Monday, March 23, 2015

WWII as a SETBACK for social change

Early - superficial - glib -conventional - accounts of anything (everything ?) aren't always accurate - in fact they may be 100% wrong.

It once certainly seemed to many, at a superficial glance, that WWII had to mark an advance in the long trek forward for civil rights and women's rights - but was that necessarily so ?

In more recent decades, an alternate account has gained ground -- by scholars such as Harvey Sitkoff, Kevin M Kruse and Stephen Tuck.

It was instantly appealing to me, because I have long been troubled trying to reconcile specific WWII setbacks for blacks and women , gleamed from my reading of contemporary newspapers, versus all this vague hand-waving celebration of that war as a time of triumph for women and blacks.

That was then allowed to quietly slid backwards during the repressive Eisenhower 1950s, tra la la.

This theory argues that any weak examples of social radicalism during WWII were only the faint dying echo of Great Depression era radicalism and that most former reform supporters stopped questioning the government publicly and instead united around the need to first defeat the Nazis militarily.

And that the forces of reaction - centred now in Congress - were strengthened, not weakened, during WWII.

Let me add my thoughts to all this by suggesting that twenty five year generational burnout is the cause, as much as anything.

For twenty five years, from the mid Teens to the late Thirties, Progressive forces fought for reforms on many fronts.

But their former young bloods, twenty five in 1910, were now fifty in 1935 and getting burned out.

Worse, their original leaders , forty to fifty in 1910, were now dead or retired.

So from the late 1930s till the early 1960s, a counter reaction mood towards public quietism and patriotic acceptance of government actions captured most of the population.

After the Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the twenty five year hold that unswerving loyalty to the government against eternal enemies had on most people still held.

But only among older adults - the war veteran generation who came of age during the early war years in particular.

But after twenty five years of such unquestioning loyalty, their energy to defend the Cold War certitudes was fading - partly from simple aging and partly from sheer emotional fatigue.

But for kids born in the early Forties and too young to remember the external dangers of WWII and who were now in their early twenties, it was past due time to seriously rock 'n' roll for social reforms.

And so they did .

Twenty five years later, in the mid and late 1980s, they in turn were almost all burnt out ...

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