1946. President Harry S Truman could not have known when he invited the ex-British prime minister to speak at Westminster college in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5 that the speech by the Allies' strongest leader would set the tone for the global strife that was already underway. This new war fought by proxy between former allies became a duel to the death of competing ideologies.
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the
Adriatic an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent.”
— Winston Churchill
Welcome to the Cold War, World War III by another name:
a bloody, forty-year world-wide conflict. Considering the twenty-plus million
who would die and the trillions of dollars pumped into this for-keeps version
of Mortal Combat, Quake and Jedi Force, peaceful co-existence was a mutually
agreed upon fiction. Both sides knew there would ultimately be a triumphant
victor and a devastated loser.
Only no one knew who it would be. And you couldn’t hit reload and start the game again. Meanwhile, prospective parents were entering the national raise-a-family sweepstakes, in which the contest was its own reward. On every nightstand lay a book containing the contest rules.
* * *
This unassuming and at first somewhat disreputable paperback sold four million copies by 1952 and one million a year for eighteen straight years. That came to over 50 million copies, translated into 39 languages including Urdu and Catalan. Beginning in June of ’46 parents could buy it for 35 cents.
The Pocket Book of Baby and Child Care
— Benjamin Spock
To a generation of expecting mothers, Dr. Spock's book (originally titled The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care) took the place of the Holy Bible on the nightstand and at the breakfast table. His message was new then and so obvious now. “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Above all, said Spock, “Hug your children.” Spoil, flatter, and indulge your adorable babies. Spock also counseled to be friendly rather than stern, encouraging rather than didactic. If they were successful, the result would be a generation of “idealistic children.”
"...I think that more of our children would grow up happier and more stable, if they were acquiring a conviction, all through childhood, that the most important and the most fulfilling thing that human beings can do is to serve humanity in some fashion and to live by their ideals ... If you raise a child who has idealism he will have no lack of opportunities to apply it.”
Our parents took these optimistic ideas to heart. They’d
won a war. They’d survived the Great Depression. They had reason to believe
“[We] are in this world not for [our] own satisfaction but primarily to
serve others.” He told them their job was to create a generation of dreamers
that would originate new designs for life that might free our countrymen
from economic turmoil and destructive wars. He wanted this new generation
of babies to be reformers with a feel for the past and an eye to the future.
To do that he urged our mothers to nurture us towards our full potential.
In doing so he may not have allowed for the impatience such lofty goals
might have instilled in an affluent and protected generation.
Spock became the first millionaire created by the Baby Boom Generation. Half a generation later, the good doctor joined his babies in the streets to protest the war in Vietnam. And this once revered man became the arch villain of a backlash against permissiveness and rebellion, as though generous feeding schedules had led to cultural revolution.
* * *
With a shrug and a fretful smile, parents embraced the three C’s of Cold War America: containment, conformity and consumption. Television was the handmaiden of the three C’s. The necessary condition for virtually everything that followed. We became the first generation in human history raised by a “third parent,” an “electronic babysitter” that left many of us as close to our favorite TV stars as our parents.
DuMont Television Network
— network TV
The television age began on April 13 when the first major network established a cable connection between stations in New York and DC. DuMont even made its own television sets; manufacturers produced 6,476 this first year. The following year 178,571 more hit the market. You could buy one with a 20-inch screen for $2500 plus $45 for the antenna. By 1953 production had risen to 7 million a year. By 1967 98% of all homes had sets. Popular culture and world-wide communications were about to undergo a total transformation. When we entered the TV Age, the doors of the past closed permanently behind us. There would be no returning to slower, more communitarian times.
Television remains the fastest growing technological innovation of all time — outpacing telephones, radios, cars, VCRs, Walkmans and computers. But what made it so important to the infant generation was its formative role. TV helped create our worldview by providing standards of taste and conduct. TV gave us an impression of universality. It tied us together in ways in which no generation had been before.
Was it any wonder that kids weaned on Howdy Doody and
acculturated by The Mickey Mouse Club also believed in a Leave it to Beaver
reality? Perhaps we grew up seeking to imitate not an alien haute couture,
but the predictability of pop culture. In its way just as deceiving. Little
surprise that by the time we hit our late teens, some of us were beginning
to ask if this was all life had to offer? Although in 1958 Dumont itself
became the Portugal of TV networks when it folded after a final broadcast
of the Monday Night Fights, carried by a mere five stations, television
culture assumed an ever-increasing role in our lives.
* * *
Just hidden from the realm of the Saturdaddies and Little League summers, some clever men touched off a revolution that would eventually answer the question. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania activated the world's first electronic, large scale, general purpose computer.
— Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer
Weighing 50 tons, the first computer was 150 feet wide and ran 20 banks of flashing lights and 18,000 vacuum tubes on 174 kilowatts of power. In one second its circuits could add 5,000 numbers or multiply 14 ten-digit numbers — slightly faster than today’s pocket calculator. It reduced to seconds what at the time took a human forty hours to calculate. The future was decades away, but this was the first step toward a new age of ready access to information that would enable average citizens to influence their surroundings. The dimensions of change introduced by television would be enhanced by the personal computer. It is an ironclad cinch no one at the major networks, the phone company, or even the ENIAC designers at the University of Pennsylvania, John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert (the unheralded inventors of the computer), foresaw the revolution that would one day sweep Guttenberg’s galaxy. Although in 1962 Eckert did predict desktop computers.
Originally a top secret WW II defense project designed
to calculate firing tables used by gunners to aim artillery, ENIAC didn’t
quite make it into the war, but found use helping with calculations for
the H-bomb until it was retired. In its eleven years it did more math than
had all humanity up to 1945. Women programmed ENIAC by pulling and plugging
patch cables, like telephone operators. To celebrate its 50th anniversary
Penn State scientists reduced ENIAC’s entire circuitry to a microchip.