The obsession with generations began in January 1968, when my generation made the cover of Time magazine as "Man of the Year." Although the phrase "baby boomer," (referring to the post-WWII population explosion that lasted until 1964) wasn’t coined until 1970, there has been a focus on this generation throughout our lives. By the 1980s we were called the "Me Generation," but there was already a search for a word to describe subsequent groups, so the next two decades were about Generation X, Generation Y, and most recently, the "Millennials." In 1998, one of the almost boomers, Tom Brokaw (born in 1940), an NBC news anchor who spent his career witnessing this phenomenon, decided to write a book about a previous generation that did not get the press, nor draw attention to itself. He called the young men and women who came of age in World War II "the greatest generation." His bestselling book of the same name resurrected and redefined the generation that seemed to have been lost in the shadows of the postwar generations.
It was not fear that this generation was not getting its due that prompted me to select the 1940s as the subject of our annual APUS History project; in the past decade Brokaw’s book has made this claim accepted wisdom. It is really the passing of this generation that has prompted my interest. Each decade normally erases a generation from living memory.
My parents were born in 1920 and1921, and perfectly fit the example from Brokaw’s book. They suffered the privation and dislocation of the Great Depression, my mom having to move from Long Beach to a small town in the Sierras, and my dad fleeing the Dust Bowl in Nebraska to come to California. They heard FDR’s "Infamy" speech in Royce Hall, where they were attending UCLA. My dad became an officer on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, while my mom, after working in an aircraft plant in the San Fernando Valley, decided to join the Navy (WAVES) where she spent the war repairing planes for training pilots. After the war, they finished their degrees at Berkeley, married, moved to suburbia in Orange County, and produced three baby boomers. While my mom became a housewife, my father became an executive in an oil tool firm that spread innovative energy technology to the Middle East and the Soviet Union by the 1970s. With my dad’s passing in 2007 and my mom’s fading memory at age 92, it is clear we are on the verge of losing the stories of the Greatest Generation.
For this reason I sent my young scholars in search of living relatives or neighbors who witnessed World War II. They had to be born before 1935, so that they at least had childhood memories of the war, and they were to record a minimum one hour oral history with their interviewee. Although a chapter sharing the results of this part of the project is found at the end of this book, the interviews set the stage for a more thorough investigation of the decade. The students were asked to pick topics on the 1940s from a list more or less evenly divided between the "hot" war, World War II, and the "cold" war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. They then had to pick a serious and relatively recent historical work on the topic, read it, summarize it, analyze it, and share their findings in a paper. These papers would provide a wide-ranging survey of the period and of current historical interpretation.
The organization of the whole of this project was put into the hands of a small group of editors, led by my chief editor Sally Oh, who had to design, illustrate, and organize the book while editing multiple drafts of each of the fifty student papers and still pay for and publish the book in time for our last class meeting in June. They also had to design a website to display the papers online. The excellence of this volume, Hot and Cold: America from World War to Cold War, 1940-1949 is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of my two APUS History classes of 2012-13 and to the creativity and commitment of my editorial staff.
June 17, 2013