Book Reviews : War Was Hell on the Home Front, Too

<i> Dean is a staff writer whose childhood in England during World War II was a steady, fully rationed diet of whale meat, dried eggs, Spam, one candy bar a week and no bananas. </i>

For the Duration by Lee Kennett (Scribners: $15:95, illustrated)

The message, as dictated by the boss to secretary Grace Tully, was a little flat in its phraseology: “Yesterday . . . a date which will live in world history. . . .”

So Roosevelt repunctuated and penciled his first draft into an immortal quote: “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy. . . .”

That’s just one of the fascinations presented by Lee Kennett in this monograph of the home front and just what the Denison Poultry & Egg Co., Martha Raye, the 1942 DeSoto and Daggett County, Utah, did for the duration of World War II.


Although the book takes about as long to get into the action as the Imperial Japanese Navy took to steam within striking distance of Pearl Harbor, once started, it becomes a paper museum, at times entertaining, often saddening but always intriguing.

Unique Civilian Union

The period, of course, represented a unique civilian union when every individual and each domestic move, from Roosevelt to Rosie the Riveter, every wartime board and all emergency administrations were geared to a single purpose--the elevation of public morale to better accept rigid sacrifices needed to inspire a full war effort.

America motored on a minimum gas ration of three gallons a week. Fabric-saving Victory suits were sold sans lapels, pleats or cuffs. And government subsidized grass, 50,000 acres of marijuana near Lexington, Ky., helped swell the nation’s fiber production.


Kennett, professor of history at the University of Georgia in Athens, says these were somber, nonsensical, misguided, tragic, futile, doughty, exhilarating, paranoid, courageous, ingenious, yet often stupid years.

Insurance Rates Skyrocket

When the first Pacific convoy headed for Hawaii two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, maritime insurance rates per $1,000-worth of cargo had skyrocketed from 50 cents to $40.

Kennett has reported much fresh stuff. This book is not beautifully written. It’s pedantic in patches. But when it engrosses, only an air-raid siren will tear you away.

Daggett County, Utah? Automobile tires were rationed during World War II. The number of new tires allowed depended on the population of each area. When the government counted the people in Daggett County, the official allocation was one tire.

Maybe the bishop used it on his unicycle.