Richard J. Perry,
United We Stand: A Visual
Journey of Wartime Patriotism

(Collectors Press, 2002)

Patriotism is hot. No one seems sure whether America is exactly at war right now, but no one wants to be left out if we are. So driving through town you can see flags, usually far too tattered to be properly displayed, and bumpers plastered with stickers that are, at best, bland, and magazine covers littering the roadside that seem to think a huge font makes up for decidedly uninspirational covers. It's such a dull, poorly created display of patriotism as to be downright unpatriotic. Richard Perry takes us away from all this and into a time when goods were rationed, America was definitely at war and patriotic propaganda was well organized and intense with United We Stand: A Visual Journey Of Wartime Patriotism.

Drawing largely from his own impressive collection of memorabilia, Perry gives us a glimpse the daily side of war. The battles of World War II have been memorialized endlessly in films, books and the History Channel, but the feeling of what it's like to simply live in a country at war is often forgotten. Through magazine covers and bond ads, postcards and stories, United We Stand hints at the daily lives of Americans in the war.

Perry is smart enough to give a brief introduction, then step aside and let the collection speak for itself. Buttons, posters, pin-ups and magazines sit quietly, occasionally partnered with a brief explanation of the image or a very short account by someone who lived through the time. I was happy to find so many stories and art pieces from the homefront. Stories of families pinching to help the war effort or cheating to get around rations make history seem more present than vague outlines of a patriotic public.

Though United We Stand isn't as comprehensive a book as might be hoped, there is a healthy variety, with rare trinkets like fans and photo corners on display. There are a few diet guideline papers, and one very helpful brochure on the proper way to display the flag. I especially liked the range of postcards, most off the rack, meant expressly for military men and their families. Even the over-represented and somewhat repetitive pin-up girls are interesting for their variety. The more famous posters, like Rosie the Riveter, are rightly overlooked in favor of unusual fare. One poster woman proclaims "I'm proud ... My husband WANTS me to do my part!" while making an unreadable hand gesture as an old-fashioned husband, complete with pipe, pats her on the back. An unusually classy brooch calls for remembering Pearl Harbor, illustrated by an enormous pearlescent bead. Almost lost in a deluge of "V for Victory" buttons, one softly marks its wearer as a patriotic Chinese American, bringing up so many of the racial politics of the day. A statuette of a downcast pregnant waif bears the inscription "Kilroy Was Here" next to a matchbook illustrated with the long-nosed gag. These small trinkets fill in the gaps between Uncle Sam's pointing finger and Rosie's clenched fist where most people probably lived.

United We Stand may not be the most comprehensive collection of wartime memorabilia ever published, and it certainly doesn't offer the most in-depth analysis. Instead, it creates a small window on a time most of us don't remember firsthand and invites us to be part of it, for a little while. And it looks good doing it.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 28 September 2002

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