Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950

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The sixth volume in one of the great ongoing works of American cultural history -- Kevin Starr's monumental Americans and the California Dream series -- Embattled Dreams is a peerless work of cultural history following California through the years surrounding World War II. In the 1940s California ascended to a new, more powerful role in the nation. Starr describes the vast expansion of the war industry and California's role as the "arsenal of democracy," and takes special note of the significant part women played in the aviation industry. He examines the politics of the state: Earl Warren as the dominant political figure, the anti-communist movement and "red baiting," and the early career of Richard Nixon. He also explores the culture of the time, from the counterculture to Hollywood, film noir, and crime fiction. Furthermore, he illuminates the harassment of Japanese immigrants and the shameful treatment of other minorities, especially Hispanics and blacks. The Philadelphia Inquirer has hailed Starr "the foremost chronicler of that often fabulous region, imposing upon the dramatic elements of California history a novelist's imagination." With Embattled Dreams, Starr again provides a spellbinding account of the Golden State as it transformed itself from a regional power to a dominant economic, social, and cultural force.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The sixth volume in Starr's notable cultural history of California examines the decade that changed the largely agricultural state into a powerful national player in politics, defense, manufacturing and, of course, entertainment. State Librarian of California and University of Southern California history professor Starr opens with a broad-brush overview of the state on the brink of the U.S. entry into WWII. The chapters that follow are almost encyclopedic, detailing the curtailment of Japanese-American civil rights; California's wartime role in the defense industry; the career and political impact of Earl Warren; the rising number of minorities; the hunt for communists; and the growing cultural and economic power of Hollywood. All this happened amid the pursuit of the California dream. Starr writes, "the war had given rise to an intensified expectation of a better life." Dramatic profiles go some way toward bringing the history to life, but Starr doesn't have a particular flair for novelistic narrative, and in any case the crowded volume doesn't give him much room to stretch his storytelling muscles. Likewise, given the scope of the book, some subjects are addressed only briefly. Annotated lists of movies, for example, are meant to give a sense of the country's mood, but the effort feels hurried. While readers should not expect sustained analysis of any single subject, this ambitious book gives a broad, comprehensive overview of how the decade changed California ("Something vibrant, explosive, inchoate even, had entered the California experiment"), and how California in turn shaped the postwar destiny of the nation. 38 b&w photos not seen by PW. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

"The scope of Starr's scholarship is breathtaking; this is a social, economic, political, and cultural history that covers such disparate subjects as popular San Francisco restaurants, shipbuilding, changes in domestic architecture, Raymond Chandler's fiction, the roots of anti-Japanese sentiment, baseball's Pacific Coast League, and the rise of Richard Nixon."--Ben Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly

"This is ebullient, nuanced, interdisciplinary history of the grandest kind, drawing parallels and distinctions where perhaps no one ever thought to see them before. Starr's a born storyteller as well, mining a rich seam of anecdotal coal to animate the complex, enigmatic figures California history bustles with.... Starr is an undervalued and irreplaceable public treasure."--David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle

"For ambition, narrative drive and breadth of research across the disciplines from culture through politics and demography to agronomy and water management, no recent project of American historical writing comes close to Kevin Starr's mammoth, multi-volume "Americans and the California Dream".... It is a magnificent accomplishment.... Starr's project all along has been at least as concerned with the California of the imagination as with the California of fact and has assumed that realities do begin in dreams.... Starr is at least as good a narrator of nightmares as he is of the beauties, successes or accomplishments of the California experience."--David Rieff, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"An exciting picture of how California changed during World War II, yet remained irrepressibly the same. Kevin Starr has captured the whole cockeyed chiaroscuro, with a novelist's eye for the telling detail, and a historian's grasp of the sweep of grand events. From the Hollywood Canteen to the Black Dahlia mystery, from the plight of the Okies and the Japanese to the gargantuan military buildup and the Golden State's bone-deep frivolity, he's got it all down. I was there, and I know. I read the book with absorbed admiration." --Herman Wouk, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War

"Kevin Starr is an absolutely wonderful writer, passionate, learned, born, as they said of Samuel Johnson, to wrestle with whole libraries. In Embattled Dreams, he has surpassed himself. This is his best book yet." --Max Byrd, author and Professor of English, UC Davis

"No one knows the shadows and light of the California Dream better than Kevin Starr. World war and political repression brought darkness to the dream, but Starr reminds us of what makes California compelling, as the home of American heartbreak and American promise." --Virginia Scharff, Director, Center for the Southwest, University of New Mexico

"California, in all its mythical splendor and promise, is in fact America stripped naked of myth. That is why Kevin Starr, who knows and recites California's epic better than anyone, must be judged one of America's finest living historians. Read all six of his volumes and lose your dreams...in dreams." --Walter A. McDougall, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age

"The 1940s, that decade of wars both hot and cold, changed California more than any other era in history. Kevin Starr leaves nothing out. Here are the shifting politics and populations, the burgeoning shipyards and aircraft factories, the movies, the novels--the whole culture of this exciting society in profound transition. How does he focus so much detail into such a lively, driving narrative?" --Stephen Fender, Research Professor of American Studies, University of Sussex

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195168976
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/28/2003
  • Series: Americans and the California Dream Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Starr is the State Librarian of California. He also holds the rank of University Professor in the Department of History at the University of Southern California.

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Read an Excerpt

California in War and Peace, 1940-1950

By Kevin Starr


Copyright © 2002 Kevin Starr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0195124375

Chapter One

1940 * A Matter of Life or Death

Like most philosophers, Sigmund, Freud struggled throughout his life with the problem of evil. From Freud s perspective, that of a practicing psychiatrist with ambitions equally clinical and speculative, evil meant aggression, which is to say, all forms of destructive behavior. For various reasons, Freud long resisted the notion that aggression was possessed of its own separate existence, its own ontology, in the human psyche. Aggression rather—or so Freud struggled to believe—came as a by-product of those suppressions of instinct that were necessary for civilization itself. And yet, in surveying the terrible destruction of the First World War, Freud had his doubts. Was there not ample evidence of a persistent death instinct in human behavior as well? True, death was the inevitable terminus ad quem of life; but such a perception of death kept it in balance with the life instinct in an ambivalent but inevitable partnership. What was one to say, though, when the death instinct raged beyond its normal boundaries and became an overriding force in human behavior? Freud called the life instinct eros. Never in print, only in conversation, he called the death instinct thanatos, perhaps reluctant to use so mythic and metaphysical a term in clinical discourse.

    Contemplating the Great War, in part through discussions with Albert Einstein, Freud edged, reluctantly, toward an admission, as his biographer Ernest Jones puts it, "of a primary aggressive or destructive instinct, one which when fused with sexual impulses becomes the familiar perversion called sadism." By the time he wrote Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) in the summer of 1929, Freud was willing to admit his error. "I can no longer understand," Freud admitted, "how we could have overlooked the universality of non-erotic aggression and destruction, and could have omitted to give it its due significance in our interpretation of life." Freud struggled to come to terms with the balances and imbalances of the life instinct and the death instinct—when out of kilter, running rampant, as aggression and destruction—in human affairs. But something else, something more dark and terrible, something loving violence and death, could also erupt into personal and social experience. Fleeing Vienna for London in the wake of the Nazi invasion of Austria on 11 March 1938, dying of throat cancer through 1939 as Europe entered into darkness, Freud had time to contemplate the final question of Civilization and Its Discontents. "The fateful question for the human species," Freud had written, "seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety. And now it is to be expected that the other of the two 'Heavenly Powers', eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary."

    Eros and thanatos! The forces of life, Freud was suggesting simply but powerfully—love, sexuality, appetite, joy in the pageant and mystery of creation—were now on a worldwide basis coming under massive threat from thanatos: the forces of death and darkness, abnegation and annihilation. Now was unfolding across Europe and Asia a reversion to a dawn world of primal conflict and indiscriminate slaughter made even more fearsome by the new technologies of war. Cities would be destroyed from the sky, with hundreds of thousands killed. Great armies would meet in conflict, and young men would die unto the millions or have their bodies reduced to clotted knots of pain. An entire race of people, together with dissidents and other undesirables, would be fed into ovens more horrible than the fiery furnaces of Moloch that consumed the ancient Hebrews. And when it would be ended by the deaths of an entire generation and the ferocious preventative of two atom bombs, some sixty million people would have lost their lives, devoured by the forces of thanatos that had in the first half of the 1940s reached an intensity of scale unprecedented in human history.

    This, then, was the world in 1940: a world at war, save for the Americas, yet a world still only in the early stages of combat and slaughter. By the end of 1940, only Great Britain and its allies, which is to say, its Commonwealth nations, stood against the German Reich; and it remained a matter of conjecture just exactly how long this situation could last or, more ominously, whether it was now time for Great Britain itself to be invaded or to sue for peace. Nineteen forty had been a year of triumphant aggression by Nazi Germany on the Continent. Only Great Britain and Greece had managed to maintain their independence, and this at a terrible cost of life. True, the Battle of Britain, which had begun in July, had maintained British mastery over British airspace, and this in turn would make the invasion of Britain less probable, especially after Hitler had turned his attention to the invasion of the Soviet Union; but for Londoners on the receiving end of the firebombs, or Americans listening to the descriptions of these attacks by radio commentator Edward R. Murrow, the prospect of Great Britain failing, or suing for a separate peace, remained a possibility as 1940 turned to 1941. Already, now, millions had died in Europe and Asia. Great cities—Warsaw, Rotterdam, London—had been bombed. Britain had lost a battleship, the Royal Oak, to a German submarine and had barely managed to evacuate its army from the Continent. Death was everywhere, and a great Nazi darkness had descended on Europe.

    All this seemed so remote, so irrelevant to far-off California, even more remote and irrelevant than it seemed to other parts of the United States, given the isolation of California on a still sparsely settled Pacific Coast, separated from Europe by the American continent itself and the Atlantic Ocean and from Asia by a Pacific Ocean whose vastness had always intimidated the American imagination. And besides: as of 3 October 1939, with the passage and signing of the Neutrality Act, the United States was officially on the sidelines, although the very next month, on 4 November, Congress passed an amendment to the Neutrality Act allowing the United States to sell arms to European democracies on a cash-and-carry basis. On 3 September 1940 the United States transferred to Great Britain fifty antiquated destroyers in exchange for ninety-nine-year leases on naval and air bases in Newfoundland and the West Indies.

    Nominated for an unprecedented third term, with Henry Wallace as his running mate, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was taking a risk with the exchange of destroyers for leases because he, like Woodrow Wilson in 1916, was explicitly promising in his campaign to keep the United States out of the European conflict. Still, there was the destroyer deal to reckon with and the passage by Congress a mere thirteen days later, on 16 September, of the Selective Service Act authorizing the first peacetime draft in American history: nine hundred thousand selectees to be taken each year from a pool of all men between the ages of twenty and thirty-six, who were now required to register. Their length of service: one year—but this was quickly extended to eighteen months in August 1941. No matter what Roosevelt was saying about staying out of the war, the Selective Service Act of September 1940 conveyed another message entirely in bold, unambiguous terms.

    Nor was the national media absent from this psychological buildup toward war. The year 1940 witnessed a steady rise in articles on both the European war and American preparedness. Look magazine was especially active in this regard, publishing articles by General Hugh Johnson, who had administered Roosevelt's National Recovery Act in the 1930s, World War I ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, military theorist Major Leonard Nason, and Colonel William Donovan, soon to organize the Office of Strategic Services, on various aspects of American preparedness. Eric Sevareid, meanwhile, was reporting on the Battle of Britain and the bombing of London, and commentator Dorothy Thompson was pounding away against arguments for continuing American neutrality. The California dimension of all this talk of preparedness and the coming war did not so much involve the Pacific Fleet, which had recently left San Diego and Long Beach for Pearl Harbor; nor did it involve the Army or the Marine Corps, still a scaled-down presence on the West Coast. In the buildup of American aviation at Douglas, Northrop, Loeb heed, North American, and Consolidated in Southern California, however, and the first efforts to train pilots for the war that would surely happen, California was accorded more than its share of media coverage. In May 1940 Roosevelt called for the building of fifty thousand war planes within the next calendar year, the first step in what would later emerge as the President's concept of the United States as an Arsenal of Democracy. In early 1940 the Army Air Corps established pilot training programs at the Ryan School of Aeronautics in San Diego and Hemet, the Cal-Aero School in Glendale, and the Allan Hancock College of Aeronautics in Santa Maria. Mechanics were to be trained at the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in Glendale. Privately owned, these flight and technical schools were under contract to the Army Air Corps to produce the first generation of pilots and mechanics for the possible entry of the United States into the world conflict. In April 1940 Major General Henry Arnold, chief of the Army Air Corps, conducted an official visit to these facilities. Shortly, Arnold would establish bombardier and bomber crew training programs at various sites in Riverside County.

Resistance to this growing involvement in the war effort—the cash-and-carry amendment to the Neutrality Act, the draft, the fifty destroyers, the fifty thousand aircraft, the impending Arsenal of Democracy concept—surfaced in 1940 in various anti-war groups: Keep Out of the War, Youth Committee Against War, the North Philadelphia Peace Council, and, most effectively, the America First movement. Founded in the spring of 1940 by a group of students at the Yale Law School that included future President Gerald Ford, future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, and future Yale president Kingman Brewster, the chairman of the Yale Daily News, the America First movement soon developed into a nationwide organization attracting a variety of anti-interventionists. While the movement included such a liberal figure as New Republic columnist John Flynn, the basic membership and certainly the leadership of America First was soon dominated by Midwestern Republicans of wealth. Its acting chairman was General Robert Wood, chairman of the board of Sears, Roebuck in Chicago. Here was no fringe group. Here was, rather, a consolidation of some sixty thousand Republicans organized in eleven local chapters, many of them former Progressives, still traumatized by what they considered to be America's unnecessary entrance into the First World War and the heroic casualties of that misadventure. Supporters of the movement in one degree or another of affiliation or mere friendliness included Ray Lyman Wilbur, president of Stanford University, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, and former President Herbert Hoover. In California, two prominent women, film and stage star Lillian Gish and novelist Kathleen Norris, assumed leadership positions. Throughout 1940, then, the America First Committee functioned, basically, as a generally Republican Progressive-oriented and largely Midwestern opposition to Roosevelt and the pro-interventionists.

    On 17 April 1941, however, sometime Californian Colonel Charles Lindbergh, the Lone Eagle, joined the national committee. Lindbergh's notoriety, was good news for America First. The bad news, Lindbergh's adamantly anti-British attitudes and his citation of Zionism as one of the forces dragging the United States into the conflict, would soon reveal itself. As far as California was concerned, the high point of Lindbergh's campaign consisted in two rallies in the summer of 1941 in Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the evening of 20 June more than thirty thousand people filled the Hollywood Bowl and surrounding hillsides to hear Lindbergh, Gish, Norris, and Republican Senator D. Worth Clark of Idaho denounce the increasing involvement of the United States in the European conflict. Eleven nights later, the same group appeared at a similar rally attended by a full house of twelve thousand in the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. Following the San Francisco rally, Lindbergh and his wife, Anne, spent three days at Wyntoon on the McCloud River with publisher William Randolph Hearst, whose newspapers were also advancing an anti-interventionist message.

    At each of these rallies, Kathleen Norris spoke with notable effectiveness. Having launched her career with the best-selling novel Mother (1911), Norris took precisely that stance—a mother not wanting her sons destroyed—in her support of the America First crusade. However naive from a strategic point of view, Norris was at least talking about the ancient war between life and death, eros and thanatos, and in her own straightforward way was making her choice as an American, a mother, and a spokesperson for motherhood. Did the mothers of America, Norris asked—Jewish and Christian mothers alike—wish to see their sons killed or maimed in a foreign war, if it could be avoided? Lindbergh was getting most of the attention. But were his strategic and racial theories any more pertinent or compelling than the simple questions being asked by Norris? Remaining simple, focused on life over death, focused on the sheer fact of biological generation and survival, Kathleen Norris chose her side most clearly in that ancient battle between life and death which Sigmund Freud saw in 1940 as holding the world once more in its grip.

So too in the popular entertainment of 1940, so much of it originating in California, did the desire for amusement, fantasy, humor, and escape resist the dawning recognition that the United States would soon be entering the conflict. Popular music, for example, ranged from the sheer nonsense of the "Woodpecker Song" to the escapism of "South of the Border," "Oh, Johnny," "Scatterbrain," "In an Old Dutch Garden," and "Careless." While there was some recognition of partings and leave-takings to come in "I'll Never Smile Again," the predominant mood was optimistic and hopeful, as testified to by the hit song of the year, "When You Wish upon a Star," sung by Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio (1940). Soon, Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael would be composing "Skylark," perhaps the most purely poetic song in all of American popular music: a song that spoke most powerfully to the desire to escape into a place of beauty and peace.


Excerpted from EMBATTLED DREAMS by Kevin Starr. Copyright © 2002 by Kevin Starr. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

1 1940 A Matter of Life or Death 3
2 1941 Shelling Santa Barbara 34
3 1942 Garrison State 66
4 1943 Zoot Suit 96
5 1944 Swing Shift 123
6 1945 Hollywood Canteen 159
7 1946 Homecoming 183
8 1947 Black Dahlia 213
9 1948 Honey Bear 241
10 1949 Mexicali Rose 281
11 1950 Police Action 308
Notes 340
Bibliographical Essay 346
Acknowledgments 365
Index 367
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