In the 15 years after World War II, states began to rely on the federal government more than ever.
They couldn’t deal with their kids. There were so many of them, almost 60 million born between 1946 and 1960.
“States were just overwhelmed,” Marilyn Irvin Holt of Abilene, Kan., said recently.
The children were out of shape. Or they couldn’t read. Or they read comic books, which, according to one psychologist who testified before a congressional committee, contributed to their rates of juvenile delinquency.
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But there were not enough teachers or social workers or those who could lead gym class.
The result was an unprecedented wave of federal assistance, as detailed by Holt in “Cold War Kids: Politics and Childhood in Postwar America, 1945-1960.”
Although 20th-century federal assistance to children dated at least to the 1912 establishment of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, its mission then was regulating child labor laws or funding health care for poor children.
Now the federal government was assisting all children, including those of middle- and upper-class families.
“This was a huge shift,” Holt said.
Some resisted. Oveta Culp Hobby, named the first Health, Education and Welfare secretary by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, once had pledged to “bury the dream of socialized medicine.”
That didn’t hold up against the nightmarish scourge of polio, nor the president’s memory of losing his first son, Doud Dwight, to scarlet fever in 1921. The boy was 3.
In 1952, doctors diagnosed almost 58,000 cases of polio, a record. When physician Jonas Salk in 1955 announced that a vaccine had been successfully tested, Eisenhower directed that Hobby coordinate its national roll-out.
Among those children receiving the vaccine that year was David Eisenhower, the president’s grandson.
“He personally would have seen it as an affront for anyone to say that we were not going to do this,” Holt said. “Back then, if those vaccinations were available, parents took advantage of them.”
Holt speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the National Archives at Kansas City, 400 W. Pershing Road.
How corruption begets violence
Readers of Sarah Chayes’ “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security” may be forgiven for despairing.
That’s no fault of Chayes, who brings a wise, snappy style to detail how acute public corruption contributes to violent extremism across the planet and how American foreign service representatives must comprehend that reality to be effective.
Chayes, who covered the 2001 fall of the Taliban for National Public Radio, got a ground-level look at how Afghan citizens grew frustrated with routine shakedowns from their own government authorities. Even the most humble public servants manning checkpoints along Afghanistan roads — sometimes one at about every 8 miles, to judge from Chayes’ own experience in Kandahar — demanded tribute.
Regular citizens might get frustrated enough to join the insurgency, said Chayes, who added that it’s too easy to attribute the practice just to the local culture.
“Of course, populations that are subjected to acutely corrupt systems commit acts of corruption themselves,” Chayes recently said by email from Paris.
“But they don’t like it. They feel abused and soiled by it — and they get indignant. The result? Revolutions from the Arab Spring to Ukraine. The spread of militant puritanical religion, aka the Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram.
“In other words, abusive corruption is an important factor in all the majority security crises the world is facing today. It’s too important not to address.”
Would it help if American foreign service reps download a copy of “Casablanca”? Not to be naive, but it’s always inspiring to watch American nightclub owner Rick Blaine win over the profoundly corrupt Louis Renault, the Vichy French police captain.
But there seem few on the foreign service payroll with Rick’s resourcefulness, said Chayes, today a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“They are not using the vast arsenal of tools at their disposal to change the incentive structure to which Capt. Louis is responding,” she said. “They could freeze the assets of Capt. Louis’ superiors, or deny those superiors’ children visas to go to Oxford or Harvard.
“But our diplomats and other public officials, or our investors, or even our humanitarian workers, are not making the case or leading by example the way that Rick does.”
Chayes speaks at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. For info, go to kclibrary.org.