Monday, May 25, 2009

Donna Reed, antiwar activist

Many of you have probably seen the front page story in today's New York Times, "Dear Donna: A Pinup So Swell She Kept G.I. Mail," about the cache of letters that soldiers wrote to Donna Reed during World War II. It was discovered in an old shoebox by her children after she died. In many ways the article is typical Memorial Day fare, although often interesting and moving as it quotes from the letters as well as interviews with the very few soldiers still alive who were in touch with the actress by mail or even in person.

The most interesting part of the article, however, comes at the very end:

Gauging the impact that the letters had on Ms. Reed is difficult. “I knew she had feelings about her country and participating as a concerned citizen,” Ms. Owen [her daughter] said. But, she added, her mother did not talk about the letters. Ms. Reed lamented to a female pen pal in 1942 that “my effort to win the war hasn’t amounted to much” and “I wish I could find more to do.”

Later in life, however, Ms. Reed became an ardent antiwar campaigner, serving during the Vietnam era as co-chairwoman of a 285,000-member group called Another Mother for Peace and working for Senator Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential race. In his biography, Mr. Fultz quotes her as saying that “she looked forward to a time when ‘19-year-old boys will no longer be taken away to fight in old men’s battles.’ ”

The Times article, a nicely crafted piece by reporter Larry Rohter, points out that soldiers related particularly well to Donna Reed, because they saw her as the kind of typical American girl they would like to come home to. Perhaps they also sensed the basic decency of someone who didn't think that war was swell.

Update on Jared Diamond and the New Yorker. There have been a lot of interesting comments in the blogosphere about my Science story on the lawsuit against Diamond and the magazine by two men from Papua New Guinea. Here is a particularly thoughtful one by blogger Jessica Palmer, even if it makes some criticisms of my report.


Andrew Hunt said...

I was also thrilled to read that Robert Ryan, star of so many Westerns and film noirs of the 1940s and 1950s, was a dedicated left-winger up until his death in 1973. He so often played thuggish brutes and bigots on the big screen, yet -- like Donna Reed -- he fought the good fight against the Vietnam War. He also fought for Civil Rights and a host of other great causes...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an idea, you sparked at thought from a angle I hadn’t given thoguht to yet. Now lets see if I can do something with it.