Historian Tom Brooks once said, "Knowledge is worthless, if it is not shared." The veracity of this statement is especially poignant when it comes to the horrific subject of war. However, poet Langston Hughes combined this aspect of war with another ugly aspect of American history -- racism and segregation -- in his poem "Will V-Day Be Me- Day Too." It is not only a letter to the American Society of his day pointing out the injustices of the Jim Crow laws, but a reminder for us, today, not to forget what black Americans had to and her, and to learn from past mistakes.
Hughes explains his viewpoint on the social injustices inflicted upon the "Negro American" throughout his poem. "I wear a US uniform. / I've done the enemy much harm, / I've driven back / The Germans and the Japs, / From Burma to the Rhine. / On every battle line, / I've dropped defeat / Into the Fascists' laps." Here, he shows that he is patriotic; he believes in America enough to don a symbolic representation -- a US uniform. He believes that the cause is just -- dropping defeat "into the Fascists' laps." Yet, he still wonders, "When all those foreign folks who've waited -- / Italians, Chinese, Danes -- are liberated. / Will I still be ill-fated / Because I'm black?" It is a perfect example of how black soldiers fought for high ideals in a foreign land, when they were still suffering from a type of enslavement in their homeland. In Hughes's own time, this brought to light the horrible hypocrisy of America, but in our own time, it serves as a reminder of what happened.
In a land where no one remembers the past, the present and future mean so much less. In The Giver by Lois Lowry, the people in the book exist in a state of Sameness. Everyone may have had different roles to fill within the community, but everyone was the same, and the knowledge of history was limited to a single person who carried the weight of Remembrance. These people knew no real joy, because they knew no real pain. In Hughes's poem, we have the opportunity to experience the type of frustration and pain that was experienced by a black soldier at this time. Knowing this type of information makes our lives more meaningful because we will have experienced, albeit vicariously, a broader spectrum of knowledge and emotion.
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This type of pain is especially present in the lines, "I've seen my buddy lying/ Where he fell. / I've watched him dying / I promised him that I would try / To make our land a land / Where his son could be a man -- / And there'd be no Jim Crow birds/Left in our sky." At the time when this poem was written, this stanza was written to appeal to the heartstrings of the whites of America. No matter the color of skin, watching someone die in battle must have been horrific. It also implies that America is not a place where blacks could "be [men]." I do not know what I would have thought if I had heard or read this poem if I had lived in the time right after World War II. I am sure that I probably would have been frustrated with the injustices still practiced in America. Now, with the Jim Crow laws abolished, this stanza serves as important knowledge of the past -- both as a memory of warfare, and as a caution against the evils of segregation.
"Evil" is such a strong word, and should not be thrown around lackadaisically, but it is an appropriate word to describe what was happening in Europe during this time. Freedom was the ultimate goal for the allied forces. An America united was a strong and powerful weapon against fascism. Winston Churchill was elated to learn of the invasion of Pearl Harbor, for it would mean a furious America entering the war, and victory would be assured. If only America was that worked up about its own problems at the time – all "Jim Crow birds" would be nuked from the sky in short order.
Hughes expressed his concern for post World War II America with, "When I take off my uniform, / Will I be safe from harm -- / Our will you do me / As the Germans did the Jews? / When I've helped this world to save, / Shall I still be color's slave? / Or will Victory change / Your antiquated views?" He understands that what happened in the concentration camps was evil, but he does not hesitate to turn America's incensed feelings about foreign fascism toward the type of racism that existed in America for these same feelings of superiority led to the Holocaust.
While something as drastic as what happened to the Jews in Europe was pretty unlikely to happen to black people in America, the underlying ideals of both the foreign war and homeland problems were not harmonious. America would go to war to protect the justice of people who were being targeted for being different, but it would not abolish laws that were aimed at people for being different? It did not seem to add up. Hughes points this out when he writes, "You can't say I didn't fight / To smash the Fascists' might. / You can't say I wasn't with you / in each battle. / As a soldier, and a friend. / When this war comes to an end, / Will you herd me in a Jim Crow car / Like cattle?" This illuminates the hypocrisy of America at that time. The black soldier fought against fascism, but is worried that he will be subjected to it in his homeland at the conclusion of the war. Marva N. Collins once said, "If you can't make a mistake, you can't make anything." And if we do not have the knowledge gained by previous mistakes, our progress will be forever thwarted.
America would eventually triumph over fascism, and it progressed the cause of Freedom forward in foreign lands. I am not sure if victory seemed to be inevitable, but in his poem, Hughes certainly thinks so. The last stanza is his call to action. "Or will you stand up like a man / At home and take your stand / For Democracy? / That's all I ask of you. / When we lay the guns away / To celebrate / Our Victory Day / WILL V-DAY BE ME-DAY, TOO? / That's what I want to know. // Sincerely, / GI Joe." While guns may have been the tool of victory for World War II, Hughes implies that the tools of victory "at home" are both easier and more difficult.
"Stand up like a man," and "take your stand for Democracy," are both seemingly easier said than done. At the time, anyone could say that they stood for Civil Rights, but it took more than words to eliminate the Jim Crow laws and restore the United States to a more ideal form of democracy. Today, this call to action may not be about abolishing the Jim Crow laws. But, it does function as a call to eliminate all forms of social injustice; we can all still take our stand for Democracy. The Jim Crow laws may be abolished, but racism is not dead.
Though "Will V-Day Be Me Day Too" was a poem written about the state of America at the end of World War II, its message still stands to benefit all who will partake. Hughes, from the stance of a black soldier, accurately lit up the problems of America during this time. The knowledge and emotion that can be assimilated from this poem are valuable; both for when it was written, and in the present time. Without this knowledge, the lives of Americans would be different for the worse. Hughes's poetry and the knowledge of history are important reminders to everyone. Mickey Rooney said, "We'll all do right if we can capitalize on our mistakes." In America, the land of capitalism, this is especially important, but we cannot do this unless we remember them.
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The Social Injustice Inflicted upon the Black Soldiers in Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too, a Poem by Langston Hughes. (2023, May 30). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/the-social-injustice-inflicted-upon-the-black-soldiers-in-will-v-day-be-me-day-too-a-poem-by-langston-hughes/
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