I am thrilled to see my article, “The Equal Rights Amendment and the Rise of Emancipationism,” published in Frontiers‘ special issue on the ERA. My article is based on a paper that I presented at “The ERA in the 21st Century” conference in November 2013. It also builds upon two chapters from my PhD dissertation, which I successfully defended in March 2014.
This past August marked exactly 70 years since American bombers dropped an uranium gun-type bomb (nicknamed Little Boy) on Hiroshima; this was an event that witnessed the obliteration of a large city in the blink of an eye. Hiroshima did have a military presence, since it contained a naval base and the home of the Second General Army Headquarters. Nonetheless, American strategic planners aimed the bomb not at the army base, but at the very center of the civilian part of the city in order to maximize the bomb’s devastation. On August 6, 1945, Little Boy exploded 1,900 feet above the courtyard of Shima Hospital with a yield equivalent to 12,500 TNT. The temperature at ground zero reached 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit, which immediately created a fireball within half a mile. The absolute devastation roasted many people alive; thousands of charred bundles were strew in the streets, sidewalks, and bridges. The instant destructive power of the bomb also vaporized many others. The bomb, for instance, left only the shadow of one man imprinted onto the granite steps of a bank; he had been waiting for the bank to open before the bomb hit. The blasts that followed the original explosion obliterated thousands of houses. Of 76,000 buildings in the industrial city, 70,000 were destroyed. Altogether, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima killed around 90,000 to 100,000 persons instantly; by the end of 1945, the number of those lost had risen to 145,000 (only about 20,000 of them soldiers).
In the episodes leading up to the Mad Men series finale, the show’s foremost character, the ever charismatic and manipulative Don Draper, who also happens to be the embodiment of the mid-twentieth-century advertising man, had been on a whirlwind Jack Kerouac-esque trip across America. Throughout this trip, we watched Don shed his personal possessions: for instance, he gave his car to a rookie con artist and his former wife’s wedding ring to his pseudo niece Stephanie. By the end, all he had was a tattered envelop full of money. By this time, Don had also found himself at a Esalen-like retreat facility in California where he experienced what appeared to be an emotional breakthrough.
The Power of Americanism
How should we understand the labor movements of the mid-twentieth century? Were they ultimately radical or conservative in nature? In Working-Class Americanism, Gary Gerstle looks at how progressive working-class leaders in Woonsocket, Rhode Island were more pragmatic than radical while their traditionalist counterparts were more innovative than conservative. By presenting a community study with a close analysis of political language, Gerstle illuminates the conception of Americanism, underscores the diversity in mid-twentieth century labor unions, and demonstrates the transformative ideological nature of the 1940s. In the end, Gerstle’s work raises significant questions about the construction of political language.
Lizabeth Cohen connects a number of elements to illustrate what she understands to be America’s postwar obsession with mass consumption. By examining government documents, sociological surveys, marketing research, and historical monographs, Cohen shows how the Progressive and New Deal eras’ emphasis on consumerism as the cornerstone of citizenship changed in post-World War II America. Cohen ties together federal policy, business cycles, reform movements, marketing strategies, and the local history of northern New Jersey to chart the rise of mass consumerism in American society. In the end, Cohen presents a history of mass consumerism’s effects on race, gender, class, and politics.
Put simply, Cohen’s overreaching thesis is that the way we buy shapes the way we understand ourselves as citizens. As Cohen maintains, “I am convinced that Americans after World War II saw their nation as the model for the world of a society committed to mass consumption…consumption did not only deliver wonderful things for purchase…It also dictated the most central dimensions of postwar society.” Consumerism, Cohen contends, influences public life as much as it responds to private needs. For Cohen, American values, attitudes, and behaviors are attached to consumerism; moreover, she argues that public policy and mass consumption mutually reinforce each other. Ultimately, Cohen suggests that communal identities spring from modes of consumption, and not modes of production.