“There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover/ Tomorrow, when the world is free.”
That’s one of those songs that makes me choke up every dang time I hear it. I can’t sing it through without crying. I think it is because of all the hopes and might-have-beens in the lyrics, of just how strongly the singer wants everything to be better, for the bad guys to be gone, and for Johnny to be home again.
And I know that’s not how the story ended.
I always want to stop teaching the class with V-J day, with the victory parades and home comings, with the sailor kissing the nurse, with men cheering because they will not be invading Japan. I want it to end with
and they all live happily ever after, just like the song says.
But it didn’t happen that way, because of the Soviet Union, and the Chinese Communists and Chinese Nationalists, and European imperial powers that would not go quietly into history, and native peoples who wanted the imperialists gone so they could dominate the other tribes/clans/religions/what-have-you. Looking back, we know that for the US, the rest of 1945 was a respite, the quiet end of the chapter, and that in a very few years, China would be taken over by the Communists, Korea would explode into war, and “Love and laughter and peace ever after” would fade back into the realm of Plato’s Ideals, or of a future, better world that would only come after a great Last Battle and the coming of the New Jerusalem.
For some reason I’m having more trouble getting through this part of the teaching season than before. I think because last year I lost Grandpa’ Carl, Tex, Werner, and a number of other WWII vets that I worked with and whose stories and experiences I cherished. And because I want the story to end with a happily-ever-after, want it more than I can remember ever wanting it before. Dang if I know why. Perhaps because I’m watching the global situation, watching the shadows spread over Europe again, watching freedom of speech restricted in Canada and Germany and other places in the name of “protecting” people from “false news” or “hurtful ideas” and I want to yell, “D-mn it, don’t you remember how this ended last time?!?”
It’s hard to remember that for a lot of people, at least in the US and Canada and other parts of the free world, things did go very well after WWII, and they prospered, and raised happy families, and lived to see a better world, one where disease didn’t kill so many children, where everyone who wanted them could have electric lights, where food became plentiful and clothing cheap and speech was far freer than ever before, and more and more people had hope for an even better world. We hear so much about how bad things were in the 1950s-1970s that even I tend to forget that no, in many ways the world got better for a lot of people. Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution “filled the mouth of famine” for millions of people (as Kipling put it.) The US and western Europe gave how many millions of people hope that an alternative existed? Untold numbers, no matter how hard the dictators tried to stop the word from getting through.
But I still want one happily-ever-after in history, just one day when the students and I can cheer, and celebrate a victory, and leave feeling like all will be well forever. But we have to wait for 1989 to do that. And I have to get through that lesson without breaking down with tears of memory and joy. I didn’t make it last year. Perhaps I never will.