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chapter three “NO PLACE FOR WEAKLINGS” q Q The after-effects of World War II left the United States on a permanent state of alert. Despite the victory over Germany and Japan, the nation remained on the lookout for enemies and dangers. After visiting the ruins of Berlin, President Harry Truman told his fellow citizens that he was grateful that “this land of ours had been spared.” He was quick to note, however, that the future safety and security of the nation now depended on a heightened ability to defend itself and to deploy its military forces throughout the world. Thus, even as the size of the American armed forces shrank dramatically after 1945 and civilians lobbied to bring the men home as soon as possible, the United States continued to spend heavily on national defense. In the late 1940s the defense budget, which had accounted for only about 15 percent of federal expenditures before Pearl Harbor, now consumed nearly one-third of the budget. More than ever the exercise of military power was viewed as a fundamental way to resolve disputes in a world that appeared to be permanently divided between the forces of good and evil. Michael Sherry, who has studied this “militarization” of America, has argued insightfully that the “impulse to apply wartime reflexes to postwar problems” was a central feature of the political culture of the United States after 1945.1 The preoccupation with national security and military supremacy—goals vigorously supported by powerful veteran groups—was not the only way the war experience reverberated through the postwar years. There were also those Americans who saw in the forceful calls for national defense and power a retreat from the liberal dreams articulated by Franklin Roosevelt and the spirit of the Four Freedoms. Some, like Henry Wallace, sought to honor the sacrifices of the war by sustaining a dream of human improvement and cooperation—a vision that looked beyond a divided world of heroes and villains. A yearning for human collaboration and uplift also helped to explain the popularity of Edward Steichen’s “ n o p l a c e f o r w e a k l i n g s ” 61 1955 photo exhibit, “The Family of Man.” Steichen, who had served in the Navy as a photographer, mounted an exhibit that implicitly challenged the very idea of war and national power with photographs that depicted the commonality of the human experience. His work featured people in all nations loving, marrying, working, and grieving. Its human-centeredness was appreciated so much that it toured the world under the sponsorship of the U.S. Information Agency for seven years. Militarization was also questioned by millions of veterans and their families who were now forced to struggle day to day with the emotional and personal scars of the war experience and who certainly did not relish the prospect of mobilizing resources for another war.2 COLD WAR MILITARISM The postwar years were marked not only by a sense of relief that the war had ended favorably but also by a feeling of dread that evil still lurked in the world and would threaten the nation again. The anticommunist impulse that helped to justify militarization was the strongest manifestation of this fear. Communism now appeared to represent the same type of threat that Fascism had in the early 1940s. Congressional investigations led by the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy not only reflected the nation’s anxiety but demonstrated that anticommunism could attract substantial political support . Apprehension over new threats was also seen in the discussions concerning the return of millions of veterans to American life. Numerous articles and news features admonished women to show understanding toward returned soldiers and accept the fact that some of them might be emotionally “wounded” by the war and still not be ready to put their violent ways behind them. This theme was, in fact, a staple of many postwar films. Historian Paul Boyer has documented strong cultural currents of “anxiety and apprehension” that something terrible might happen in the postwar years. Thus, even comic books featured tales of how the world might end, and mainstream news outlets o=ered stories of what might happen if an atomic bomb hit a large American city. The government fueled the general sense of unease by calling upon citizens to take measures to protect themselves in case of an atomic attack. In the early 1950s the Federal Civil Defense...


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