I envy my grandchildren who will live long enough to read a book written by another David Halberstam, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who has written about the social, political, and athletic life of America in books like The Fifties, The Best and the Brightest and The Amateurs. I have high hopes that one of my granddaughters, Emily Roesner, with her great interest in political science, will be the one to write such a book about these past ten years and beyond. Through the lens of time and with perspective, I desperately want to know how history will judge the key people who have played a part in this current social and political scene. What responsibility will be placed at the feet of the media, the reasons for the rise and fall of Obama, of people like Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove who have interpreted events and policy for us? Will Clinton herself ultimately bear the blame for her loss? What led to the mood of the country that wanted to see America great again? What about Poloci and Reid, McConnell and Banner in their respective leadership roles? Reading The Fifties has been SO interesting; a book about this era will be too.
I was a teenager in the Fifties. Like these women in this photograph, I wore a polo coat, and saddle shoes and learned to drive. I left for the University of Kentucky in the fall of 1956. Dwight Eisenhower was running for re-election as President. I dragged my mostly southern democratic Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters to Rupp Arena to hear him speak. Halberstam offers portraits of not only Eisenhower, but Dulles, Oppenheimer, MacArthur, Hoover, and Nixon, Harley Earl, who put fins on cars; Dick and Mac McDonald and Ray Kroc, who mass-produced the American hamburger; Kemmons Wilson, who placed his Holiday Inns along the nation’s roadsides; U-2 pilot Gary Francis Powers; Grace Metalious, who wrote Peyton Place; and “Goody” Pincus, who led the team that invented the Pill. Reading this book has provided THE REST OF THE STORY as Paul Harvey used to say on WLS-AM 890 in Chicago.
If you are a certain age, I guarantee you will be all the more captivated by this book because this is part of your story from President Truman’s firing of General Douglas MacArthur, the Eisenhower years, Senator Joe McCarthy’s red-baiting, the early U.S. involvement in Indochina, the H-bomb, the purging of atomic scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Supreme Court ordering the integration of schools, troops in Little Rock to enforce it, the Montgomery bus boycott, the rise of Martin Luther King, Russia’s sputnik launch, and Castro’s revolutionary Cuba.
Halberstam’s book, The Fifties chronicles the social, political, economic, and cultural history of the ten years that he regards as seminal in determining what our nation is today. No one living through the fifties could have fully grasped the far-reaching ramifications of what was playing out around us. Now we will have to wait and see what these last years have wrought. I for one am optimistic and excited about the possibilities ahead. Reading The Fifties reassures me that even when we get it wrong, we can repair our losses and survive our scoundrels. I am placing my hand over my heart to pledge allegiance….I hope you will too.