War Babies

Buried by the Baby Boomers: Pells shines a light on the War Babies

Review by Grady Harp

Author Richard Pells is an honored historian and writer having received his B.A. from Rutgers University in 1963 and his Ph.D. in history from Harvard in 1969 where he taught for three years. He now is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Texas in Austin. His many articles and writings honor his specialty – 20th century American cultural history, with a special focus on the impact of American culture on other countries. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, as well as 6 Fulbright chairs and senior lectureships. His books have been reviewed in Newsweek, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New Republic. He also contributes articles regularly to magazines and newspapers including the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Los Angeles Times, and the International Herald Tribune. Pertinent to this book is the fact that he has lived and lectured all over Europe, as well as in Turkey, Southeast Asia, Australia, Mexico, and Brazil. It was these experiences living abroad that stimulated his interest in how America affected other people’s cultures, and how foreign cultures affected America – themes emphasized in both of his books, NOT LIKE US and MODERNIST AMERICA. Now he steps into the spotlight with WAR BABIES: THE GENERATION THAT CHANGED AMERICA – a long overdue exploration of those Americans born between 1939 and 1945 – the overall angst and contributions by writers, and leaders in movies, music, journalism, sports, and politics.

Perhaps being one of these War Babies contributes to the enthusiasm this reader has for this book. It is like a visit home to childhood and then a survey of all of the important figures bred during the time of WW II and post WW II era. His journey is reflected in the four sections of his book: the war babies produced the culture and political attitudes that persist to this day; The war babies were the architects of a value system less communal and more private, more suspicious of the benefits of government policy, political and organizations of all types; the war babies’ perspective on America was darker and more pessimistic – a skepticism that characterizes contemporary American culture and politics; the attitudes of war babies was exemplified in their movies, music, journalism and politics, that their descendants absorbed but did not originate.

His book is divided into significant chapters exploring the following: A Child’s Eye View of World War II, Growing Up in Cold War America, The Limits of McCarthyism, The War Babies and the Postwar Media, The Revolution in Movies, Reshaping America: The Politics and Journalism of the War Baby Generation, and the Legacy of the War Babies.

Peel brings to our attention many things even those of us who are war babies have forgotten – that famous people such as musicians and composers like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and Simon and Garfunkel, with film directors like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese, with actors like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Faye Dunaway, Harrison Ford, Lily Tomlin, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Martin Sheen and Joe Pesci; with athlete/activists like Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King; with journalists like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Tom Brokaw, George Will and Roger Ailes; influential politicians and humanitarians like Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Tom Hayden, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi. By bringing all of this and so much more to our attention, the era of War Babies becomes far more important to our national image and thinking. A fascinating book, brilliantly written.

ISBN: 9780990669807
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