John Rous.

In May 1943, photographer John Collier got this shot of a sailor and his girlfriend visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. There's no flag displayed in this photo, but it does show the intent of Memorial Day--honoring our war dead. At that time, there was only one tomb that held an unidentified American soldier who was killed in World War I. Later, they added unidentified American servicemen from World War II and the Korean War and changed the name to the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The woman standing beneath the American flag and the state flag of Georgia was photographed by Jack Delano in 1941.

This last photo was shot in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1942 by photographer John Vachon. The exact date isn't known, but it looks like it may have been July 4th.

These photos can be viewed at the Library of Congress website at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsachtml/fsowhome.html.

No comments: