Innocent Weapons: The Soviet and American Politics of Childhood in the Cold War

Innocent Weapons: The Soviet and American Politics of Childhood in the Cold War

Innocent Weapons: The Soviet and American Politics of Childhood in the Cold War

Innocent Weapons: The Soviet and American Politics of Childhood in the Cold War


In the 1950s and 1960s, images of children appeared everywhere, from movies to milk cartons, their smiling faces used to sell everything, including war. In this provocative book, Margaret Peacock offers an original account of how Soviet and American leaders used emotionally charged images of children in an attempt to create popular support for their policies at home and abroad.

Groups on either side of the Iron Curtain pushed visions of endangered, abandoned, and segregated children to indict the enemy's state and its policies. Though the Cold War is often characterized as an ideological divide between the capitalist West and the communist East, Peacock demonstrates a deep symmetry in how Soviet and American propagandists mobilized similar images to similar ends, despite their differences. Based on extensive research spanning fourteen archives and three countries, Peacock tells a new story of the Cold War, seeing the conflict not simply as a divide between East and West, but as a struggle between the producers of culture and their target audiences.


For Soviet and American populations in the late 1940s, the fate of the Cold War was tied to the fate of the young. in the Soviet Union, the slogan “Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our Happy Childhood!” became a rallying cry for resurgent Soviet power. It symbolized the nation’s recovery from the Great Patriotic War, and the apparent gratitude of the population to Stalin for making their joy possible. At the same time, in the United States, images of safe and happy children like Little Ricky Ricardo and Beaver Cleaver splashed across America’s televisions and newspapers. They established a vision of an abundant middle class, united in its commitment to democracy and the “American Way.” These ubiquitous depictions of protected and joyous Soviet and American children represented an ideal of domestic bliss and national strength. They provided a hopeful vision of an abundant future, and they carried the underlying promise that if domestic containment and security could be maintained in the home, national defense would be assured.

Twenty years later, images like those of Stalin’s grateful children and Lucy’s Little Ricky no longer occupied a central space in the collective imaginations of their people. Antiwar protesters in the United States now took to the streets carrying pictures of napalmed Vietnamese children, chanting, “Hey. Hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” in the Soviet Union, the filmmakers Elem Klimov and Tengiz Abuladze created child protagonists who had no parents, no leadership, and showed no sense of obligation to their community or their country. the image of the child, which had once embodied all that the nation could provide and protect, was now an icon for all that the country threatened to neglect and destroy. How did one image supplant the other in such a short period of time? What forces led to this transformation, and what does this visual and rhetorical revolution have to say about the cultural and political worlds that surrounded the Soviet Union and the United States in these pivotal years?

This book is not about real children. It is about how Soviet and American politicians, propagandists, and protesters manufactured similar visions of idealized and threatened children from 1945 until 1968 for the purpose of building domestic and international consensus for the Cold War. It is about how rising contradictions in these images led to a crisis in the late 1960s on . . .

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