Nostalgia for '50S Gets Close Scrutiny: Era Was Product of War, Frum Says
McCain, Robert Stacy, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Conservatives who celebrate "the halcyon 1950s" are in danger of succumbing to nostalgia by idealizing an era that was "the product of very unusual, even un-American, circumstances," author David Frum warned Monday.
"What I want to do is to caution against nostalgia, the most useless of emotions," Mr. Frum told an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) audience. Instead, he suggests they "abandon the idea that it can somehow be remade in the image of the society that waged World War II."
Many Americans correctly remember the 1950s as "a time of consensus and stability and respect for authority," Mr. Frum said. Marriage rates were high, divorce rates were low, and a man with only a high-school diploma could support a wife and family.
But these "impermanent" and "unnatural" conditions were the products of "a society formed by war," Mr. Frum told those attending his presentation in AEI's Bradley Lecture Series, titled "Where Did the Sixties Come From?"
He pointed out that from the Spanish-American War in 1898 until U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam - a 75-year period that included World War I, World War II and the Korean War - "the United States was almost constantly at war or in imminent danger of war, and even when it was at peace, its leaders and elites believed that it should be governed in ways that mobilized its strength in readiness for war."
Mr. Frum, a Canadian who is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, said America at mid-century was experiencing a "blue-collar utopia created by bombing Japan and Germany flat and granting broad union powers."
In addition to destroying the industrial base of America's economic competitors, U.S. victory in World War II also inspired "faith in the political leaders who bring victory," Mr. Frum said. "Americans trusted their leaders. How could you not trust General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower?" The "sense of common endeavor" shared by GIs who had served in World War II was the fruit of a wartime "we're-all-in-this-together spirit," Mr. Frum said. That spirit produced political consensus in the postwar era: "However much Republicans and Democrats disagreed about the relatively petty issues of domestic politics, they were united on what then really mattered - the great issues of war and peace," he said. …