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At a book festival in Los Angeles recently, some writers (myself included) were making the usual arguments about the problems with American politics in the 1950s—until one panelist shocked the audience by declaring, “God, I miss the Cold War.” His grandmother, he said, had come to California from Oklahoma with a grade-school education, but found a job in an aerospace factory in L.A. during World War II, joined the union, got healthcare and retirement benefits, and prospered in the Cold War years. She ended up owning a house in the suburbs and sending her kids to UCLA.
Several older people in the audience leaped to their feet shouting, “What about McCarthyism?” “The bomb?” “Vietnam?” “Nixon?”
All good points, of course. After all, during the Cold War the US did threaten to destroy the world with nuclear weapons, supported brutal dictators globally because they were anti-communist, and was responsible for the deaths of several million people in Korea and Vietnam, all in the name of defending freedom. And yet it’s not hard to join that writer in feeling a certain nostalgia for the Cold War era. It couldn’t be a sadder thing to admit, given what happened in those years, but—given what’s happened in these years—who can doubt that the America of the 1950s and 1960s was, in some ways, simply a better place than the one we live in now? Here are eight things (from a prospectively longer list) we had then and don’t have now.