Saturday, January 21, 2012

Uncivil Defense

With Seattle now fully on a war footing, everyone here is expected to contribute to the effort. Easier said than done. Of course we're united in our commitment to victory. But it isn't obvious how best to help out.

Certainly sacrifice is going to be part of it. Most of us will have to quit driving whether we want to or not due tire rationing. I see exhortations in the paper every day reminding Seattleites not to waste food or electricity, and I've heard of plans for scrap metal drives to collect raw material for armaments.

But then things get murkier. Should we housewives go to work or just tend the home fires? Should we buy war bonds? Should we be keeping an eye on the Japanese on their suburban farms and little shops downtown, or the Italians in Rainier Avenue's "Garlic Gulch?" (No one here seems very concerned about German Americans. We have a large Scandinavian community over in the Ballard neighborhood, known to all as "Snoose Hollow." As one of my neighbors said, "How do you tell all those Krauts and Scandahoovians apart?")

Some people seem to see their duties much more clearly than others do. Our neighborhood, like most in Seattle and around the country, has volunteer civil-defense wardens whose job is to assist the Army. They've been trained to teach us first aid, evacuation routes, and how to spot enemy aircraft and saboteurs. But as with any activity in which some people have authority over others, the temptation to boss the neighbors about and settle old scores can be hard to resist. We've got one little fellow from a few streets away who's turned into an absolute martinet. He seems to take particular delight in loudly barking criticism over poorly-fitting gas masks or incorrectly wrapped bandages.

At one training session Susan and I attended, I thought she was going to slap the warden in front of everyone! It seems Susan's son, eight-year-old Jimmy, wants to learn to be a plane-spotter. He's got all his diagrams of Zeroes and Nakajimas and is keen to help. But the warden had the gall to say in front of everyone that a crippled child couldn't possibly be given such responsibilities. I saw Jimmy's lip tremble a bit but like the good little man he is he held back his tears. Susan, on the other hand, felt no need to exercise such restraint. "How dare you!" she shouted at the warden. "He's a second-grader in leg braces, but he's already twice the man you'll ever be!" The warden turned bright red and sputtered, but didn't dare answer back due to the glares he got from the rest of us through our gas masks.

So a plane-spotter Jimmy will be, though I fear we haven't heard the last from the warden.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Interesting photo - I don't think I can see one woman in that pic. Things sure were changed by the war.