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The Culture of the Cold War (The American Moment) [Hardcover]

Professor Stephen J. Whitfield

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14 May 1996 The American Moment

"Without the Cold War, what's the point of being an American?" As if in answer to this poignant question from John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, Stephen Whitfield examines the impact of the Cold War--and its dramatic ending--on American culture in an updated version of his highly acclaimed study. In a new epilogue to this second edition, he extends his analysis from the McCarthyism of the 1950s, including its effects on the American and European intelligensia, to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond.

Whitfield treats his subject matter with the eye of a historian, reminding the reader that the Cold War is now a thing of the past. His treatment underscores the importance of the Cold War to our national identity and forces the reader to ask, Where do we go from here? The question is especially crucial for the Cold War historian, Whitfield argues. His new epilogue is partly a guide for new historians to tackle the complexities of Cold War studies.

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"A lively and well-documented account of how the Cold War both produced and was sustained by super-patriotism, intolerance and suspicion, and how these pathologies infected all aspects of American life in the 1950s -- entertainment, churches, schools. Older readers will remember and still be amazed; younger ones will find this a readable introduction to a bizarre aspect of the American past." -- Foreign Affairs, reviewing the first edition

About the Author

Stephen J. Whitfield is Max Richter Chair in American Civilization at Brandeis University. He is the author of A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till and A Critical American: The Politics of Dwight Macdonald

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid overview of US cultural history from 1946-1962 10 Jun 2004
By Too Much Free Time - Published on
Whitfield's book serves as a succinct overview of American Cold War culture, which he defines as ending in the early 1960s (a questionable decision but one made by many scholars who employ the "Cold War Culture" rubric).
What sets apart this book from other entries in the literature is Whitfield's recognition of the importance of religion to Cold War America and his willingness to grapple with the Cold War's full range of moral implications (an element lacking in most academic studies of the domestic side of the Cold War, which tend to fixate endlessly on McCarthy, who is used to tar and discredit all variants of American anti-Communism). This is not to suggest that Whitfield is an apologist for McCarthy, not at all, but to commend Whitfield for understanding that, to paraphrase Arthur Koestler, the Cold War was the story of the United States fighting for a half-truth against a total lie.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No end notes or foot notes 5 Aug 2010
By Carolina Magnolia - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Considering that Stephen Whitfield's The Culture of the Cold War is part of the American Moment series and is published by Johns Hopkins UP, I felt this would be a safe purchase of a book catering to my interests as a history undergrad. By chapter four, however, I was certain that my purchase was misguided. Whitfield provides sensational quotes which would prompt any undergrad who is even halfway serious about their field to rush to the foot- or endnotes for further reading. The joke is on the reader as neither exists in this book.

A bibliographical essay is the closest that Whitfield comes to revealing his sources. This essay contains publications which the author describe as "rather pedestrian" (p245; referencing Parmet, Eisenhower and the American Crusades), "self-referential" (p251; referencing Hines, Populuxe), and "authors [who] sprinkle their learning with paprika" (p257, referencing Erik Barnouw and J. Fred MacDonald). Knowing how amazing homemade macaroni and cheese is when sprinkled with paprika I will presume this to be a compliment.

Choosing to not struggle through a coded labyrinth to determine if quotes were accurate, misquoted, or taken out of context, I bailed after chapter four. For example, Whitfield quotes Eisenhower as stating to Billy Graham, "Billy, I believe one reason I was elected President was to lead America in a religious revival," (p90) but there is no citation for this supposed quote. Is the intended undergrad reader expected to turn to the bibliographical essay and comb every publication regarding Eisenhower or Graham?

Another example is found on page 49 where Whitfield states the Internal Security Act of 1950 created "concentration camps in Pennsylvania, Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona (two), and California." I have searched for possible sources which would discuss these "concentration camps" and have come up empty. Scholarly web sites discussing the ISA fail to mention any concentration camps. If the author had only included citations...

I cannot escape the thought that one who veils his sources likely has dubious intentions and investing any further reading would be a waste of time. Without citations, one is left with the feeling that they have listened to elderly relatives recalling oral histories. This is not acceptable for a text intended for undergrads.

His writing style is enjoyable, but I just cannot commit time to a text without notes. Someone who doesn't care about sources and whether what they are reading can be verified would love it. I am pleased with the breadth of publications listed in the essay and consider it partially worth the cost of the book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Introductory Text 8 May 2013
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
I was preconditioned to appreciate this book when I first picked it up for a reading. I have been devouring studies of the Cold War because of its central place in American civilization in the latter half of the twentieth century, but I was disappointed in The Culture of the Cold War by Stephen Whitfield, a professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. First, the book is misnamed; it is really about the Red Scare, McCarthyism, the HUAC investigations, the Hollywood Ten, and the larger context of American anti-Soviet fears between the latter 1940s and the early 1950s. I have read other books on this subject that I have found more valuable. I would name David Caute's "The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower" (Simon & Schuster, 1978); "The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left" (Princeton University Press, 2012) by Landon Storrs; and Richard M. Fried's "Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective" (Oxford University Press, 1991) as go to books dealing with this same subject.

Whitfield's book focuses on suspicions, the stigma of leftism, the potency of ideology, the politics of religion, the encouragement of informing on fellow citizens, the Red Scare among the film and television industry, and the hesitant and late-coming backlash against red baiting. Chapted on each of these subjects dominate the book. His second edition in 1996 appends to this discussion a disjunctive and not terribly well connected essay on the end of the Cold War to what had gone before. Overall, it is less than fully satisfying discussion.

I was struck, additionally, by the complete lack of references in the book. I know "The Culture of the Cold War" was written as an introductory and, I must assume from what was presented, an undergraduate supplemental text but since I want to check everything I was troubled by the lack of scholarly apparatus. There was a good bibliographical essay with key secondary works discussed by chapter, but no way whatsoever to trace the source of important quotes. One example will suffice. Whitfield quotes Eisenhower as saying to televangelist Billy Graham: "Billy, I believe one reason I was elected President was to lead America in a religious revival" (p. 90). Did Ike actually say that? Perhaps so, but there is no way to trace it through references in this book.

It may also be that the quote is incorrect. There is a version of this story in a sermon by Billy Graham on October 6, 1955, entitled "Is There an Answer?" In it Graham tells of meeting with Eisenhower at the Commodore Hotel in New York City. The following exchange took place according to Graham: "`Billy, do you know why I believe I have been elected President?' I said, `I think I know several reasons, Sir.' He said: "I think one of them is to help lead America in a religious revival which we must have'." It's a small point perhaps, but I want to check sources and was frustrated throughout this book when I tried to do so.

This is an acceptable work on the Red Scare and McCarthyism. For larger perspectives on the Cold War, however, one must look elsewhere.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read on the Cold War. 23 April 2014
By Robert Allen - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've now read this book twice - and found it greatly informative on the Cold War.

I highly recommend this read to get an overall "feel" for the Cold War in America.
4 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Culture of Cold War -- Whitfield 14 July 2001
By "ftipton" - Published on
Whitfield's book is extremely informative. The connections he makes are fascinating. The book made me want to go out to the library and Blockbuster and look at the popular books and movies he talks about for a second time in a fresh light.
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