Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Glory and The Dream

by William Manchester

Published in 1973, it is now out of print and accordingly is relatively high priced. Luckily I snagged this tome from a used book website for a pittance. When it was delivered, I was intimidated by its size. Not only was it two thick volumes but the text, though not small, was dense and the paragraphs long. Formidable! I ‘tackled’ it and found that each evening, I looked forward to reading it, as one would a good novel.

It covers our American history from 1933 to 1973 - forty very eventful years encompassing the Great Depression and three wars. Since I was born in 1931, all the historical names - places, politicians, events - were familiar to me. What was fascinating were the nuances and machinations behind these events. Sometimes the details were jaw dropping. "I didn’t know that" - went through my mind many times as I read accounts of  the background of events I remembered. The author, who died in 2004, explored the culture of the times as well as events and politics. Those parts are great fun.

The Depression, Roosevelt, World War II, Truman, the atom bomb, the Korean War, Eisenhower, the years of post war affluence, Kennedy, Viet Nam, Johnson, Nixon. It covers the McCarthy era with an account of how everyone was cowed by the man who was an obvious charlatan. Even the United States Army backed off over special treatment demanded for David Schine, one of McCarthy’s minions. It was attorney Joseph Welch who eventually brought McCarthy down with the words “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

The politics then was as dirty as it is now. Some things never change. In a sense, it’s a ‘tell all’ book because it records all the political maneuvering behind decisions through these forty years and the social changes in mores, manners and morals. The latter passages have an almost ‘gossipy’ feel.

The book ends with Watergate which is presented here as an incredibly ‘bollixed’ up plan that - in detail - reads like a Keystone Cops comedy of errors. Hindsight shows it as terminal stupidity which was destined for failure from the beginning and it was so unnecessary, since Nixon was at the height of his popularity. The book ends before Ford’s presidency. I closed it with regret and wished for more.

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