’39 Big Things Lead to Big Bombs A Way


marks the year World War II began.  Leading up to the start of the war, many interesting events surrounding it included the ways in which modern society responded and interacted with the Second World War.

Movie poster of John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939)

Arts & Culture

Professor John Brun, the Film Studies professional with the College of Charleston, would want other English majors to note the significance of John Wayne’s first major role in Stagecoach, which premiered in Los Angeles and New York on February 15John Steinbeck‘s novel The Grapes of Wrath, which won both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, was published in April of 1939 and was adapted as a Ford movie almost one year later.  Perhaps a reason for this success was due to the celebration of hard workers in Oklahoma living the American dream during a time when even ordinary pastoral life was threatened – along with most of the western civilized world.  Another popular Midwesterner would become famous in August of 1939, when MGM’s classic musical film The Wizard of Oz, based on L. Frank Baum’s famous novel, and starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, premieres at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Science, Technology & Ideas

Mahatma Gandhi, a spiritual peacekeeper from India (1869 – 1948)

On May 14, 1939, Lina Medina, a Peruvian, becomes the youngest mother in medical history at the age of five when she gives birth to a baby boy.  As a pioneer of Indian peace, Mahatma Gandhi, in July of ’39, seeks to deter Hitler from seeking possible war by writing a personal letter and addressing him as “my friend.”  While one man is trying to prevent peace, on August 2, Einstein simply advises, Franklin D. Roosevelt, an American President to potentially use uranium to construct an atomic bomb.

Social Change

At the very beginning of 1939, Hitler announces his desire for an “export battle” that will increase German foreign exchange holdings while warning “Jewish financers” to not start a war against Germany or face annihilation of the European Jewish race.  In Florida, however, the United States does no better by denying the St. Louis, a ship carrying a cargo of almost one thousand Jewish refugees, permission to land after already being turned away from Cuba.  Due to the United States’ desire to remain uninvolved in WWII, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe where many of its passengers later die in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Photograph of M.S. St. Louis surrounded by smaller vessels in Havana, Cuba

War, Politics & Nature

World War II officially starts in September, but the events leading up to the ensuing war set the stage for its world response or lack of response in some cases.  For example, the “Dutch War Scare” resulted in a change of British policy towards Europe after being warned of German plans to invade the Netherlands and French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet suggests to Soviet Ambassador Jakob Suritz that a “peace front” might deter German attacks.  Four days later, on April 18, 1939, the “peace front” was created and included France, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Poland, and Romania.

Situation in Europe

We are only beginning to explore the poetry surrounding World War II, but the movement, as such, is a reflection of the tremendous conflict surrounding it and poets such as H.D. and Wallace Stevens will give us some terrific insight of post war modernist poetry.

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