EACH GENERATION receives a distinctive imprinting from the social, political, and cultural events of its childhood. Shaping America's homefront girls and boys were the "cohort effects" of the Second World War; but the war's influence did not surcease in 1945. In fact, the wartime beliefs and values with which the homefront children grew up were largely the same beliefs and values that guided them later, during their adolescence and adulthood. The prevailing ideology about patriotism and America's leadership of the Free World, as well as about marriage and the family and the need to "get ahead," changed little from the early 1940s to the mid- to late 1960s.
It is easy to caricature the postwar years as America's "Good Times Generation"--an epoch of innocence, simple truths, and apathy, before the onslaughts of the 1960s and beyond. Cold War historians, liberals and conservatives alike, have praised this period, entitling their books American High: The Years of Confidence, 1945-1960 and The Proud Decades: America in War and Peace, 1941-1960. A radical writer, on the other hand, has called his book The Dark Ages: Life in the United States, 1945-1960. 1 But whether liberal or conservative, few would disagree with Godfrey Hodgson, the British journalist, who has discerned the twin moods of postwar America: "Confident to the verge of complacency about the perfectibility of American society, anxious to the point of paranoia about the threat of communism--these were the two faces of the consensus mood. Each grew," Hodgson added, "from one aspect of the 1940s: confidence from economic success, anxiety from the fear of Stalin and the frustrations of power." By the 1960 presidential election, there were few Americans who contested this "ideology of the liberal consensus." As Hodgson noted, "Some voted for Kennedy, and some for Nixon. But, except for a small fringe of conservatives and an almost insignificant sprinkling of radicals, political differences were less important in 1960 than the underlying consensus. Most Americans then accepted an ideology of imperial liberalism whose chief tenets were simplicity itself: the American system worked at home, and America must be strong abroad." 2