Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

Synopsis

In the 1950s, the term "containment" referred to the foreign policy-driven containment of Communism and atomic proliferation. Yet in Homeward Bound May demonstrates that there was also a domestic version of containment where the "sphere of influence" was the home. Within its walls, potentially dangerous social forces might be tamed, securing the fulfilling life to which postwar women and men aspired. Homeward Bound tells the story of domestic containment -- how it emerged, how it affected the lives of those who tried to conform to it, and how it unraveled in the wake of the Vietnam era's assault on Cold War culture, when unwed mothers, feminists, and "secular humanists" became the new "enemy." This revised and updated edition includes the latest information on race, the culture wars, and current cultural and political controversies of the post-Cold War era.

Excerpt

In Summer of 1959, a young couple married and spent their honeymoon in a bomb shelter. Life magazine featured the "sheltered honeymoon" with a photograph of the duo smiling on their lawn, surrounded by dozens of canned goods and supplies. Another photograph showed them descending twelve feet underground into the 22-ton steel and concrete 8-by-11-foot shelter where they would spend the next two weeks. The article quipped that "fallout can be fun," and described the newlyweds' adventure--with obvious erotic undertones--as fourteen days of "unbroken togetherness." As the couple embarked on family life, all they had to enhance their honeymoon were some consumer goods, their sexuality, and privacy. This is a powerful image of the nuclear family in the nuclear age: isolated, sexually charged, cushioned by abundance, and protected against impending doom by the wonders of modern technology (See Figures 1 and 2).

The stunt was little more than a publicity device; yet, in retrospect it takes on symbolic significance. For in the early years of the cold war, amid a world of uncertainties brought about by World War II and its aftermath, the home seemed to offer a secure private nest removed from the dangers of the outside world. The message was ambivalent, however, for the family also seemed particularly vulnerable. It needed heavy protection against the intrusions of forces outside itself. The self-contained home held out the promise of security in an insecure world. It also offered a vision of abundance and fulfillment. As the cold war began, young postwar Americans were homeward bound.

Demographic indicators show that in this period, Americans were more eager than ever to establish families. The bomb-shelter honeymooners were part of a cohort of Americans who lowered the age at marriage for both men and women, and quickly brought the birthrate to a twentieth-century high after more than a hundred years of steady decline, producing the "baby boom" (See Tables 1 and 2). Virtually everyone of childbearing age participated in the production of the baby boom. Americans of all racial, ethnic, and religious groups, of all socio-economic classes and educational levels, married younger and had more children than at any other time in the twentieth century. Black and white, rich and poor, they all brought the marriage rate up and the divorce rate down. Although the nation remained divided along lines of race and class, and only members of the . . .

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