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The Fifties The Fifties by David Halberstam
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“It requires a certain kind of mind to see the beauty in a hamburger bun.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“He did not like Europe, which he regarded as a lesser continent, populated with people significantly greedier and more materialistic than Americans. It was a place, he noted, where”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“They cut the menu from twenty-five items to nine, featuring hamburgers and cheeseburgers, and they made the burgers a little smaller—ten hamburgers from one pound of meat instead of eight.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“One reason that Americans as a people became nostalgic about the fifties more than twenty-five years later was not so much that life was better in the fifties (though in some ways it was), but because at the time it had been portrayed so idyllically on television.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“As he found beauty in the hamburger, he thought hot dogs unattractive—both aesthetically and commercially.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“Under enemy-alien status, as his biographer Robert Chadwell Williams has pointed out, he could not own a car or join a British Civil Defense team, but he could in time work on the most secret aspects of atomic physics.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“She hated that many of her colleagues hid behind the title “Planned Parenthood.” That was a euphemism. “It irks my very soul and all that is Irish in me to acquiesce to the appeasement group that is so prevalent in our beloved organization,” she wrote.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“Anybody is a damn fool if he actually seeks to be President,” he told friends. “You give up four of the very best years of your life. Lord knows it’s a sacrifice. Some people think there is a lot of power and glory attached to the job. On the contrary the very workings of a democratic system see to it that the job has very little power.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“Asked about the role of America’s newspaper publishers, later, when they opposed him editorially, he answered, “Their job is to separate the wheat from the chaff and then print the chaff.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“When his troops reached the rocket camp, they found almost everything of value gone and Stalin was reportedly furious. “This is absolutely intolerable,” he said, according to reliable defectors. “We defeated Nazi armies; we occupied Berlin and Peenemünde, but the Americans got the rocket engineers. What could be more revolting and more inexcusable? How and why was this allowed to happen?” In a way, the Red Army’s race toward Peenemünde was symbolic: It was, without anyone knowing it, the beginning of the race for outer space, or what Winston Churchill once called “the wizard war.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“To a Westerner the anomaly of this—a man under a life sentence for treason working in a prison on the most secret scientific developments—is almost too much to comprehend. In the Soviet Union it was an accepted practice. Korolev was immensely valuable, but because he was so valuable, he was also dangerous. He consented to work because this way, at least, he got some rations, he was with his colleagues, and he was doing what he loved most of all.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“One percent of the population ruled—and they were all grafters—while the other ninety-nine percent live under the worst kind of feudalism.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“Karl Marx, Amaya liked to say, was the last great philosopher of the coal age; his workers were locked into a serflike condition. Had Marx witnessed the industrial explosion of the Oil Century and the rising standard of living it produced among ordinary workers, he might have written differently.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“Advertising,” he wrote, “now compares with such long-standing institutions as the school and the church in the magnitude of its social influence. It dominates the media, it has vast power in the shaping of popular standards and it is really one of the very limited groups of institutions which exercise social control.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“(The Revsons apparently did not like a young psychologist named Joyce Brothers, who appeared as an expert on boxing. Thus the questions given her were exceptionally hard—they even asked her the names of referees—in the desire to get her off the show; their strategy had no effect: She became the second person to win $64,000.)”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“The problem with military policies that are built to domestic specifications and do not take into account the complexity of the real world is that eventually the real world intrudes.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“He was also a more astute politician than even his admirers realized. During his rise to power, he constructed his own base as an independent candidate not beholden to the oil interests in Southern California. For party loyalty, he substituted personal connections to the state’s two most important (and quite conservative) publishers—Joe Knowland in Oakland, and Harry Chandler in Los Angeles. At the very least, these friendships helped neutralize papers that might otherwise have rejected his increasingly liberal agenda. He was a distinguished governor of California. The state was growing by as many as ten thousand new residents a week, and the pressures on the state’s schools, roads, and its water resources were enormous. Facing that challenge had made him tough-minded and pragmatic about government, its limits, and how best it could benefit ordinary people. He was both an optimist and an activist: If he did not exactly bring an ideology to the Court, then he brought the faith of someone who had seen personally what government could and should do to ameliorate the lives of ordinary people. That the great figures on the bench had so much more judicial experience—Black with sixteen years of service on the Court, Frankfurter and Douglas with fourteen each, and Jackson with twelve—did not daunt him. As he saw it, they knew more about the law, but he knew more about the consequences of the law and its effect on ordinary citizens. His law clerk, Earl Pollock, said years later that there were three things that mattered to Earl Warren: The first was the concept of equality; the second was education; and the third was the right of young people to a decent life. He had spent a lifetime refining his view of the role of government, and”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“If there was any politician in America who reflected the Cold War and what it did to the country, it was Richard Nixon—the man and the era were made for each other. The anger and resentment that were a critical part of his temperament were not unlike the tensions running through the nation as its new anxieties grew. He himself seized on the anti-Communist issue earlier and more tenaciously than any other centrist politician in the country. In fact that was why he had been put on the ticket in the first place. His first congressional race in 1946, against a pleasant liberal incumbent named Jerry Voorhis, was marked by red-baiting so savage that it took Voorhis completely by surprise. Upon getting elected, Nixon wasted no time in asking for membership in the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was the committee member who first spotted the contradictions in Hiss’s seemingly impeccable case; in later years he was inclined to think of the case as one of his greatest victories, in which he had challenged and defeated a man who was not what he seemed, and represented the hated Eastern establishment. His career, though, was riddled with contradictions. Like many of his conservative colleagues, he had few reservations about implying that some fellow Americans, including perhaps the highest officials in the opposition party, were loyal to a hostile foreign power and willing to betray their fellow citizens. Yet by the end of his career, he became the man who opened the door to normalized relations with China (perhaps, thought some critics, he was the only politician in America who could do that without being attacked by Richard Nixon), and he was a pal of both the Soviet and Chinese Communist leadership. If he later surprised many long-standing critics with his trips to Moscow and Peking, he had shown his genuine diplomatic skills much earlier in the way he balanced the demands of the warring factions within his own party. He never asked to be well liked or popular; he asked only to be accepted. There were many Republicans who hated him, particularly in California. Earl Warren feuded with him for years. Even Bill Knowland, the state’s senior senator and an old-fashioned reactionary, despised him. At the 1952 convention, Knowland had remained loyal to Warren despite Nixon’s attempts to help Eisenhower in the California delegation. When Knowland was asked to give a nominating speech for Nixon, he was not pleased: “I have to nominate the dirty son of a bitch,” he told friends. Nixon bridged the gap because his politics were never about ideology: They were the politics of self. Never popular with either wing, he managed to negotiate a delicate position acceptable to both. He did not bring warmth or friendship to the task; when he made attempts at these, he was, more often than not, stilted and artificial. Instead, he offered a stark choice: If you don’t like me, find someone who is closer to your position and who is also likely to win. If he tilted to either side, it was because that side seemed a little stronger at the moment or seemed to present a more formidable candidate with whom he had to deal. A classic example of this came early in 1960, when he told Barry Goldwater, the conservative Republican leader, that he would advocate a right-to-work plank at the convention; a few weeks later in a secret meeting with Nelson Rockefeller, the liberal Republican leader—then a more formidable national figure than Goldwater—Nixon not only reversed himself but agreed to call for its repeal under the Taft-Hartley act. “The man,” Goldwater noted of Nixon in his personal journal at the time, “is a two-fisted four-square liar.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“He was also a more astute politician than even his admirers realized. During his rise to power, he constructed his own base as an independent candidate not beholden to the oil interests in Southern California. For party loyalty, he substituted personal connections to the state’s two most important (and quite conservative) publishers—Joe Knowland in Oakland, and Harry Chandler in Los Angeles. At the very least, these friendships helped neutralize papers that might otherwise have rejected his increasingly liberal agenda. He was a distinguished governor of California. The state was growing by as many as ten thousand new residents a week, and the pressures on the state’s schools, roads, and its water resources were enormous. Facing that challenge had made him tough-minded and pragmatic about government, its limits, and how best it could benefit ordinary people. He was both an optimist and an activist: If he did not exactly bring an ideology to the Court, then he brought the faith of someone who had seen personally what government could and should do to ameliorate the lives of ordinary people. That the great figures on the bench had so much more judicial experience—Black with sixteen years of service on the Court, Frankfurter and Douglas with fourteen each, and Jackson with twelve—did not daunt him. As he saw it, they knew more about the law, but he knew more about the consequences of the law and its effect on ordinary citizens. His law clerk, Earl Pollock, said years later that there were three things that mattered to Earl Warren: The first was the concept of equality; the second was education; and the third was the right of young people to a decent life. He had spent a lifetime refining his view of the role of government, and he came to the Court ready to implement it.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition—all such distortions within our own egos—condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions in our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. That’s how it is in all living relationships except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts. Such cases seem purely theoretical to me.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“had thought, “can easily be an isolationist in an era when you can cross the Atlantic between lunch and dinner and when the atomic bomb can make mincemeat of an ideology. Chicago is as near Moscow as New York. Foreign policy is, or at least should be, as much a matter”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“The difference between a topflight creative man and the hack is this ability to express powerful meanings indirectly”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“His body language was that of someone frozen and not yet thawed out.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“If there was any politician in America who reflected the Cold War and what it did to the country, it was Richard Nixon—the man and the era were made for each other. The anger and resentment that were a critical part of his temperament were not unlike the tensions running through the nation as its new anxieties grew. He himself seized on the anti-Communist issue earlier and more tenaciously than any other centrist politician in the country. In fact that was why he had been put on the ticket in the first place. His first congressional race in 1946, against a pleasant liberal incumbent named Jerry Voorhis, was marked by red-baiting so savage that it took Voorhis completely by surprise. Upon getting elected, Nixon wasted no time in asking for membership in the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was the committee member who first spotted the contradictions in Hiss’s seemingly impeccable case; in later years he was inclined to think of the case as one of his greatest victories, in which he had challenged and defeated a man who was not what he seemed, and represented the hated Eastern establishment.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“His career, though, was riddled with contradictions. Like many of his conservative colleagues, he had few reservations about implying that some fellow Americans, including perhaps the highest officials in the opposition party, were loyal to a hostile foreign power and willing to betray their fellow citizens. Yet by the end of his career, he became the man who opened the door to normalized relations with China (perhaps, thought some critics, he was the only politician in America who could do that without being attacked by Richard Nixon), and he was a pal of both the Soviet and Chinese Communist leadership. If he later surprised many long-standing critics with his trips to Moscow and Peking, he had shown his genuine diplomatic skills much earlier in the way he balanced the demands of the warring factions within his own party. He never asked to be well liked or popular; he asked only to be accepted. There were many Republicans who hated him, particularly in California. Earl Warren feuded with him for years. Even Bill Knowland, the state’s senior senator and an old-fashioned reactionary, despised him. At the 1952 convention, Knowland had remained loyal to Warren despite Nixon’s attempts to help Eisenhower in the California delegation. When Knowland was asked to give a nominating speech for Nixon, he was not pleased: “I have to nominate the dirty son of a bitch,” he told friends.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“Nixon bridged the gap because his politics were never about ideology: They were the politics of self. Never popular with either wing, he managed to negotiate a delicate position acceptable to both. He did not bring warmth or friendship to the task; when he made attempts at these, he was, more often than not, stilted and artificial. Instead, he offered a stark choice: If you don’t like me, find someone who is closer to your position and who is also likely to win. If he tilted to either side, it was because that side seemed a little stronger at the moment or seemed to present a more formidable candidate with whom he had to deal. A classic example of this came early in 1960, when he told Barry Goldwater, the conservative Republican leader, that he would advocate a right-to-work plank at the convention; a few weeks later in a secret meeting with Nelson Rockefeller, the liberal Republican leader—then a more formidable national figure than Goldwater—Nixon not only reversed himself but agreed to call for its repeal under the Taft-Hartley act. “The man,” Goldwater noted of Nixon in his personal journal at the time, “is a two-fisted four-square liar.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“Nixon’s unwavering pragmatism did not work with everyone. From the moment he arrived in Washington, he exuded such odor of personal ambition that the old order was offended. Bob Taft never forgave him for helping to tilt the nomination to Ike. But that personal grievance aside, Taft had not liked him anyway—for Nixon seemed to represent something new and raw in the Senate. To Taft, he was “a little man in a big hurry.” Goldwater later wrote that he was “the most dishonest individual I ever met in my life.” Even J. Edgar Hoover, who was so helpful to Nixon during the Hiss case and whom Nixon worked hard courting, decided early on that Nixon tended to take too much credit for himself. Hoover’s closest aide, Clyde Tolson, wrote in a memo to the director that Nixon “plays both sides against the middle.” Hoover noted on the same memo, “I agree.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“If Nixon set out to be the man who redefined the Republican political center in the post–New Deal, post–Fair Deal age, he did not, nor did any other young Republican politician, dare campaign by suggesting a return to the America that had existed before the New Deal. The phrase “creeping socialism” was about as close as they got to attacking the New Deal on its domestic reforms. Rather, the catchphrases were about a need to return to Americanism. It was better to attack Communism and speak of domestic treason than it was to be specific about reversing the economic redistribution of the New Deal. In fact, Nixon’s essential response to all issues was to raise the specter of Communism: “The commies,” Nixon told the Chicago Tribune’s Seymour Korman during his harsh 1950 senatorial campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas, “don’t like it when I smash into Truman for his attempted cover-up of the Hiss case ... but the more the commies yell, the surer I am that I’m waging an honest American campaign.” He was, he liked to say, the number one target of the Communists in America. In those early campaigns, he was, it seemed, a man who needed an enemy and who seemed almost to feel that he functioned best when the world was against him. Such men, almost surely, eventually do get the enemies they so desperately want. If the leaders of a nation as powerful as the United States needed, above all, personal confidence—Oliver Wendell Holmes once said of the young Franklin Roosevelt that he had a third-rate intellect but a first-rate temperament—Nixon was ill-prepared for his long journey in American politics. Emotional strength and self-confidence were missing from him. Everything with Nixon was personal. When others disagreed with him, it was as if they wanted to strip away his hard-won veneer of success and reduce him to the unhappy boy he had once been. In political terms that had bitter consequences: He would lash out at others in attacks that seemed to go far beyond the acceptable norms of partisanship; if others struck back at him, he saw himself as a victim. Just beneath the surface of this modern young politician was a man who, in Bob Taft’s phrase, seemed “to radiate tension and conflict.” He was filled with the resentments of class one would have expected in a New Deal Democrat.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“He was a very private man, a true loner, who lacked the instinctive affability and gregariousness of most successful politicians. One thought of him more easily as a strategist than a candidate. He hated meeting ordinary people, shaking their hands, and making small talk with them. He was always awkward at the clubby male bonding of Congress. When he succeeded it was because he worked harder and thought something out more shrewdly than an opponent and, above all, because he was someone who always wanted it more. Nixon had to win. To lose a race meant losing everything—so much was at stake, and it was all so personal. Taft, if not exactly jolly and extroverted, won the admiration of his peers because he was intellectually sterling. Ike inspired other men because of his looks, his athletic ability, his natural charm. Nixon was always the outsider; his television adviser in his successful 1968 presidential campaign, Roger Ailes, once said of him that he had the least control of atmosphere of any politician that Ailes had ever met. By that Ailes meant charisma, the capacity to walk into a room and hold the attention of those assembled there. Even success did not really bring him confidence.”
David Halberstam, The Fifties
“so”
David Halberstam, The Fifties

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