“Daddy’s Gone to War”

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This is not a work of nostalgia. While it does mention many home front practices—scrap drives, savings bonds, and wartime radio—which will certainly strike a chord in those who, like the author, were children at the time, the thrust of the work is heavily psychological and sociological. Tuttle, an historian by trade, believes in the importance of using the insights of the social sciences, especially child and developmental psychology, to understand historical events; this book is really a case study, demonstrating that belief.

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The unique feature of the work comes from some 2500 letters from those who were children at the time of the war; Tuttle solicited the letters through ads in the one hundred largest U.S. newspapers, asking for perspectives and memories from those years. These responses, with some interviews, the author has judiciously used throughout the book, lending authenticity and personality to what would otherwise be a highly specialized and rather dull study in social psychology, heavily larded with charts and statistics.

In addition to those children whose fathers did go off to war, Tuttle considers the effects on children whose parents (one or both) worked shifts in the new war industries. Also he interweaves narratives of black and poor-white experiences as many of these groups moved north to take advantage of the defense jobs.

As might well be expected, children’s experiences and the effects of these experiences differed greatly. Tuttle finds that the most important variables were gender and whether the child was a “depression baby” or born a bit later, about 1940 or after. A final chapter demonstrates that these home front children are still affected in middle age by their wartime childhood experiences.

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