TROUBLED JOURNEY: From Pearl Harbor to Ronald Reagan by Frederick F. Siegel

TROUBLED JOURNEY: From Pearl Harbor to Ronald Reagan

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It isn't clear what historian Siegel's thin historical narrative is supposed to be about. The asymmetrical subtitle aims at a stated thesis that since American entry into WW II, the US political lead has periodically shifted between proponents and opponents of the New Deal, and its legacy. Presented along with this unremarkable notion, and a related theme of alternation between isolationists and interventionists, is a conventional rehash of headline news. The New Deal itself never receives any sustained treatment--along the way, it's mentioned as if it meant something as unambiguous as the Franco-Prussian War. Instead, Siegel describes FDR's gamble that cooperation with the Soviets was possible; Truman's rejection of cooperation, made easier by George Kennan's ""containment"" thesis; and the belated victory of the isolationists in the McCarthy purges. The 1950s are described as a period of prosperity, the ""end of ideology,"" and the birth of managed capitalism, among other pieties. The Kennedy years are seen as a militaristic continuation of Eisenhower's reign--the Johnson years, predictably, as the New Deal revived. Thus was spawned a conservative reaction, in congressional and local elections, that preceded the 1968 election of Richard Nixon. With Nixon, Siegel's already half-empty tank springs a leak: 30 pages on Nixon, Vietnam, and Watergate are followed by a final chapter of eight pages on everything since--skimming the top of electoral politics, and ending with Reagan's election. Siegel's contempt for what he sees as middle-class reformers takes hold in the prosperity era, and encompasses J. K. Galbraith, Eugene McCarthy, and environmentalists (Naderites, partly excepted); black activists fare pretty well. (When Siegel describes the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, he seems to feel that the police and the demonstrators deserved each other.) Each chapter is accorded a bibliographic listing, but no citations are employed, giving Siegel's evaluations a mark of consensus. Much inferior to Godfrey Hodgson's America in Our Time, among other, more adroit and discerning books.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux