Friday, December 14, 2012

The Brooklyn Navy Yard - December 1941

This photograph, released by Life magazine for the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was taken at the Brooklyn Navy Yard within a week of the attack. Probably December 14th, 1941. It wasn’t a spontaneous demonstration in the immediate wake of the attack that Sunday afternoon; the banners are too well done to have been so hastily prepared.
Several things “pop” out at me in this photo, the first being that the buildings are still there. Fulton Avenue is in the extreme background; with the “dry docks” and the river behind the photographer.

The next thing I noticed was the complete absence of women in the workforce. This was something which was about to change drastically. Within a few more months Rosie the Riveter would make her appearance in every shipyard, aircraft manufacturing plant, and ammunition factory in the country. And, this would have a profound effect on the nation once the war was over.
Women would never again settle for less than they had previously been limited to, although it would take decades to overcome discrimination in the workplace. And, even today, aside from the toothless Lillie Ledbetter Act; women in the private sector still remain paid less than their male counterparts. But, that aside, women were now; for the first time, able to build upon their basis of experience; which brought on by the war, helped them to achieve a future for themselves and their daughters. Fields that were formerly closed to them were now wide open.
Some may say that I am misguided in my belief that many social changes have been achieved only as a by-product of war. But, history bears me out, as in the case of African-Americans proving their worth in battle. Although the change in their status was not instantaneous, their service was a stepping stone on the long path to equality.

So, when I look at this photo I see the harbinger of change. I see the determined faces of men who would largely go off to war; but I also see the future of equality in the workplace for women and blacks. War, as such, is the most terrible dysfunction of mankind. It illustrates a complete lack of understanding and communication. It represents; on the one hand; the breakdown of all social order. Yet; on the other hand; it also represents change. And when that change is for the better, you have to wonder about the nature of mankind, and why it takes a war to recognize that. That’s what this photo says to me.

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