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When you ride alone ...

How does your Freedom Garden grow?

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My mom has a framed poster of Rosie the Riveter above the kitchen sink. As a kid, I knew Rosie as an authoritarian version of Women's Lib. She backed up her bold text message with a clenched fist and a well-developed bicep that demanded you do your part or, in my case, do your own dishes. As a poster-child in men's denim, she looked both hardened and capable while maintaining her femininity: a 1940s super woman. It's no wonder that Rosie's image and her cry, "We can do it!" has been co-opted by feminists. More than that, she inspired women to take action, to trade their aprons and ironing boards for the helmets and coveralls of industrial jobs previously delegated to men only.

Rosie was only a small part of a much larger campaign aimed at motivating Americans to embrace changing roles and address the evolving needs of a country at war. The goal was not simply to look at workforce and conservation issues individually, but to confront them as a unified body.

During World War II, the government issued propaganda to recruit men and women to help the war effort by joining the armed forces, to conserve resources needed for the war, to collect scrap metal and rubber. Some material demonized the enemy. Other posters aimed to criminalize people not contributing to the war effort.

Although oil production had not yet peaked in the United States, it became one of the most important resources to conserve, as huge quantities were diverted from domestic cars to feed the Allied tanks and planes. Uncle Sam launched a full-scale offense to curb gas consumption by offering increased access to buses and trains, which were almost always run at standing-room-only capacity. A series of posters and literature promoted carpooling, walking, and public transit. One of these posters shows a man driving a car with the Fuhrer riding shotgun. The caption reads: "When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler."

This effort is certainly different from our current government's response to diminishing supplies and increased consumption to feed the war. The modern plan includes subsidizing the cost of oil, seeking more oil, and giving huge tax breaks to small businesses that purchase SUVs.

No one could even purchase a new car during WWII.

The way we dress has changed, too. Then, fabrics, metals for zippers, and rubber for the soles of shoes were rationed. This concept that materials being used for the war have to come from somewhere, not merely be pulled from an endless supply is one not fully appreciated by today's consumers or by our current government. Try explaining to a modern back-to-schooler that he or she is only allotted two pairs of shoes per year. Or that there will be fewer presents under the Christmas tree. Try explaining this when our president urges you to "dig deep" in your pockets during the holiday season to keep the economy strong. By buying toys and products made in another country?

Even food was rationed then. Butter, sugar, fresh meats, and milk became hot commodities so much so that a black market was established to trade them. With government encouragement, Americans planted "Victory Gardens," which became so popular, they eventually were responsible for producing 40 percent of the food consumed in the United States. Americans made huge concessions to fill the gaps during the war, because they knew it would end, that these were not life-long sacrifices.

Today, we might plant "Freedom Gardens" although I don't recommend it. A garden is a big commitment, and planting the seeds is only the first step. A Freedom Garden is always under siege. Put a fence up to keep out invaders, spray against pests, water diligently, but you'll forever be pulling weeds, and your neighbors will certainly be checking on how free your garden is.

Aside from the obvious sacrifices in WWII the loss of fathers, husbands, sons, and thereby the important roles that males play fighting the war at home was a constant battle that involved small efforts in every motion of daily life. Americans were seriously invested in the war, and therefore had infinite strength to take drastic steps. Since they felt the war at all times, they had serious motivation to bring about its end.

Back on the Central Coast, the wine and the gas still flow like money into a Victoria's Secret cash register. Some days, I forget completely that we are a nation at war, that we have been at war for five years. It's easy to forget. It's easy to not care while our level of comfort remains high. The steel for military vehicles, tanks, bombs, and airplanes is finite. Even if we can pay to produce more, how are we paying for it with tax cuts? What kind of debt are we racking up, and why aren't we paying for it now? We cannot continue to fight a war with unlimited resources forever. And your great-grandchildren shouldn't have to pay for it.

Kylie Mendonca owns a car, but rides her bike. Share conservation tips and the road at ohkylieo@yahoo.com.

 

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