77 North Washington Street


David Kennedy

ON the eve of the Great Crash, in 1929, President Herbert Hoover commissioned a group of social scientists to document the state of American society. Their study drew a word picture of the typical American (male, naturally), who, country-bred, now lived in a city, drove an automobile, and "radioed" in the evenings. "He was living better than his parents had ever dreamed of living," David M. Kennedy, the author of this issue's cover article, "Victory at Sea," writes in He had just cast his first presidential vote, in 1928, for Herbert Hoover, the most competent man in America, maybe in the world. In that same year he married a girl three years younger than he. She gave up her job to have their first baby. They started to think of buying a house, perhaps in one of the new suburbs. Life was just beginning.

And their world was about to come apart. In Freedom From Fear,Kennedy, who is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford University, chronicles on an epic scale the vicissitudes of history that interrupted the saga of hope and progress. Kennedy, a frequent Atlantic Monthly contributor, stresses not continuity but difference -- social, racial, economic, governmental -- between the America of 1945 and the pre-Depression America of the 1920s. What changed the country the most, we asked him recently -- the Depression, the New Deal, or the Second World War? That was the very question on his mind, Kennedy replied, when he began writing his book, and he was now in no doubt as to the answer: the war.
Kennedy ranks the New Deal last, though only because the transformative forces released by the Depression and the war were so profound. It took the cornucopian government spending of the Second World War to end the Depression, a calamity both vast and intimate that scarred a generation. The Second World War, the subject of "Victory at Sea," proved to be perhaps the hottest forge of change in American history. It brought the American people, Kennedy writes, "as far as imagination could reach, and beyond, from the ordeal of the Great Depression and ... opened apparently infinite vistas to the future."

That future was not given; it was won by the suffering, sacrifice, and courage of the thousands of typical Americans who fought through to victory.

-- THE EDITORS


Photograph by Steve Gladfelter/Stanford University

The Atlantic Monthly; February 1999; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 283, No. 2; page 6.



Presented by

Pittsburgh: 'It's Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Video

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

Video

Stunning GoPro Footage of a Wildfire

In the field with America’s elite Native American firefighting crew
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In