Monday, May 08, 2006

Bleat Issue

In today's Bleat, James Lileks wonders about how many World War II veterans became pilots after the war. He writes: "Someone should do a long, boring, footnoted scholarly paper on the number of Greatest Generation types who took up flying in middle age. The very idea to me is remarkable: let’s learn to fly. And so they did."

Here is footnote number one. During the war, the American Historical Association worked with the U.S. Army to produce G.I. Pamphlets that educated the soldiers on all manner of subjects relating mostly to the postwar world. The relevant title (and my favorite) is "Will There Be A Plane In Every Garage?"

Now to the boring academic stuff: Nothing captures American optimism for future at the end of the war quite so well as a pamphlet for vets seriously wondering if everyone would be flying planes in a few years. Coupled with the wild optimism about nuclear power--witness the ubiquity of Atomic Frisbees! and Atomic Bubblegum! and Atomic Underwear! in the first few years after the war--such ponderings also indicate the level to which that postwar optimism was tied to faith in technology. That faith would lead to some magnificent break throughs in, for example, the space program, but it would also get us in trouble by leading to a misplaced faith in science, especially social sciences, to guide behavior. Just another indication of how much World War II changed the country.


dcat said...

Can't help but notice the gratuitous slap at academic writing. Some journalists just cannot help themselves, can they?

Anonymous said...

I'm tempted to apologize, since I wasn't being entirely serious - but on the other hand, having read too much boring, bone-dry academic writing, maybe I won't. In any case, I'm still smarting over the rejection my thesis, "Before the Colon: The Ironclad Title Format of Master's Degree Theses." So perhaps it was just sour grapes.


dcat said...

I'd have read that thesis. My favorites have the double colon.

I knew you were joking, but of course that makes it all the more pernicious.

There is plenty of bad writing in academia, as there is in journalism, but the cliche gets tiresome. When C. Vann Woodward ate a high fiber breakfast he crapped out your average journalist by lunchtime. Woodward was not as exceptional as journalists would like the rest of the world to think.

Interestingly (well, to me) my first "Main Stream media" op ed (whatever "main stream media" means) was in your newspaper.

Tom said...

Hey, you leave the colon alone. It has been a warm blanket of title comfort in the wee small hours when many a graduate student finishes the latest work of obscure brilliance. Besides, the Lileks entry in the bibliography to the first draft of my dissertation read:

Lileks, James. The Gallery of Regrettable Food : Highlights from Classic American Recipe Books. New York: Crown, 2001.

Alas, I could't figure out a way to get in my point that for most Americans before World War II a salad was something that came out of a jello mold, so the citation had to go. Bummer. However, I did subtly quote "Anchorman" in my last published book review. So there is that.

montana urban legend said...

If these guys' efforts and interest in modified FAA regs are any indication, at least some companies are interested in taking the idea to the next level.

Of course, the Jetsons did their best to have us convinced that widespread use of flying cars would be the norm by 2000, ensuring that the let-down would be just as palpable to the post-baby boomer generation.

montana urban legend said...

Link corrected

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