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Authors: Victor D. Brooks

Tags: #History, #United States, #20th Century, #Social History, #Non-Fiction

Boomers: The Cold-War Generation Grows Up

BOOK: Boomers: The Cold-War Generation Grows Up
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The Cold-War Generation Grows Up


BOOMERS. Copyright © 2009 by Victor D. Brooks. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. For information, address: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 1332 North Halsted Street, Chicago 60642, a member of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. Manufactured in the United States of America and printed on acid-free paper.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Brooks, Victor.
  Boomers : the cold war generation grows up / Victor D. Brooks.
      p. cm.
  Includes bibliographical references and index.
  ISBN 978-1-56663-724-4 (cloth : alk. paper)
 1. Baby boom generation—United States. 2. United States—History—
1945– I. Title.
  HN57.B655 2009
  305.240973'09045—dc22                                   2008052622

For James T. Kane


after noisemakers and fireworks welcomed the New Year of 1946, a seemingly minor event occurred fewer than two miles from the birthplace of American nationhood. As millions of people celebrated the first full year of world peace since 1939, the wife of a navy machinist gave birth to a daughter at Philadelphia Naval Hospital. The arrival of Kathleen Casey rated a short feature in the hospital newsletter but initially seemed to have little significance beyond her immediate family. Twelve months later, Kathleen's arrival would gain rising importance for the simple reason that more than 3.5 million other babies had followed her into American households in that one year, a number that dwarfed the infants born in both the 1920s and 1930s. Confident predictions that this surge was a one-year postwar phenomenon seemed to unravel when 3.8 million new babies arrived in 1947, and were shattered when the count passed 4 million the next year. Gradually, as maternity wards set new records with the arrival of each new decade, terms such as “spike” and “bubble” gave way to longer-term labels of “Population Explosion” and the “Baby Boom.” The physical
manifestation of this new reality in twentieth-century American culture emerged in Washington, D.C., in the lobby of the Commerce Department. A supremely modern version of a tolling bell, a newly installed Census Clock, flashed multicolored lights every 7.5 seconds to record the birth of a new American citizen, a frequency that would not slow until the end of 1964. When the Baby Boom was over, 76 million children were dominating communities from Levittown, New York, to Pasadena, California, and renewing Americans' sense of optimism and purpose.

This book is a chronicle of the “great invasion” of the United States in the period between the end of World War II and the close of the 1960s. It was a unique kind of invasion—noisy and occasionally even threatening, but also fascinating and even enjoyable for adults and children alike. A national psyche that seemed tentative and frightened during a depression that dominated the 1930s, and feared a resumption of the same after the guns of World War II were stilled, was prodded into cheerful renewal by an army of young people who brought prosperity in their wake. This is the narrative of a postwar world where, if far too many children experienced the sting of racial, religious, ethnic, or gender bias and discrimination, the stage was also set for a more equitable, more sensitive, and more caring childhood for many other young people.

The story begins with the marriage and parenting activities of the “Greatest Generation” after World War II and ends with the tumultuous events in the late sixties. There are a number of fine books on the Boomer experience, ranging from Todd Gitlin's
The Sixties
to Tom Brokaw's
, but I have attempted to consider the period from new perspectives.

I have perused a great many published books on the era but also much less commonly utilized sources, including popular magazines ranging from
Jack and Jill
, to DVDs, videotapes, and even kinescopes of period television programs and films. I have also conducted hundreds of interviews of Boomers, seeking informality and free-flowing responses, which revealed cultural trends and offered a spontaneity that could not have been accomplished with more formal questions and quantitative analysis. This process was furthered by the enthusiasm of individuals or groups of Boomers to relate their special childhood experiences, which then allowed me to construct the larger picture.

My research and the extensive conversations with Boomers have prompted a number of the focal points of this book—for example, what people of the era wore and ate, their home environments and level of technology, and relationships between parents and children and between siblings. Boomer children were also enormously influenced by the explosion of popular culture and mass media in the fifties and sixties, and in turn they influenced these trends to an even larger degree. This is a recurring theme of the book. The Boomers attended school in larger numbers and for longer periods than any previous generation; educational issues occupied an important portion of their childhood experiences. Finally, a significant segment of the Boomer generation grew up at the peak of the East-West confrontation that we remember as the cold war, which paralleled the impact of the Great Depression on children of the 1930s and World War II on young people of the 1940s. The cold war could mean the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the alarm of the Sputnik launch, or the elation of Apollo XI, but it was always present
in some sense, from the yellow signs that directed students to school fallout shelters to the
magazine articles that compared student life in American and Soviet schools.

A personal acknowledgment: I was born early in the second year of the Baby Boom as the oldest of four children of a Catholic Democratic mother who had been a secretary and was now a full-time homemaker, and a Protestant Republican father who had served as a major in the army air corps during World War II and was in the process of becoming a college psychology professor. For my first twelve years I lived in a suburb of Philadelphia in a 1930s-era twin (semidetached) house. Our neighborhood was composed primarily, but not exclusively, of relatively equal numbers of white Catholic and Protestant families with a significant minority of Jewish households and a smattering of relatively recently arrived Latinos from Guatemala and Asians from Taiwan. In the twenty houses on our street lived families with three to six children; just one family had only two children, and an older couple had no young children.

The crowded living conditions of six people in a small, one-bathroom, attached home prompted subsequent moves to a 1920s stone Tudor, a brand-new 1960-model split-level, and finally a 1964-model spacious colonial on a large lot. Frequent sleepovers with relatives who lived in Levittown-style ranches and Victorian-era single-family houses provided an opportunity for me to experience most of the major housing arrangements of the Boomer era.

My diversity of housing experiences was matched by a variety of educational venues, including a parochial elementary school, a public high school, a Catholic college, and an Ivy League university. Each of these experiences gradually
added to my wonder at the complexity of my Boomer generation, as my peers at each school had both much in common with and yet major differences in outlook from those in the other institutions I had experienced. The fascination of trying to understand the role of children in an adult world was substantially expanded when I became a single parent soon after the birth of my third son. As many single parents understand, the merging of maternal and parental roles produces grand opportunities along with daunting challenges. In the case of my three highly verbal children, this meant not only endless questions about the world in which they lived but also questions about the world in which
grew up. Nothing prompts a book about childhood in the past better than answering the questions of children in the present.

My adult support for this project came from a variety of sources. I wish to thank James Marten of Marquette University and Ivan Dee for their confidence in my proposal for this book. Dr. John Johannes, vice president for academic affairs; Rev. Kail Ellis, O.S.A., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Dr. Connie Titone, chair of the Department of Education and Human Services, have given me great support and encouragement in the Villanova academic community. Anne Feldman of our departmental staff not only is one of the few people who can translate my handwriting but also provides stylistic suggestions that have always improved the text. Graduate students Amanda Meltz and Christina Beebe joined in the pick-and-shovel work of interlibrary loans and proofreading.

Finally, I wish to dedicate this work to my recently deceased uncle, James T. Kane, who spent his late adolescence in the front lines of the Korean War, preventing a bloody
conflict from turning into a nuclear war. Corporal Kane and many others like him were too young to be part of the Greatest Generation of World War II and too old to be Boomers. Yet their sacrifices allowed the Boomer generation to spend their childhoods in relative peace and security while ensuring that the magic of their youth could be passed to their own children and grandchildren.




1   Genesis of the Baby Boom

2   Home and Family in Early Postwar America

3   School Daze: From Split Shifts to Sputnik

4   Leisure World

5   Sibling Rivalry

6   Camelot Kids

7   Boomers in Transition: High School to College

8   Growing Up in the Great Society

9   Challenging the Establishment

10   The Summer of '69 and Beyond

11   A Good Time to Grow Up

A Note on Sources




, August 15, 1945, dawned sunny and hot across vast reaches of the forty-eight states that formed the American republic. Paperboys cycled on their delivery rounds, barely noticing the seemingly endless succession of small blue-starred banners in living-room windows that reminded passersby that one or more occupants of that home were active members of the armed forces of the United States. An ever-increasing number of the blue stars had been replaced by gold ones, a silent reminder that a family member had made the supreme sacrifice in the service of his or her country. Nearly 400,000 windows now held gold star banners in this 1,347th day since the Day of Infamy at Pearl Harbor had plunged the United States into World War II.

As the sun rose higher, housewives and mothers made their daily excursions to grocery stores, butcher shops, and clothing stores, carefully clutching multicolored booklets of ration coupons that largely determined the eating habits, clothing styles, and transportation arrangements of every American over thirty days old. Butchers informed customers what meats were available that day, grocers apologized
for the absence of several varieties of canned fruits and vegetables, and restaurant patrons breathed a sigh of relief that today was not a meatless Tuesday or Friday so that a relatively complete menu was available.

BOOK: Boomers: The Cold-War Generation Grows Up
7.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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