December 7, 1941 was a day that will “live in infamy,’ in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Approximately 2,400 people were killed in the surprise air raid on the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii.
The great majority of those killed were men, but few were fathers. Why?
Because society held a strong belief that fathers belonged at home, supporting their families and helping to raise their children. Hence, fathers were discouraged from volunteering for military service prior to World War II, and most servicemen on December 7, 2007 were not fathers.
The strong belief in stay-at-home fatherhood soon collided with the huge manpower needs of World War II. The military draft, which had expired over twenty years earlier, was reinstated. But even then, fathers of children born before July, 1942 received a special deferment from the draft. It was only in October, 1943 that the draft boards were forced to turn to fathers as a source of manpower.
This measure was unpopular. Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana introduced legislation to postpone this provision. A poll in the fall of 1943 disclosed that over two-thirds of Americans believed it was preferable to draft single men employed in military-critical industries than to draft fathers. The public also preferred to draft single women for non-combat military service in order to avoid drafting fathers. Still another proposal to avoid drafting fathers called for drafting seventeen-year-old boys instead of fathers. As pollster George Gallup commented, “. . . drafting fathers would lead to the breaking up of too many families where there are children.’
When the war ended, both the public and the soldiers believed that fathers should be high on the list for early discharge.
What a change in attitudes! Today, society seems to consider fathers dispensable, except for the cash they earn.
(Acknowledgments to David Blankenhorns” Fatherless America, which provided many of the facts reported above, and which can be consulted for additional details and references.)
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.