TS Elliot suggested in his magnum opus, The Waste Land, that April is the cruelest month, and we are all aware (especially in the United Kingdom!) how April showers bring May flowers, but what other significance does this month have for Americans?
Like in the month of March, there are not many national holidays in April, but there is one day in the month that all residents of the United States observe with either joy or apprehension: tax day, which falls on April 15th each year.
In addition to suggested reads by staff members and upcoming events in both April and May at the Memorial Library, today’s blog post will be looking at the IRS, tax day, and the history behind this momentous observance. We’ll also be discussing a select item from our recently re-organized archives, in the first installment of an ongoing series: Interesting Items from the 2nd Air Division Archives.
Interesting Items from the 2nd Air Division Archives
This is an example of a pamphlet sent to American GIs produced by the US War Department in 1943. The purpose of the document is to make Americans familiar with the differences in culture and custom between these two allied nations. In the introduction to this pamphlet, similar to the one above archived by the University of Texas, it states:
“You are going to Great Britain as part of an Allied Offensive—to meet Hitler and beat him on his own ground. For the time being, you will be Britain’s guest. The purpose of this guide is to start getting you acquainted with the British, their country and their ways… So it is only common sense to understand that the first and major duty Hitler has given his propaganda chiefs is to separate Britain and America and spread distrust between them. If he can do that his chance of winning might return.”
The text then goes into more detail regarding specific aspects of British life in subsequent chapters, focusing on topics like sport, pub culture and what to discuss (and not discuss!) with an Englishmen. In one chapter entitled The People, Their Customs and Manners, the booklet advises,
“The British have seen a good many Americans, and they like Americans. They will like your frankness as long as it is friendly. They are not given to back-slapping and they are shy about showing their affections. But once they get to like you, they make the best friends in the world.”
This document also warns of some important differences in urban life in the UK with the following suggestion:
“The British make much of Sunday. All the shops are closed, and in the small towns there is not much to do. You had better follow the example of the British and try to spend the day in the country.”
This item is charming, somewhat naïve, and occasionally will bring a chuckle or at least a smile to the lips of the reader on both sides of the pond!
A Foray into American Culture
History of Federal Income Tax Day and the Internal Revenue Service
The Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, is the bureau of United States Federal Government that is responsible for the collection of taxes, under the direction of the Department of the Treasury. The first income tax was assessed in 1862, in order to raise funds for the Civil War. This tax was proposed as an emergency measure, copied from the British system of income taxation. During the Reconstruction, the funds were used to support the building of infrastructure projects such as railroads. Ten years later, once the government coffers were replenished, the tax was allowed to expire. After the Supreme Court decision Pollack v Farmer’s Loan and Trust Co, which declared this type of collection unconstitutional, it looked as if citizens would never again be required to pay income tax. However, several subsequent American Presidents (including Theodore Roosevelt) nonetheless tried to re-establish this means of bolstering government funds. Finally, in 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the US Constitution overturned earlier legislation and income tax was re-established. Today the IRS collects 2.4 trillion dollars annually and processes over 234 million returns.
Suggested Reads by Staff
Hollywood by Charles Bukowski
Many are familiar with the poetry of Charles Bukowski, but fewer may be aware of his autobiographical prose. In Hollywood, the author recounts his involvement in the making of Barfly, a biopic of Bukowski and his rise to fame. Although the names have been changed to protect the guilty, references are clear especially for those who have seen the 1987 film. Irreverently written in the style that has come to define him, the book is a hilarious account of the egos, pitfalls and foibles inherent to the American film industry.
Writer Charles Bukowski, Actor Mickey Rourke and Director Barbet Schroeder on the set of the film.
Linda McCarthy is an American Scholar at the Second Air Division Memorial Library. She is currently in her third year of her PhD in Media Studies at the University of East Anglia.
A Higher Call by Adam Makos
This is an account of a remarkable event that took place in the skies above Germany in 1943. An American B-17 bomber flown by Charlie Brown, riddled with bullets and flak, is approached by a German fighter plane. The German pilot, Franz Stigler, takes one look at the damage done to Ye Olde Pub and her crew and decides that he will not open fire.
After trying and failing to signal to Brown to land the plane in occupied territory, Stigler then escorts the damaged bomber to the coast and departs with a salute. Brown would put the bomber down at Seething, a Second Air Division airfield.
Brown was told to keep the story secret, and Stigler for obvious reasons did not tell his superiors of his actions. Incredibly, decades after the war, Charlie managed to get in contact with the man who had spared Ye Olde Pub and her crew. He and Franz became best of friends, dying a few months apart of old age.
Researched by Makos with extensive interviews of Brown and Stigler, this astonishing account demonstrates that even in total war, acts of compassion can still be shared by enemies.
A painting by John Shaw depicting the event.
Tom Fullam is Library and Information Assistant at the Second Air Division Memorial Library.
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
The perfect book for tax season, The Pale King is the last novel that American author David Foster Wallace was working on at the time of his death. An unfinished, work-in-progress that was posthumously arranged for publication by his editor, The Pale King is more of a series of anecdotes and linked stories, rather than a straightforward novel with a plot. Similar themes emerge throughout, though: many chapters focus on a group of employees working for the IRS headquarters in Illinois. Characters include a psychic who can only sense random and useless details about people, a ghost who sits with potential IRS employees when they’re taking their final exams, and a sweaty, nervous, just-hired IRS employee who has the same name as the author. Unconventional and melancholy, this unfinished novel challenges us to rethink the roles that boredom, attention and community play in our everyday lives.
Julie Pachico is an American Scholar at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library and is in the final year of her PhD in Creative-Critical Writing.
Great American Poems
April is National Poetry Month and in order to celebrate we are hosting an evening of Great American Poems here at the Memorial Library, on Monday, April 25th, 6.30-7.30pm. It will be a fun, informal, poetry-filled evening of readings and presentations by local poets and scholars from the University of East Anglia. If you’d like, you can even bring and share your own favorite American poem (which is entirely optional but highly recommended!). This event is a lovely opportunity to meet fellow poetry lovers from the Norwich area, and a chance to hear poems you may otherwise have never encountered. Admission is free, but space is limited so be sure to book your place by either commenting here or contacting us via phone, email, or dropping by in person. We look forward to seeing you there!
The American Air Museum re-opens to the public at Duxford
In March, The American Air Museum reopened after a £3m refurbishment. The museum features one of the most extensive collections of US Military Aircraft and artefacts outside of North America. In addition to these, many interactive displays have been added with which visitors can hear directly from those men and women whose lives were shaped by their experiences of war, from the ‘War to End All Wars’ to the present day. Entry to the American Air Museum is included in general admission to IWM Duxford. Find out more here.
Somewhere in England- Theatre production – OPEN FOR BOOKING
Somewhere in England, an exciting new play commissioned to share the story of the 8th USAAF and their time in England, is now open for booking! The region’s leading touring theatre group Eastern Angles are presenting this fascinating and moving new theatre production, in partnership with The Eighth in the East. The play will tour right across the region and includes two site specific performance weekends at historic airfield sites, Thorpe Abbots and Debach. The play focuses upon that which is distinctly American: nylons, Hershey bars and jitterbugging to Swing Bands in the local village hall all feature. However, there was another side to this shared history of the ‘Friendly Invasion’ – a tale of segregation and of rural communities turned upside down. Kids being forced to grow up before their time, friendships forged and then blown apart and outsiders learning to live amongst the locals. You can find out more over at the Somewhere in England page, which has all the booking information for you.