A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

Visions of Classlessness,
Quests for Dominion

Roland Marchand

“The great majority of Americans,” wrote poet and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish in 1943, “understand very well that this war is not a war only, but an end and a beginning—an end to things known and a beginning of things unknown…. We know that whatever the world will be when the war ends, the world will be different.”

The United States emerged from World War II the most powerful and prosperous nation on earth. It was a beginning, and a different world—but one shaped by the legacy of war. In this article, historian Roland Marchand looks beyond Cold War politics to examine the legacies of war in the culture of postwar America. Wartime promises of abundance and democracy, prosperity and equality, he argues, ran up against a more complex set of social realities. The resulting tensions were played out, among other places, in American popular culture.

Does Marchand convince you that a more homogenous and national culture developed in the postwar years? If so, how do you account for the great diversity of popular culture that exists today? What role might the development of a more national, homogenous culture have played in the development of, for example, the Great Society (following in Part 2) or the Civil Rights movement (Part 3)?

The constraints and sacrifices of World War II did not prepare Americans to meet the realities of the postwar era with equanimity. Expec

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