Postwar: Waging Peace in Chicago

Postwar: Waging Peace in Chicago

Postwar: Waging Peace in Chicago

Postwar: Waging Peace in Chicago


When World War II ended, Americans celebrated a military victory abroad, but the meaning of peace at home was yet to be defined. From roughly 1943 onward, building a postwar society became the new national project, and every interest group involved in the war effort--from business leaders to working-class renters--held different visions for the war's aftermath. In Postwar, Laura McEnaney plumbs the depths of this period to explore exactly what peace meant to a broad swath of civilians, including apartment dwellers, single women and housewives, newly freed Japanese American internees, African American migrants, and returning veterans. In her fine-grained social history of postwar Chicago, McEnaney puts ordinary working-class people at the center of her investigation.

What she finds is a working-class war liberalism--a conviction that the wartime state had taken things from people, and that the postwar era was about reclaiming those things with the state's help. McEnaney examines vernacular understandings of the state, exploring how people perceived and experienced government in their lives. For Chicago's working-class residents, the state was not clearly delineated. The local offices of federal agencies, along with organizations such as the Travelers Aid Society and other neighborhood welfare groups, all became what she calls the state in the neighborhood, an extension of government to serve an urban working class recovering from war. Just as they had made war, the urban working class had to make peace, and their requests for help, large and small, constituted early dialogues about the role of the state during peacetime.

Postwar examines peace as its own complex historical process, a passage from conflict to postconflict that contained human struggles and policy dilemmas that would shape later decades as fatefully as had the war.


This book begins with an ending. in August 1945, American pilots flew over Hiroshima and Nagasaki to drop their atomic cargo on Japanese civilians. the war in Europe had ended months before, and this was the frightening and fiery finale to the Pacific war. Within hours, news of this terror from the sky reached those on the ground in the United States, and among the myriad reactions to the bomb was impatience for a quick exit from the war. Peace was now finally perceptible, almost fully real, so it was hard for Americans to digest the official line that dismantling the war in Europe, and now in Japan, would require a long series of diplomatic conversations, formal agreements, and ceremonial signatures. Peace was paperwork.

Compared with Europe and Asia, the United States had emerged from World War ii relatively unscathed. Two oceans had insulated it from the aerial bombings and scorched earth troop movements that had slaughtered so many elsewhere. in defeated Axis countries, British and American bombing targeted urban areas, killing approximately a half million people in Germany and about the same number in Japan. Survivors walked through ruins, “ghost cities,” where it was hard to tell where and how to begin the reconstruction. Starving inhabitants survived on a thin gruel, with barely enough calories to fuel a personal recovery much less a national one. the Japanese called their postwar condition kyodatsu, a word that captured an utter collapse of body and mind in response to so many years of war. Although official combat had ended, the situation was far from peaceful. in Europe alone, rubble and ruined farmland, hungry and frightened refugees, revenge assaults, murders, and rape, and political retribution all marked the landscape. in his epic history of postwar Europe, Tony Judt wrote, “Surviving the war was one thing, surviving the peace another.”

In safety and intact, Americans sat poised for a smooth recovery. Still, World War ii had demanded much from them. It is important to count first:

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.