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Memoirs of a Cold War Son

Post, Gaines, Jr.

Publication Year: 2000

In 1951 Gaines Post was a gangly, bespectacled, introspective teenager preparing to spend a year in Paris with his professorial father and older brother; his mother, who suffered from extreme depression, had been absent from the family for some time. Ten years later, now less gangly but no less introspective, he was finishing a two-year stint in the army in West Germany and heading toward Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, having narrowly escaped combat in the Berlin crisis of 1961. His quietly intense coming-of-age story is both self-revealing and reflective of an entire generation of young men who came to adulthood before the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.

Post's experiences in high school in Madison, Wisconsin, and Paris, his Camus-influenced undergraduate years at Cornell University, and his army service in Germany are set very effectively against the events of the Cold War. McCarthyism and American crackdowns on dissidents, American foreign and military policy in Western Europe in the nuclear age, French and German life and culture, crises in Paris and Berlin that nearly bring the West to war and the Post family to dissolution—these are the larger scenes and subjects of his self-disclosure as a contemplative, conflicted "Cold War agnostic."

His intelligent, talented mother and her fragile health hover over Post's narrative, informing his hesitant relationships with women and his acutely questioning sense of self-worth. His story is strongly academic and historical as well as political and military; his perceptions and judgments lean toward no ideological extreme but remain true to the heroic ideals of his boyhood during the Second World War.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

All autobiographies are unique, yet they share common literary features and conventions. This work is no exception. Post’s evolving self is shown as an actor in, or a witness to, significant public events and processes of the Cold War. The accepted term for such a literary convention is memoir, but pigeonholing this book as such can also be misleading. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

For jogging or supplementing my memory, and occasionally disagreeing with it, my brother, John F. Post, has been indispensable. Cousins have lent a hand as well—Wynona (Post) Bryan, Marvina (Post) Hauger, Crickett (Cannon) Hebert, Henry Post, Dorothy Jane (Post) Sanderson, ...

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pp. xv-xviii

I have been fighting the Second World War all my life. That is not what I expected to discover when I began this book. As a professional historian, I had thought I would compose a general account of the Cold War in the 1950s, spiced with occasional anecdotes to illustrate how memory affects ...

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1. Rue St-Julien-le-Pauvre

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pp. 1-28

My father, brother, and I sailed for France shortly after my fourteenth birthday in September 1951. Before then I knew Europe only from fragments around the house, the National Geographic map of Europe that papered the wall next to my bed, stereoscopic pictures in West Texas ...

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2. Americans Abroad

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pp. 29-50

That’s what Granddad Post wrote in a letter to my father as the war in Europe was drawing to a close. Granddad had never attended college or traveled farther from Texas than Kansas and then by horse with herds of cattle in the 1880s. His single-spaced marginless letters typed by forefingers roamed immense prairies from flu remedies to ...

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3. The Home Front

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pp. 51-77

We sailed for America aboard the Queen Elizabeth. The distance seemed shorter and the ocean friendlier than before Paris. I faintly regretted not needing the French I had worked so hard to learn. John and I met an Englishman who preferred our company to that of his own younger ...

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4. From Cornell to Fort Sill

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pp. 78-116

While I was in college, a decade nearly finished defining itself. The Cold War escalated, and Communism appeared to gain on the West. My mother flourished, and my father put his sons through the Ivy League. At Cornell I learned German, became an oarsman, discovered Camus, ...

Image Plates

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pp. 117-130

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5. Honest Johns and Germans

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pp. 131-167

The flight from McGuire Air Force Base to Frankfurt took nineteen hours, with stops for refueling at Harmon Air Force Base in Newfoundland and at Prestwick, Scotland. Passengers sat facing to the rear of the propeller-driven Lockheed Constellation, a precaution in case of ...

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6. Maneuvers

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pp. 168-197

Recalling 1961 here will not resolve the debates among historians over Khrushchev’s intentions, Kennedy’s strength of will, or the likelihood of war over Berlin. I simply want to say this is how it appeared to a junior officer in a battalion of v Corps. This is how I remember it: before we ...

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7. War over Berlin?

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pp. 198-216

I remember the 20th of August 1961 as if I had just put on clean fatigues. The “world’s fight” was abruptly here, now, sure to postpone the scholarship that was supposed to prepare me for vague battles in the future. Things had fallen apart. After the Vienna summit, Berlin muscled in on politics and ...

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pp. 217-226

In the weeks before I left for Oxford, my mother pampered me as if I were a schoolboy recovering from the flu. I could tell that she was recovering from something more than a normal case of motherly anxiety over the Berlin crisis. She had become despondent, and my homecoming ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781587293047
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877457015

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2000

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Post, Gaines, 1937-.
  • Cold War.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • Europe -- Politics and government -- 1945-.
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