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Putting It in Perspective

Roy Christman is a retired political science professor and has a farm in Pennsylvania.

I was born in November 1942, less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor and 24 years after the end of World War I. Civil War vets were scarce, but a few still lived. The Civil War had ended 77 years before.

I was raised on a farm. According to the U.S. Census figures, approximately one-fourth of Americans lived on farms in 1942. Today two percent of Americans are farmers.

In 1942 the world population was about 2.3 billion people. Today we're up to roughly 7.8 billion. Those billions use comparatively more plastics, burn up far more energy, and create tons more garbage than their earlier counterparts.

Life expectancy for U.S. white males in 1940 was about 60.8 years. Women clocked in at 65.2. World life expectancy in 1940 was under 50. Now it is about 70, although it has dropped recently because of Covid.

As a kid growing up in the 1940s, most of the men I knew were veterans, including my uncles and older cousins. They would have been embarrassed to be called heroes. They said things like, "We had a job to do." They hardly ever talked about their experiences in the war.

In July 1948, when I was five, Truman issued an executive order desegregating the armed forces. A year before that Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1954, when I was in 6th grade, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in "Brown v. Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education," overturning its 1896 "Plessey v. Ferguson" decision that had ruled "separate but equal" was legal.

In 1966 during a summer internship in Washington I fell in love with a secretary in the agency. There were two problems: first, she was married (her husband was in Vietnam) and second, even if she hadn't been married, she was Black, and in Virginia you could be sentenced to prison for what was known as "miscegenation." The wonderfully-named case "Loving v. Virginia" a year later finally voided laws against interracial marriage, although this present Court might again allow them.









One of the biggest changes in the last 80 years is the way we treat gays. We had gays in our graduating class (Palmerton High, Class of '60, Go Bombers!), but no one was out of the closet. To call someone queer could start a fight. I know that the "Q" in LGBTQ means "queer," but I will never be comfortable calling someone that.

While women made amazing progress toward equality during World War II, most of the female war industry workers were pushed back into the kitchen in the post-war era. When I graduated from high school (Go Bombers!), the four main options for women were nurse, teacher, secretary, and housewife. Women were not even able to control their own bodies until the"Roe v. Wade" decision in 1973. (OK, not everything has changed.)

In the Forties some papers ran a feature called "Ripley's Believe It or Not." I remember seeing pictures of primitive African tribes with metal rings through their ears and noses. People with tattoos fell into two camps–Navy vets and ex-cons. Everyone smoked, and doctors touted different cigarette brands.

Eighty years ago people were not as stupid as they are now. Q-Anon followers, conspiracy buffs, anti-vaxxers–where did these people come from? I remember how happy we all were when the polio vaccine was developed. Now people would refuse it. They do refuse it.

I will freely admit to all kinds of improvements over the last eighty years. Dental care and open heart surgery spring to mind, and I've mentioned a few others. On the other hand, nuclear weapons had not yet been invented, global warming was not known, pornography was not available with just a few key strokes, and teenagers read books. Even movies were better. Eight days after I was born "Casablanca" was released

~ Roy Christman


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