Diplomatic and cultural historian Weisbrode (Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI, 2013, etc.) recounts the turmoil of 1946 and the Americans who just wanted to return to a life of security.
The United States may not have suffered physical devastation in World War II, but as Herbert Hoover noted, “the victors suffer almost equally with the vanquished in economic misery and spiritual degradation.” This generation relished their survival, but they were the children of the Depression and took nothing for granted. Now they returned to live in fear of recession, poverty, and communism. They endured housing shortages, unemployment, and a country that was dominant in military and economic matters but politically isolated. Weisbrode rejects the biographies of Harry Truman that have lionized him, noting that the best thing about him was his honesty. He had to find a path through the Cold War, tensions between industry and labor, political disunity, and the communist threat and atomic policy. The author explains the difference between choosing and deciding; the first requires courage, while the second takes wisdom and diligence. He compares Truman to George W. Bush, who was also quick to issue directives and rarely second-guessed them. Weisbrode ably shows how Truman did not really judge; he acted. Luckily, he had good advisers. In one particularly interesting and currently applicable chapter, the author explores Poujadism, a form of populism similar to the current tea party. It was an angry, highly patriotic, reactionary movement to bring down elites, playing on people’s fears and blaming immigrants, nonwhites, and strange religions. The author explains Truman’s mistakes and successes in the Cold War, dealings with the Soviets, threats against striking workers, and removal of price controls. Even as he rejects Truman’s greatness, he admits that security required elaborate compromises and alliances. Truman was the perfect emblem of the unsure mood of 1946.
A solid, fact-filled study, especially relevant for those who thought life was better then.