FIRST PLACE HS ESSAY CONTEST WINNER:
Margot Brose, Northstar Academy, Southaven, MS
The War Within
The most intense battles of the Second World War were not always fought on the battlefield. Great warfare was sometimes waged in the hearts of men, even the hearts of the bravest leaders who served the United States during this period. Just as men like President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower battled everything from political pressure to homesickness, I too fought these internal wars when I traveled to India as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Even as an inexperienced teenager, I prepared for success abroad by keeping an open mind and taking responsibility for my role as a student ambassador.
In December of 1941, the United States was shaken to its core by the infamous Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, which resulted in over 2,000 American casualties and marked the country’s entrance into World War II. This thrust the spotlight onto President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he faced political pressure to immediately strike back against Japan. As he entered into the Arcadia Conference in the weeks following the attack, this expectation from the American public rested on his shoulders. However, he kept his mind open to the strategic goals of the Allies, putting their needs ahead of the pressure he faced. As he entered into terse discussions with the leaders of the Allied nations, open-mindedness on his part was crucial. In this way, Roosevelt decided against exclusively focusing on the Pacific Theater at that point. Instead, he gave much-needed relief to the Allies in North Africa and Europe. This set the United States on the path toward playing a significant role in the Allies’ victory.
Open-mindedness also played a key role in my own plans for success abroad. When my plane touched down in Mumbai, India, on a steamy August night, I knew very little about the country. I had read extensively about my new home, but no book in the world would truly prepare me for life in this electric nation. From the northern Himalayas to the southern jungles, India offers a rich tapestry that blends countless religions, cultures, and languages. Thusly, preconceived notions simply would not do. Instead, I prepared to open my mind to this multifaceted culture so that I could learn as much as possible about India. By casting aside my own ideas about the way things were, I took an important step in my journey as an exchange student. I hoped this would endear me to the locals and allow me to acclimate to the culture gracefully. In this way, President Roosevelt and I poised ourselves for success similarly. He set aside his own preconceived ideas to collaborate with the Allies toward effective strategy in the war. I planned to keep an open mind as I entered into India, allowing me to better fulfill my role as a student ambassador.
However, even the best-laid plans can be fraught with difficulty. In implementing President Roosevelt’s orders abroad, General Dwight D. Eisenhower had a frustrating experience with the divided factions of the Allies. This resulted in the German takeover of Italy’s military operations after the country had fallen to the Allies. As Roosevelt installed him as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe to fix this mess, Eisenhower pined for his simpler life at home. In a poignant Christmas letter to his wife, Mamie, he wrote, “I think I've had a good case of homesickness lately. Nothing has been exactly right & everybody [around] me is having a tough time. I try to hang on to some shreds of a good disposition, but it does get tough at times.” However, he overcame the gnawing homesickness and the incredible crush of pressure brought on by his new responsibilities. He perceived how his role as General affected his country and his world and behaved accordingly. In an inspiring message he penned the following year to the soldiers who would march on Normandy Beach at D-Day, Eisenhower said, “The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.… [Y]ou will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.” By focusing on a higher cause than his own feelings, Eisenhower put himself in the proper mindset for victory.
In this way, I too had to overcome inner turmoil that arose during my time abroad. The first few months were fraught with culture shock and homesickness as I tried to acclimate. Mumbai, a city of twenty million, sometimes overwhelmed me in comparison to my upbringing in rural Wyoming. The city is polluted and crowded with crumbling infrastructure and widespread corruption; the pressure to thrive in such a place often felt crushing. However, even in the darkest and saddest hours of my exchange, I stayed the course. When I wanted to give up, I focused on my goal: I was in India to represent my country with dignity while experiencing a completely different way of life. Keeping this in mind, I took responsibility for my role as a student ambassador and filled my life with volunteer work, cultural classes, and many, many new people. The crushing sensation ebbed, and Mumbai became my home. By comprehending my role in the bigger picture, I was able to set aside my personal feelings and successfully fulfill my role as an exchange student.
The greatest and most terrible wars are often those fought internally. However, both giants of history and naïve teenagers are capable of overcoming anything when they are willing to fight these battles to open their minds and focus on the big picture. With this outlook, I will plunge into college and focus on my future as a diplomat for the United States where I hope to serve the world as General Eisenhower and President Roosevelt did. Drawing inspiration from the remarkable accomplishments of American leaders during World War II, I will plunge into preparations for this career with my preconceptions behind me and my place in the world before me.
Student Travel – WWII Educational Tours
High school and college students, learn the leadership principles that helped win WWII on a trip to France or during a weeklong residential program in New Orleans. College credit is available, and space is limited.
See You Next Year! HS Yearbooks from WWII
Collected from across the United States, the words and pictures of these yearbooks present a new opportunity to experience the many challenges, setbacks and triumphs of the war through the eyes of America’s youth.
The Victory Gardens of WWII
Visit the Classroom Victory Garden Project website to learn about food production during WWII, find lesson plans and activities for elementary students, get tips for starting your own garden and try out simple Victory Garden recipes!
The Science and Technology of WWII
Visit our new interactive website to learn about wartime technical and scientific advances that forever changed our world. Incorporates STEM principles to use in the classroom.
Kids Corner: Fun and Games!
Make your own propaganda posters, test your memory, solve puzzles and more! Learn about World War II and have fun at the same time.