In today’s society, teens are often associated with rebellion and irrational viewpoints, but has it always been this way? Have you ever wondered where the stigma around adolescence originated? With the recent rise in frequency of school shootings, many people have reflected on the effect that terrorism has on teenagers. The world has been in a state of war against terror for almost twenty years now. People may be focusing on how teens are affected by terror now, but only because it is very obvious. What people haven’t focused on that much, is the less obvious; how high school students were affected by the trauma of World War II. Focusing on this is important, especially to high school students, because it sheds light on a perspective that has always lived in the dark. By bringing attention to this viewpoint, it will make past wars seem much more real to people who didn’t live through them. Also, today’s teens will probably reflect on how living through a war like World War II would affect their lives, and how living in a world that has been in a constant war against terrorism has affected them now and in the future. People have always focused on “greatest generation”, but the teens are often forgotten about. Even though the teenagers during World War II weren’t directly involved in military, government, or production, they still were very involved in and affected by the war. They were neglected and forgotten about by the older generations which caused a new, more negative view of teenagers and widespread acts of rebellion.
In 1939, Germany was Nazi occupied and ruled under Adolf Hitler. Germany, allied with Italy and Japan, formed the Axis powers just three years earlier. These countries worked to spread the fascist world to as many countries as possible, conquering countries like an ancient empire would. On September 1st, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, conquering and occupying it. This led the Allied powers of Britain and France to declare war on Germany. War was on. In under a year after declaration of war, France was taken over by Germany. The British were fighting a losing battle. From September of 1940 to May of ‘41, Great Britain was under Blitzkrieg, constant bombing of major cities. The phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” came from these events when the British citizens became uneasily used to these bombing raids. But, on December 7th, 1941, the tide of the war was changed. The Empire of Japan flew over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, dropping bombs on American soil. This raid consisted of 3,700 dead Americans and the loss of 18 ships and over 160 aircraft. Soon after, the United States declared war on Japan and all of its allies. As Indiana University puts it, students listened on the radio at school to their president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, declare “war with Japan! At the time when these adolescents were preparing to greet maturity,” they had to worry if they would live to see tomorrow. The lives of teenagers during that time would be changed forever.
One way that teenagers were affected during the war is, since they were in an age that stood on the edge of childhood and brink of adulthood, they were neglected as a generation, and that led to a change in the view of teenagers. World War II, even though it was a horrific event, did bring the U.S. together as a nation. The adult generation(s) during the war got wrapped up in extreme national pride and war propaganda, and the result was a very united nation. But this was only true amongst the adults. For the adolescents, this national pride was lacking. Even though they were so close to adulthood, they didn’t have the political rights of adults. They were too old to be treated with care like younger children, but too young to be treated as adults. In fact, teens started to be disrespected by adults. Since the teens were being neglected, but had no way to show their emotions, they started to do things that were considered “acting out” or being rebellious. Historian, Joseph Kett stated, “adolescence was essentially a conception of behavior imposed on youth, rather than an empirical assessment of the way in which young people actually behaved. The architects of adolescence used biology and psychology … to justify the promotion among young people of norms of behavior that were freighted with middle-class values.”(Ugland). So, teens had to “be rebellious” in order to show their inner feelings, but the older generation saw it, ignorantly, as just “teens being teens”. Basically, World War II was a major cause of the bad reputation associated with teenagers. Since this young generation was ignored and forgotten about during the war, the teenage perspective has been ignored ever since and this causes generations to make different decisions than they would have it they felt like they people cared more about them.
Another way teens were affected during World War II, is that, since they were neglected, various acts of rebellion were springing up all across the nation. The teenagers’ parents’ focus was completely on the war effort. While it makes sense that their focus would be on the war, focusing on the upcoming generation should have also been of importance. If the older generation wanted to ensure a good future, they would have to make sure that the future, aka the teenagers, were stable. But since they didn’t do that, this whole generation basically became a generation of “latchkey kids”. Adolescents everywhere were rising up in rebellion. “When you look at the ideas and lifestyle of the 1960s counterculture, it was, not surprisingly, the polar opposite of the mainstream culture of 1950s suburbia”(The Ultimate). Since they were being so oppressed by the government and the war, this whole generation became almost completely anti-government and anti-war. This extreme
viewpoint resulted ultimately in the greatness of the 1960’s. Art and music were taking new forms and taking over the world. Rock music was especially on the rise. Bands like The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, and The Who became icons for and voices of this generation. So even though, withstand major hindsight, can look back on the 1960s as influential and wonderful, it is still a major result of the effects that the war had on the teens of this era.
During World War II, and ever since, the perspective of adolescence has been pushed into a corner. The viewpoints of this age group doesn’t seem to matter to most because most people don’t realize how much teens can actually do and how much potential of contributing to society they hold. With the ongoing war on terror and recent rise in frequency of school shootings, society can deeply reflect on how these things are affecting its current generation of high school age kids. If the government continues to ignore the voices of teens today, how might they act in the future as adults? It is likely that there could be a whole other generation like the renowned generation of the 1960’s. Focusing on the viewpoint of the teens is important because that means that the focus is simultaneously on the future.
Article by Lily Altom & Video by Garrett Watkins
Davis, Arthur T. “Being a Teenager During World War II at Ocean City, Maryland.” Ocean City Museum, 2006, www.ocmuseum.org/index.php/site/oc-memories_article/being_a_teenager_during_world_war_ii_at_ocean_city_maryland. Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.
“Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.” History Net, www.historynet.com/pearl-harbor. Accessed 15 Mar. 2018.
Sundin, Sarah. “Make It Do – Scrap Drives in World War II.” Sarah Sundin, 12 June 2017, www.sarahsundin.com/make-it-do-scrap-drives-in-world-war-ii-2/. Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.
Ugland, Richard M. “Viewpoints and Morale of Urban High School Students during World War II—Indianapolis as a Case Study.” Indiana Magazine of History, June 1981, scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/10301/14313. Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.
“The Ultimate Generation Gap of the 1960s.” Soapboxie, soapboxie.com/misc/The-Ultimate-Generation-Gap-of-the-1960s. Accessed 15 Mar. 2018.
“The Velvet Underground and Nico.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Velvet_Underground_%26_Nico. Accessed 15 Mar. 2018.