A Different Screaming Must Come Across the Sky Now



“A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.” — the first line of Thomas Pynchon’s incomparable Gravity’s Rainbow (describing a rocket portending apocalypse during the Second World War)

I was reading Harold G. Vatter’s The US Economy in World War II  while riding through San Joaquin County, California yesterday, and I had to ask my friend who was driving to pull over. “Pull over and keep quiet,” I asked. Demanded, actually. I was stunned by what I had come across, and I had to have time to think what it meant. This article spells out what I came up with.

From early 1942 through the end of 1944 — nearly three years — there were essentially no cars produced in the United States. I was born during that period, and I always thought that I was quite familiar with what went on in the country during my very early formative years… during the so-called Good War… the fight against fascism abroad. But I was not.

At home, I did know that Roosevelt met with automobile industry leaders and told them that the country would rely heavily on them to reach arms production goals. My impression, though, was that they wanted to continue making cars to some degree, and simply added on the production of armaments. And that they got their way. I was wrong.

After his State of the Union address and his back and forth with the industry leaders, Roosevelt took advantage of being at the helm, and made sure that the sale of new cars would be banned. In addition to a ban on the production and sale of cars for private use, residential and highway construction was halted, and driving for pleasure was banned. I knew when I was a youngster that strategic goods — including tires, gasoline, fuel oil, and sugar — were rationed beginning in 1942. I understood that cutting back on private consumption of these goods freed up material resources that were vital to the war effort.

I did not know that even during the Depression the U.S. was producing three million or more cars per year, and that ALL THAT came to a halt virtually overnight.

In her book No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how various firms converted. A sparkplug factory was among the first to switch to the production of machine guns. Soon a manufacturer of stoves was producing lifeboats. A merry-go-round factory was making gun mounts; a toy company was turning out compasses; a corset manufacturer was producing grenade belts; and a pinball machine plant began to make armor-piercing shells. This sort of thing was talked about within my family as I grew into my teen years.

In retrospect, the speed of conversion from a peacetime to a wartime economy is stunning. The harnessing of U.S. industrial power tipped the scales decisively toward the Allied Forces, reversing the tide of the war. Germany and Japan, already fully extended, could not counter that effort. I do not want to applaud the war effort too much here, as I am convinced there was another way to deal with the horror abroad, and I certainly don’t want to give the impression that any of our wartime leaders deserve unqualified praise. That said, for the purpose of this article, I am obliged to quote Winston Churchill:

“The United States is like a giant boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate.”

Well, there are limits, but… suffice it to say that the thrust of Churchill’s words holds true. Even today. There is a way for our country to show the way to sustainability and survival, and tip the scales respecting our horrid environmental momentum. We have the material means and the psychological advantage necessary to transform our movement toward the precipice virtually overnight. This, essentially, has been pointed out by a great number of activist writers, of course, but specifics have been lacking…  and — truth be told — many of those who have provided power point plans for transformation do not really believe that we can — at this late juncture — deal with the Big Picture in time. They say one thing, but readers can viscerally feel that their abstract thoughts about hope on the horizon lack the conviction of blood on fire. Are devoid of any deep belief that their theoretical notions could really be implemented.

If I’m wrong about my analysis of the writers and counterpart speakers on the lecture circuit, I am not wrong about the takeaway I see among their readers and listeners. Apocalyptic thinking and feeling dominates. Few would argue with that, I believe. And if anyone does… well, I direct them to the bulk of offerings provided by Netflix these days. It’s wall-to-wall nihilism in one form or another, yes? Yes.

The GOOD NEWS, though, is that although the federal level is lost to us at the moment, we can indeed do something in solidarity that could lead to transforming the Big Picture on the national plane… whether or not a climate denier Republican or warlike Democrat secures the White House in the next electoral charade.

How? Courtesy of some influential gubernatorial office. Any gubernatorial office, actually, would do for starters. When I was expecting to take a teaching job in the Southwest I wrote a hopeful piece for my favorite alternative media outlet which provides a telegraphic sound bite for a game plan which would give us all a shot at being at the helm for once… without the taint of career politicans. It touches upon how securing significant reins of power within a single U.S. state could send positive ripples worldwide, and I urge readers to review it, and then contact me for a discussion about how to proceed expeditiously. For we must move quickly now to deal with our horrid momentum.

I pray that it will be obvious to the reader that WE CAN… mobilize anew. And that to get the ball rolling each reader must step back from the Nihilism now in vogue, and become the rogue citizen who stands out from the crowd screaming something Positive across the sky, even if it’s not what I recommend.

Richard Martin Oxman has been a worldwide educator for half a century and a proactive world citizen for longer than that. This piece was written in less than 30′ and is unedited… partly to encourage direct contact from readers at the earliest possible moment… for a discussion of viable options for action in solidarity. He can be reached at [email protected].


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