The Day After

Yesterday was the sixty-ninth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Pearl Harbor was one of those events that it would not be an exaggeration to say that people woke up the next day to a world that was decidely different and, over the next four years, that world would continue to change in ways that would make it appear very foreign indeed.  America entered World War II as an emerging world power; it exited World War II as a global leader exercising significant economic, military, industrial and political power.  America entered the war as a conventional military power; it emerged as a nuclear power.  The America that emerged from World War II was the one that I and many other “baby boomers” were born into. 

Postwar America was a country committed to progress, prosperity and the notion that every American should receive a college education, hold a good job, own a nice home and drive a new car.  After World War II America became, in essence, a consumer’s republic.  If you are wondering how, why and when we initiated an economic trajectory that would result in one-third of our GNP being dominated by consumer spending, examine the government’s role in marketing the notion that mass consumption was not only in the best way to achieve the general welfare but was synonymous with patriotism.  The “American Dream” that politicians continually refer to today was created in the postwar period as a way to sustain the level of economic and political power and influence America achieved during and just following World War II. 

If you are interested in reading more about the creation of the postwar “American Dream”, read Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumer’s Republic:  The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

Oh, and just for fun, did you know that the day after Pearl Harbor F.D.R. was driven to the capitol to make his famous speech in Al Capone’s armored Cadillac?  The Secret Service needed an armored car to transport the president but could not afford $750 to buy one, so an agent suggested that they use Capone’s car since he was in prison for tax evasion.  It had been painted black and green to look identical to Chicago’s police cars at the time, had a specially installed siren and flashing lights hidden behind the grille and a police scanner radio. The 1928 Cadillac 341A Town Sedan also had 3,000 pounds of armor and inch-thick bulletproof windows.

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