In 1970, in the middle of the Vietnam War, Richard Lingeman published Don’t You Know There’s a War On?: The American Home Front, 1941-1945, a social history that sifted through that era’s cultural detritus—films, books, music, politics—for evidence of what it was like to be in America in wartime. In the wake of the September 11th, 2001 attacks, the only remote antecedent of which was the Japanese attack on a Hawaiian naval base in December 1941, Lingeman found himself noticing parallels between what he was seeing in the U.S. at that time and his childhood years during the war. Ten years ago next month, the book was reissued.
Lingeman’s new book, The Noir Forties: The American People from Victory to Cold War, is essentially a sequel to that earlier volume, using similarly extensive cultural analysis to evoke the heady atmosphere of America in the 1940s: a potent mixture of optimism and despair, affluence and poverty, confidence and fear, idealism and paranoia. Echoing other observers’ descriptions of the period in question—“the age of anxiety,” “the age of doubt,” “postwar blues,” triumphalist despair,” “the biggest hangover in history”—Lingeman writes that “these moods and emotions were the mass psychological subsoil in which sprouted the nation’s politics and culture at the time.”
If Lingeman, a longtime senior editor at The Nation, found similarities between the early 1940s and the years after 9/11, it does not take a stretch of the imagination to assume there may be some parallels between the years after World War II and the years ahead of us right now, as the wars in Iraq and now Afghanistan begin to finally wind down to an indecisive, belated close. Lingeman doesn’t pursue such inquiries in The Noir Forties, but they are just below the surface of his well-crafted and exceptionally well-researched—and surprisingly personal—new book.
Though Lingeman does an excellent job of defending the thesis behind his title—a topic which we’ll explore in our discussion today—the book is about much more than film noir. It can perhaps be summed up as an extended meditation on Raymond Chandler’s quip that “the story of our time is not the war nor atomic energy but the marriage of an idealist to a gangster and how their home life and children turned out.” We are those children and The Noir Forties goes a long way towards documenting our family history.
Please join me in welcoming Richard Lingeman to the FDL Book Salon.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]