Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

At War

I keep hearing news readers say that the United States is “at war”. I am not sure what they mean by the use of that prepositional phrase. Its meaning must have changed dramatically over the past 50 years.

I can recall being at war in the 40s. The first thing I remember is that Congress declared war on Germany and Japan. The president asked Congress for those declarations without fabricating any evidence of the need for them, and received both from a Congress united behind the effort.

I was in what was called ‘grammar school’ at that time. Being at war meant that I collected dimes from my neighbors, aunts and uncles, pushed them into tiny pockets on a cardboard card until I filled it. My school collected these cards and used them to buy  war bonds (World War II was a ‘pay-as-you-go’ war). On weekends I collected scrap metal to be used in producing bombs and bullets. My father kept a Victory Garden—a garden city folk cultivated to free commercial food for the war effort, to feed our boys who were fighting overseas.

We didn’t have chrome on our cars and ration books limited the number of tires and gallons of gas we could buy. In fact, anything needed for the war effort was rationed: sugar, meat, candy, and shoes are a few I recall. Every family received a book with a page of tear-off stamps for each rationed essential.

Headlights were painted black except for a narrow quarter-inch line across their middle so that they projected beams too small to be spotted from the sky. In fact, I remember the air raid warnings and drills at night, when we had to close the curtains on all windows and cut off all lights except a minimum that allowed us to function.

A large portion of the movies produced in Hollywood were about the war and supported the war effort. In fact, Hollywood produced many movies solely for the war effort: to promote war bonds, conservation on the home front, vigilance for spies. Many of the new songs of the time were about the war and the servicemen fighting it: Over There, Wild Blue Yonder, You’re in the Army Now. Real music with patriotic words.

Women over here took over the jobs left vacant by our boys over there. I can recall the first woman I ever saw wearing “britches”, as my mother called slacks disapprovingly. The woman wearing those britches was holding down a man’s job. High school and college girls were active in the USO Clubs that provided whole-hearted wholesome entertainment for our boys on leave. Our president, FDR, the Congress, and the country were solidly behind every aspect of the war effort.

Does this sound like where we are today? Or has the phrase ‘at war’ changed dramatically?

3 Responses to “At War”

  1. Candy Says:

    First, because I know you like language accents and all, I’m gonna go ahead and type this up in my 100% Dixie, Gen. Lee musta been my grandpaw southern accent. Wow.. that was sure refreshin’ and very inspirational, might I add. I dunno if yer question was rhetorical. But, I thought I might answer it. It certainly does not sound like where our country is today. In fact, that country seems like an entirely different country than the one I have lived in for all my life. That country seems like a great, honorable place to live compared to the country in which I live.. the USofA. How enlightenin’. I have long supported the troops overseas. I send ’em whatever I can afford and some things I can’t afford. But, that don’t really matter.. cause it sure is hard to walk around the neighborhood and try to get a couple folks to write a Christmas card for a soldier. It’s another difference in Rebel and Yankee behavior. I can go down to the local baptist church and approach people with a sweet southern accent.. and they’re awfully happy to be involved with sendin’ stuff off to our boys overseas. But, if the rebel ain’t in ’em, they don’t want nothin’ to do with any war effort, troop support, or anything else that might be seen somehow as “supportin’ the war.” I am certainly no politician and admit readily that I am not one who completely understands the goal to this “war,” but I do understand the troops I write letters to and send supplies to and bake goodies for.. they’re American, like me.. and they probably didn’t join the service so they could proudly march off to battle… they joined to bring honor and security to their fellow citizens.. the people they love and the land they love. Thanks for writin’ this it was a nice thing to read this evenin.
    Yours Truly,

  2. rbeard Says:


    Yes, the question was rather rhetorical but I do get a bit weary of presidents announcing the “United States” is at war without checking with the citizens of the United States first. WWII was worse (though shorter) than the one we are in now but at least all Americans were involved in it, not just a few hamheads in Washington who send our poor sons and daughters to fight because they (sons and daughters) happened to be in uniform at the wrong time.

    As for the southern drawl, why, yes, it does help. My wonderful wife has protected hers through 40 years of living just above the Mason-Dixon line and she finds it works pretty well up here, too.

  3. Gwyneth Says:

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