Published Date

June 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 34: Shall I Go Back to School? (1945)

We all know how successful German propaganda was in convincing the German people that they really were destined to rule the world but that they were victimized after the last war. We have seen how skillfully their propaganda worked to confuse and divide the people of neighboring countries until they became easy prey for invasion and conquest. We have seen what happened when the German people signed over their minds and bodies to the will of a power-mad dictator. We have been fighting against that very system. We have been fighting to preserve the freedom of the individual and the right of minorities to exist and to express their opinions freely.

The soldier may feel that once a military victory is won the things for which he has been fighting will be assured. He may be unutterably weary of the whole business and eager to get home and forget the war as soon as possible. But it will be just as easy to “lose the peace” as it would have been to lose the war.


We’ve got to keep alert

Constant vigilance on the part of all the people will be needed to preserve the gains of military victory which have been won at a terrible sacrifice of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” The postwar period in the world and in the United States will very likely be one of tremendous social tensions and upheavals. Unless we are on our guard, we may be fooled by demagogues and by the propaganda spread by self-seeking groups.

The great role of education

How can we prevent the stretching of social tensions to the breaking point and possibly beyond it to social upheaval?

There is no sure way. But an enlightened public opinion is the best safeguard against these dangers. Our public schools were founded in that belief.

Present-day problems are so complex, however, that a broad education is essential if the citizens of this country are to make their democracy real and if an effective “American way of life” is to be preserved. If we understand how our social and international problems arose and how men have tried to meet them in the past, we are better equipped to deal with them now and in the future. We won’t be fooled by false prophets who propose overly simple solutions. And we won’t be so likely to repeat past mistakes.

It takes training to make an effective citizen just as it takes training to make an effective worker. That’s a job the schools are prepared to do.

Why do we behave like human beings?

Getting along with other people is one of the most important ingredients of job success, citizenship, friendship, and a happy marriage and family life. Why do people behave the way they do? How can a man put his ideas across? What are the motives behind what people think and do?

All, of us acquire some knowledge and skill in getting along with people through our own observation and experience. Some are naturally gifted in getting along with their fellow men. Others learn by studying such things as psychology and human behavior. The more a man knows about human nature, the better able he is to understand other people-his fellow workers, his friends, his own wife and children-and himself. It is a matter of give and take, not all give and certainly not all take.

Curiosity, we like to think, is a peculiarly American characteristic. What ever may be the truth, the inquisitive bent of our scientists and the ingenuity of our inventors in making practical applications of the discoveries of science have stood us in good stead. The desire to see “What makes it tick” may not be healthy when a delayed-action bomb is the object, but a similar curiosity has led to many peacetime gains.

Here’s to your health

Understanding how the body works is just as important as understanding how the mind works. The human body is a complicated machine. It is subject to all sorts of breakdowns due to disease, accident, and lack of proper care. Yet an amazing amount of ignorance and superstition about health crowds the minds of most people. They are not ignorant or superstitious from choice. But they simply have not been given the right information or enough of it.

If a man has had an opportunity to study health matters under proper guidance, he may often avoid harmful or dangerous practices and save himself much grief. With accurate information he can also help protect the health of his wife and children.

The question of community or public health is of course closely related to that of personal health. A man who understands health matters will usually be eager to promote community health services. He will see that efforts to safeguard the physical welfare of the whole community give further protection to himself and his family. He will realize the importance of a sound health program in the schools and other public welfare agencies.

Sound health knowledge is an asset which pays good returns throughout a man’s life. Where can one get information that is free from bias, free from false advertising, free from superstitious error? Where can one get complete and accurate knowledge on matters of personal and community health? That’s what the schools are prepared to give.

What makes it tick?

There are certain other life satisfactions which center around the individual’s own personal interests and activities. We Americans have always been a people with a big bump of curiosity. We want to know the why of things. And that very trait has contributed much to the great scientific and industrial progress of our country. Out of it have come many important discoveries and developments-the automobile, the telegraph, the telephone, the airplane. In this world of modern scientific and engineering development we all like to know enough about science to beable to understand the principles behind common physical and chemical phenomena. It is satisfying to be able to grasp the meaning of new inventions and discoveries. It is gratifying to be able to contribute more than mere surface opinions to scientific conversations and discussions.

What is atomic energy and what are its possibilities? Shall we ever have machines operated by atomic energy?

Will it be practical to manufacture automobile bodies out of plastics?

One does not have to be a research physicist or chemist to discuss these questions. But intelligent and informed discussion can come only if one has a general background in physical science. That’s what the schools are prepared to give.

That creative urge

Creative activity, doing things on your own in fields such as art, music, literature, or handicrafts may bring great satisfactions. Some people like to study art, for example, so that they can try their hand at drawing or painting. For them there is a deep and abiding satisfaction in knowing how to sketch a portrait in pencil, or to paint a landscape in water colors.

Other people study art or music so that they can better understand what men have expressed with a brush or a pencil or a sheet of music. These are different kinds of languages. If you have tried writing or painting or musical composition or even fine cabinetmaking yourself, you can get great enjoyment out of what other people have done in the same line.

Americans have a heritage of interest and proficiency in various handicrafts. We are a people who have always prided ourselves on our ingenuity. The early settlers had to put things together out of the crudest of raw materials to meet their needs. They learned to make houses out of logs, instead of the finished lumber used in Europe. They made baskets and buckets of birch bark. They boiled and skimmed tallow into which they dipped candlewicks to light their primitive homes. The settlers who later pushed into the vast western stretches of the continent faced similar difficulties, and solved them in the same clever ways.

We are still a nation of craftsmen, pretty handy with tools, although handicraft activity is now practiced mostly as a hobby. But some basic training in the arts and crafts is a sound means of providing an outlet for our creative urges. And that’s another thing the schools are prepared to give.

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