Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern American

By Marc Dollinger | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER SIX
The Struggle for Civil Liberties:
The Cold War, Anti-Communism,
and Jewish Liberal Reform

THE END OF World War II heralded an era of renewed hope in the United States. After fifteen years of depression and war, Americans looked forward to better, more secure days. The postwar economy boomed. By 1960, 75 percent of American families piled into their own automobiles, 87 percent tuned in their own televisions to their favorite programs, and 75 percent enjoyed the luxury of a washing machine. The GI Bill of Rights funded thousands of college educations, new home purchases, and small business loans. In politics, fear of Soviet Communism eclipsed anti-German and anti-Japanese sentiment. Democrats and Republicans alike eschewed extreme ideologies in favor of what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., called “the vital center.” The nation joined in a consensus that celebrated economic expansion, ridiculed Stalin and his system of government, and hailed American democracy as the quintessential model of freedom and liberty. 1

Despite its benevolent outward appearance, the anti-Communist consensus also created a political culture ripe for abuse. In 1947, President Truman investigated the political backgrounds of more than three million federal employees. Three years later, the government ignored due process rights when it dismissed individuals it considered security risks. In Hollywood, scores of actors and actresses faced blacklisting for their supposed association with Communists. Public libraries removed liberal magazines from their shelves while schools across the country banned classic works of literature out of fear that they might turn the nation's children toward the Soviet system of government. The nation's morbid obsession with anti-Communism led to the rise of Joseph McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin, who took to the television airwaves with far-flung accusations linking U.S. army personnel to Communist subversion. 2

The Jewish community straddled both experiences. By 1960, it enjoyed many of the benefits of middle-class citizenship. The size of the Jewish working class shrunk as professional fields opened to Jews for the first time. Cold War policies such as the GI bill helped Jewish veterans enroll

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