Off the Battlefield and Socks

An old photo depicting men and women knitting socks flashes before my mind’s eye. Young and old, men and women, the wounded. Knitting socks was a way to support the troops of World War I. Today a trip to Walmart can easily supply a package of cotton socks. Wool socks, sturdy and durable might take a bit more searching to find, but a visit to a good sporting goods store, especially one selling skiing supplies, will do the trick. The days when proper foot care required handmade socks are long gone, and with the passage of time the memory of the dedicated service provided by the sock makers has faded. It is estimated that sixty-five million men were mobilized to fight in WWI, and each soldier would have needed socks as he went to war, and then more socks to replace the ones worn out from long marches or damp trenches. On the home front, knitting campaigns called people to action. Idle hands at home meant soldiers on the battlefield would suffer.

The technological advancements of the early 1900s did not eliminate the need for handmade socks, and as the world entered a second war, the patriotic call again went out for more socks. However, technology had made war so much more destructive. The bombing campaigns of WWII left towns in rubble and displaced an estimated sixty million Europeans. When the war ended, the hardships of war did not. Basic essentials for survival were still in desperate need. The infrastructure destroyed by military campaigns had to be rebuilt before the suffering could end. Battlefields had to be cleared and communities reestablished. Unfortunately, the humanitarian efforts of busy hands and caring hearts ran into political roadblocks. Decimated nations could not process and deliver the goods effectively. A care package from a long-distant relative or a long-distance friend had an easier time getting through to a family in need than did the large scale aid from relief organizations.

By the end of the twentieth century, handmade socks were a novelty rather than a necessity, and nations had learned valuable lessons about both the effects of war on and off the battlefield, and the need for post-war recovery efforts to eliminate humanitarian crises once war had ceased. As the century ended, the severity of war had not necessarily diminished, but the percentage of the population directly affected by war had. War still displaced, disrupted, and decimated local populations, but seldom reached the distant homelands of the foreign nations providing military support for weak governments. Therefore, the patriotic call to serve those who sacrificed and suffered in the name of liberty, freedom, or national interest was easily drowned out by the pleasurable distractions of life in a homeland untouched by war. By the end of the twentieth century, war, much like homemade socks, was a novelty rather than a reality – something other people might do, but not something that had a place in the modern, fast-paced, safer world many were sure the new century would bring.

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