Have We Learned Anything?


War gardeners near Washington, D.C. 1918. Harris & Ewing photo, Library of Congress.

My research for the current exhibit, Call of Duty: Kansans in World War II, included events that were happening at the “Homefront” – the civilian sector of a nation at war when its armed  forces are in combat abroad.  Various people, clubs and communities in the United States joined together to help with the war effort “at Home”.  This included a wide variety of actions designed to aid the military and the government or to help civilians survive with less.  Just coming out of the Depression, most Americans already understood how to survive with less and still managed to share with those less fortunate.

People pulled together to conserve resources by rationing.  Sharing ration stamps was not allowed but I have heard many stories of folks who swapped or shared stamps with others to help out.  Children and adults rounded up or saved scrap metal, rubber, fat and paper.  They pulled together with a common purpose.

I see an interesting connection between this sense of community responsibility in the mid-1900’s and today’s trends toward environmental protection and the growing “Lure of the Local” (Great book by Lucy Lippard).  For different reasons, we Americans are again pulling together to recycle or precycle ( i.e. use your own shopping bags and carry your own water bottle), raise urban chickens, and gardens have popped up everywhere.  We now have the terms Locavore, eating foods grown locally and Slow Food, not fast food (McD’s) but cook-it-yourself meals.

Really, I don’t see this as going back to the “good old days” but a looking back to learn what worked and what didn’t.  Everyone can conserve.  I read an interesting article about a doctor who challenged himself to reduce his personal belongings to 50 items.  He said that laundry day was “a breeze” as most of his items were his tools of the trade.   The future of our planet depends on our ability to learn to “Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do or Do without” or we will all do without.