Culture Politics and Cold War

V-J Day: The End of an Era & Return to Normal

creadick_300When World War II ended in August 1945, Americans entered a period of readjustment. After decades of depression and war, the country had to cope with the emotional, physical, and economic wounds of war. As a sort of post-traumatic stress response to World War II, a political and social discourse centered on the return to “normal” swept through the American population. This idea of “normality” was a keyword in postwar American culture, to the point of near obsession. Anna Creadick’s Perfectly Average charts this pursuit of “normality” through scientific studies, literary texts, and mass media among other materials, and shows that “normal” was a standard Americans actively and impossibly pursued.

Perfectly Average focuses on the period between 1945 to 1963, when the United States struggled with the massive demobilization of troops, reintegration of veterans into the workforce, and massive reorganization of society’s ideals and values. In its analysis of the aftermath of World War II, In particular, it demonstrates the complexities and contradictions in this drive to “normality” in hopes to create uniformly average citizens. What exactly was “normality” in the postwar decades? Why did the population endlessly pursue these impossible ideals? What forces, political and otherwise, were at play in shaping the culture and behavior of the period? In Perfectly Average, Creadick analyzes the nationalistic undertones of “American exceptionalism” that infiltrated everything from postwar scholarship to middle class apparel. Normality went from being a concept to a system of organization for minds, bodies, sexualities, and communities.

A graduate of UMass Amherst, author Anna Creadick is currently an associate professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. For more information on her book or other volumes in the Culture, Politics, and Cold War series, please review our website page.

 

 

 

Emily Esten is an Editorial Intern at UMass Press. She is a junior History/Digital Humanities major at UMass Amherst. 

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Throwback Look: Culture, Politics and the Cold War Series

One of the best-known series produced by the University of Massachusetts Press, Culture, Politics, and the Cold War reexamines the Cold War as a distinct historical epoch, considering culture as inherently political and political struggles as culturally constructed. Established in 1998 with series editor Christian G. Appy and joined by Edwin A. Martini as co-editor in 2014, UMass Press showcases the emerging scholarship regarding the political and cultural discussions of this fascinating period in U.S. history.

In proposing this series to UMass Press, series editor Christian G. Appy recognized a growing trend of among Cold War historians. Looking beyond the traditional diplomatic and military interpretations, cultural historians had begun a rich exploration of the political and historical significance of particular cultural forms and expressions. Early publications in this series, such as James T. Fisher’s Dr. America and Christian G. Appy’s Cold War Constructions expand the definition of culture for the series by  incorporating “ways of life.” In Dr. America (1998)Fisher presents the biography of “jungle doctor” Tom Dooley, the famous physician during Vietnam,  in context with the broad range of developments in postwar U.S. culture – from the “Americanization” of Catholicism to the rise of mass media. In Cold War Constructions (2000), Appy’s collection of essays highlights the shaping of Cold War policy and policymakers by cultural values and assumptions. Stepping away from the idea of studying politics and culture, this volume was distinctly an investigation of political culture.

As the series evolved, several authors took an interest into the Cold War’s transformation of individual and collective identities. In particular, Tony Shaw’s Hollywood’s Cold War  (2007) looks at America’s self-image through the Hollywood’s role as a propaganda machine. In his analysis of declassified government documents, studio archives, and filmmakers’ private papers, Shaw reveals the criticual dual role of Hollwood: portraying communism as the greatest threat the country had ever faced, and selling the liberal-capitalist ideas of America. The book argues that movies were at the center of the Cold War’s battle for hearts and minds, and in doing so, created an entirely new understanding of American film.

A similar discussion takes place in Lee Bernstein’s The Greatest Menace: Organized Crime in Cold War America (2009). In its reinterpretation of citizenship and “Americanism,” The Greatest Menace points to the forging of a Cold War consensus that allowed the popular image of the sinister gangster to persist. His broad range of evidence, from government records to pulp novels, takes note of the deep social and political anxieties that plagued the American people across shifting lines of race, class, and ethnicity.

To date, the series is composed over thirty volumes, with at least one addition coming out this year. Chad Parker’s upcoming Making the Desert Modern: Americans, Arabs, and Oil on the Saudi Frontier, 1933-1973 (May 2015) tells the story of the Arabian American Oil Company’s contribution to defining U.S. foreign policy during the early Cold War. The emergence of the term “modernization” was a key component of post-World War II American foreign policy, and the company quickly became the principal American diplomatic agent in Saudi Arabia for four decades. As a valuable case study of ‘private diplomacy,’ series editor Christian G. Appy commented that Making the Desert Modern “will serve as a model for … scholars in diplomatic history who are turning their attention to … economic globalization and the interplay between corporations and states in an international context.”

We know that the Culture, Politics, and the Cold War series will continue to be one of the key components of the UMass Press catalog.

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 Emily Esten is an editorial intern at UMass Press. She is a junior History/Digital Humanities major at UMass Amherst.