As he waited for Dr. Padelford’s class on Browning poetry to commence, my father liked to remember, “I saw this vision enter the room, dressed to the nines.” The vision was my mother. The University of Washington arboretum, nearing completion, was blossoming with co-eds who strolled in their “whooppee socks” (according to “The Daily”) and diaphanous skirts (according to my father). But love wasn’t all that was in the air.
Imagine falling in love knowing the world was about to explode.
That winter quarter, Harold J. Laski arrived on campus as the Walker-Ames lecturer. The internationally prominent political economist from the University of London immediately aroused a storm of controversy for his Marxist views. Besides class lectures, he presented a series of seven public lectures to capacity crowds of 3,000. At the last, U.W. students twice attempted to rush the doors after Meany Auditorium had filled. Almost 3,000 were turned away.
War was inevitable, Laski told the crowd, and democracies must fight to stop Fascism. By then, France and Great Britain had recognized Franco’s government in Spain. “It is no accident but inherent in the Fascist state that its practitioners are proficient in the practice of human cruelty,” The Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted him as saying. “Fascism and war are interchangeable terms. The necessity is inherent in the Fascist state. Dictatorships can not live in peace except in an expanding economy. That day has passed in Western Europe.”
A few weeks later, John Gunther, a prominent European correspondent and commentator declared before another near capacity crowd in Meany hall that Hitler, the “Napolean of Europe,” would not be appeased by British policy. “Feeding the tiger will only make him hungrier and stronger.”
Less than a month later, the Nazi’s occupied Czechoslovakia. A column by Gordon Pates in “The Daily” noted, “…Efficiently, swiftly, ruthlessly, (Hitler) has exercised (sic) Czechoslovakia from the body of Europe with all the skill of an accomplished surgeon… By so doing he established his sovereignty over Central Europe, gained economic control of the rich Danubian basin, reduced at least eight, at most ten, small nations to the status of vassals of the Third Reich.”
In three months, Hitler would order the gassing of mentally and physically disabled persons.
My father and mother remained in the U District after they graduated in June. My father remained active on campus, where he studied law. He may have heard or read the fall address of Dr. Lee Paul Sieg, President of the university, who told students, in part:
“What is this war? Why is this war? What can education do in these dark days?
As I see it, this conflict is focussed on a principle that 25 years ago was only in the outer fringe of our consciousness. Other wars have been chiefly wars of aggression or expansion. This war is a war to establish the dignity of man. It may not answer a question, but it sharply sets it forth. And this is the question. Does the individual exist for the state or does the state exist for the individual? But, one might ask, why should one country which places the individual first, go to war with another country which places the state first? … The first country probably disclaims any intention of interfering with the second one. But if it does not interfere, its own life may be in jeopardy. And then what of us in the United States of America, believing as we surely do in the rights of man? What is our stake in this appalling war? Our 3000 miles from the scene of conflict may lull us into a feeling of security, and complete freedom of strife….But our world truly has shrunk in both time and distance…. Neutrality may seem to unthinking minds easy of achievement. But our civilizations are so intricately woven, that genuine neutrality is most difficult, and the danger of our getting into war is by no means a trivial one.
There is a positive way to peace for our country, but it is a hard way, as we shall see….”
My father, “love in bloom,” as he called himself later, had to have been torn as 1939 turned to 1940, 40 to 41: cuddle with my mother, or defend the dignity of man?
January: Nationalist troops seize Barcelona
February: France and Great Britain recognize the Franco government in Spain.
March 15: Nazis occupy all of Czechoslovakia
May 1: In Germany, gassings of the mentally and physically disabled begins.
May 22: Hitler signs Pact of Steel treaty with Mussolini.
August: Germany and the USSR sign a non-aggression pact.
September 1: German forces invade Poland and WWII begins.
September 3: Britain and France declare war on Germany.
September 5: The U.S. declares its neutrality
September 25: The Luftwaffe bomb Warsaw. 40,000 civilians killed.
November 30: Soviet Union invades Finland; the winter war begins.
March 30: Japan establishes puppet Chinese government in Nanking.
May 9-10: Germany invades Norway and Denmark, then Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
June 10: Italy declares war on Britain and France.
June 14: German army enters Paris.
July: The Soviet Union absorbs Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
September 7: German Blitz begins against Great Britain.
September 13: Italian forces invade Egypt.
October: Germany enters Romania and Italy invades Greece.
In February 1941, my father joined the 5th Reserve Officers’ Commissioning Corps of the United States Marines.