From Progressivism to Prosperity: World War I and American Society

By Neil A. Wynn | Go to book overview
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Epilogue
From Progressivism to Prosperity:
The First World War in Perspective

In " Soldier's Home," Ernest Hemingway's short story of postwar alienation, the young veteran Harold Krebs returns to find "nothing was changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up." In fact, however, the problem was not that America remained the same, but that it was radically different from the society remembered by both servicemen and civilians. The war seemed to act as a great divide, separating what was thought of as a peaceful prewar era from a troubled postwar world. Much of the decade of the twenties was to be preoccupied with attempts to return to a "normalcy" located somewhere in prewar memory, a memory impossible to re-create. Thus George F. Babbitt goes back to the countryside in search of relief and solace, only to find "Paradise" corrupted by the modern age. Even more famously Jay Gatsby was determined "to fix everything just the way it was before" in pursuit of his dream. The broader manifestation of these literary themes were the Prohibitionists, fundamentalists, and Klansmen who all tried to assert "traditional" American values in the face of overwhelming change. As historian Frederic Paxson wrote, "Nostalgia glorified the old way of life until it seemed more attractive than it ever really was." 1 In the process war experiences were to be modified and amended to suit the changing temper of the times; they were also to be remembered as guidelines for future action.

If, as Donald McCoy suggests, the twenties was a decade in which

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