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Dark Fears of the Golden Years

The government’s action plan for manufacturing the postwar consensus.

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Illustration by Tony Millionaire  

On December 10, 1946, Attorney General Tom Clark, worried that wartime national unity was fracturing, invited media, entertainment, and advertising grandees to his office to pitch them on the idea of a “Freedom Train” that would travel the country with historic documents to “brighten the flame of American patriotism at a critical time.” Excerpts of his speech:

Gentlemen:

During the war, we were able to sustain a prolonged period of patriotic fervor. The urgency of the times made men and women rise above their own interests for the greater good of their country. You know the story of American heroism and self-sacrifice as well as I do. But with the return to peace came the disintegration of much of our American unity.

The process of reconversion has severely strained the economic and social structure of our society. Its repercussions are still with us. Newspaper headlines daily proclaim the unfortunate tensions and dissensions which beset our nation. The idealism that permeated our people during the war has yielded to the practical philosophy of “Each man for himself!” And, as usual, the aftermath of war has brought its characteristic cynicism, disillusionment, and lawlessness …

I am disturbed, also, by the impact of alien ideologies. These always thrive on dissension. Particularly during a period of economic stress do they hold forth false promise to the hungry or the gullible. It is our responsibility to create safeguards against such eventualities—through the constant scrutiny of subversive elements—and through affirmative programs of education in democracy. In this time of world crisis, such programs rate a high priority on the time and efforts of all of us. Then, again, we have too many Old World rivalries and hatreds being reenacted in this country by groups of Americans whose zeal sometimes runs away with them. Our nation is an amalgamation of many cultures. We have always welcomed the cultural contributions of all peoples to the mosaic of American life. Therein lies a principle source of our vitality and strength. But, foreign born or native born, we must impress upon all our citizens their primary obligation to the best interests of their own country.

This department of your government also has a continuing concern about the professional bigots and other disrupters of American unity. They pervert the sacred right of free speech to place one American against another, one creed against another, one race against another. Their preachments violate every concept of human rights—both Christian and American. They, too, add to the ferment of discord among our people. Yet, though they sin against the spirit of our country, we are powerless to restrain them. The only effective weapon against them is the development of a broader appreciation of our American heritage …

In its largest sense, preaching Americanism is an affirmative declaration of our faith in ourselves. We are convinced that this is the greatest and most wonderful country in the world. For where, in the whole wide world, has Man developed in greater dignity? Where has Man been blessed with more freedom to express his natural aspirations: Where, but in America! Let us, then, speak of America for its own sake—because it’s ours, because we’re proud of it, and because we thrill to its promise for the future.

It is in this spirit that I have called you together. Each of you represents a powerful educational medium. You have the most effective facilities and the best “know how” for launching a mass educational campaign. You have the means and the talent to ensure the success of any such program.


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