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The Victory Album

Reflections on the Good Life after the Good War

Philip D. Beidler

Publication Year: 2010

A vivid and penetrating history, personal and social, of growing up in post-1945 America
A pervasive feeling at the end of World War II, notes Philip D. Beidler, was that Americans had “inherited the earth” and could look forward to a kind of golden age, the “Good Life after the Good War.” But this good life—for all its genuine possibilities—was only accessible to some and was countered by racial tensions, the fear of communism and nuclear war, gender inequalities, and a rising consumer culture, among other problems and anxieties.
In these essays—a combination of personal remembrance and broad-stroke cultural history—Beidler addresses the national blindness toward the Holocaust and a rising China, the canker of McCarthyism, an ascendant culture of hard smoking and heavy drinking, the worship of cars and film idols, and the chronic fear of an always-possible nuclear apocalypse. In lively, driving prose, he recalls veiled episodes in the history of the Korean War, the Civil Rights movement, and the struggle for women’s liberation. On these subjects and many others, Beidler draws from his own experience and a penetrating grasp of American social history. Together, they offer deep, pointed, and comprehensive perspectives on iconic moments in American history.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-13

Many people helped me with this book, including Donald Anderson, Louel Gibbons, Laurence Goldstein, Fred Hobson, Jerome Klinkowitz, John Northrop, Michael Robbins, Merinda Simmons, Bill Ulmer, Dan Waterman, and Heather White. I hope the dedication page acknowledges a familial history of love and support from the best brother and ...

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Introduction: After the Good War

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pp. 1-12

On May 8, 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe, having accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany, made the following announcement: “The mission of this allied On August 15 of that year Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific theater, having confirmed the surrender ...

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1. Reds

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pp. 13-31

Not a single major account of post–World War II American life and culture omits discussion of the Red Scare—as the phenomenon, alleged to have become a major preoccupation of many citizens during the late 1940s and early to mid 1950s, is now familiarly termed. Accordingly, chroniclers of the era attempt often to depict a great atmospherics of ...

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2. A Credit to Their Race

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pp. 32-48

Colored People. This is what Henry Louis Gates, W. E. B. Du Bois Profes-sor of African American Studies at Harvard, chose to call his autobiography of growing up black in post–World War II West Virginia. Fromone of the most celebrated cultural intellectuals of his generation, it is the case of a title speaking volumes, for an individual, a culture, and an ...

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3. China Magic

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pp. 49-62

When I was a grade school kid back in the early 1950s, I couldn’t under-stand how one country—even a country as important as my own—could just make another—one of the biggest and most populated in the world, not to mention one of the most culturally rich and ancient—simply vanish from the earth. But that is basically what we did with China, starting ...

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4. A Tale of Two Task Forces

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pp. 64-78

As a son of the World War II generation and an armored cavalry veteran of Vietnam, I find I cannot read or think about Americans in combat during the Korean War without a mixture of rage and horror, on one hand, at the utterly misbegotten way that war was conducted and of gratitude and relief, on the other, that I did not have to fight in it. It has been ...

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5. How the Holocaust Didn’t Become Current Events

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pp. 79-98

In my experience as an average, reasonably well- informed teenager grow-ing up in the United States after World War II—small- town, middle- class, Protestant, the son of college- educated parents in a house with a television, daily papers, and many of the popular news and photo-journalistic magazines of the era—I submit that I qualify as a case study ...

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6. The War of the Generals for the Presidency

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pp. 99-114

My point in this chapter about post- 1945 American presidential politics is simple: Douglas MacArthur, beyond any high- ranking military leader in U.S. history before or since, hungered after the U.S. presidency in a way that outstripped mere ambition; he simply thought it was his per-sonal destiny. Fortunately, Dwight Eisenhower—albeit himself hardly ...

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7. “Is This All?”

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pp. 115-136

In hindsight of fi fty years and more it seems that any person of basic mental competency in post- 1945 America should have noticed that the country had a woman problem—a crisis of culture rooted in traditional conceptions of gender and sexual identity that had been irreversibly chal-lenged and disrupted by the experiences of American men and women ...

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8. Name Your Poison

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pp. 137-149

Until early in 2008 I had a friend with whom I had once shared a good bit of common experience. He was exactly my age; we were both Vietnam War combat veterans; big smokers and drinkers, we had both enjoyed the bar and music scene when we were younger; we had both married and be-come late- life fathers, with daughters exactly the same age. On crucial ...

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9. Mastering the Curriculum

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pp. 150-162

Cooke entitled “Wonderful World.” Like other popular classics of the time, it is about a high school kid trying to get a girl. He’s not big on book- learning, he confesses to her; but if the two of them can make it together in love, school problems and everything else will take care of An ensuing verse continues the “Don’t know much about _____” theme, ...

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10. The Fifty- fives

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pp. 163-171

Nobody who remembers anything about American cars will ever forget the fifty- fives. In 1955 cars were American, and they were made in Detroit. People looked forward to a new model year in cars—the fifty- twos, the fifty- threes, the fifty- fours, etc.—the way they looked forward to baseball spring training or a new season of TV shows. “Fifty- five” was ...

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11. The End of the World

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pp. 172-183

If there was such a thing as the good life after the good war, the end of it came early for my mother, my brother, my sister, and me on a night now more than fifty years ago. To be exact, at 9:05 p.m., Tuesday, March 5, 1957, in the space of a few minutes, my father died of a massive heart attack. He was forty- seven. My mother was forty- six, my brother twenty- ...

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12. I Was a 1950s Teenage Media Junkie

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pp. 184-205

With apologies to Michael Landon and Steve McQueen—may they both rest in peace—people my age will understand the dumb movie references in the title of this essay. Like many Americans growing up in the post–World War II era, I remain the kind of person who inexplicably relishes knowing that, before there was Bonanza or Little House on the Prairie, ...

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13. Remembering On the Beach

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pp. 206-220

Before World War II, Hollywood scared people to death with mad sci-entists and monsters. During World War II the industry specialized in strutting Nazis and villainous Japs. After the war political subversives mixed with space creatures, and vice versa; as important, in what had come to be called the nuclear age, a whole new category of fear fi lm cen-...

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14. America the Ecumenical

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pp. 221-233

In 1954, following a national campaign by the powerful Catholic frater-nal organization the Knights of Columbus, a congressional resolution decreed that the phrase “one nation indivisible” in the Pledge of Allegiance be amended to incorporate the phrase “under God.” A parallel dictate of 1957 authorized American paper money to bear the motto “In God ...

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15. It Wasn’t All Elvis

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pp. 234-247

In the vast body of post- 1945 popular- culture production one is surprised not to find at least one American movie somewhere about the rise of rock ’n’ roll entitled And God Created Elvis, in the way the French showcased the heart- stopping Bridgette Bardot in And God Created Woman. Actually, the one movie that leaps to mind on the musical subject—Rock ...

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16. Let’s Play Dien Bien Phu

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pp. 248-261

“Let’s play Dien Bien Phu.” On a day I must now place as somewhere in 1954 or early 1955 at the latest, when I was nine or ten years old, I remember hearing one of my friends say this sentence, in exactly these words. The guy was one of our anointed ringleaders, admired for his easy athletic skills and Tom Sawyer–like ingenuity in inventing new adven-...

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Conclusion: Good- bye to All That

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pp. 262-274

Although I did not know it at the time, I may have started writing this book the day I got home from Vietnam. That was the day I came “back to the world,” as we used to say. The emphasis on Vietnam veterans’ experience of forty years ago seemed to be that we were somehow profoundly different for having gone there. An equally compelling realiza-...


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pp. 275-279

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387143
E-ISBN-10: 0817387145
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817316846
Print-ISBN-10: 0817316841

Page Count: 291
Publication Year: 2010