Rethinking America (Kansas City)

Saturday, July 18, 2020 10:00 am - 1:00 pm


10:00 am - 11:20 am
The Good War Revisited: The Complex Reality of How WWII Transformed Society

Jennifer Keene / Chapman University

We call it the “Good War.” Rosie the Riveter, scrap drives, and a passionate kiss in Times Square
on V-J Day – these images dominate our understanding of the American home-front in World
War II. The reality is more complex, and more interesting. To understand how World War II
transformed American society, we need to tell the story correctly

It took the attack on Pearl Harbor to end two years of debate over whether to fight. Why had
Americans hesitated? Thanks to a booming war economy, Depression-weary Americans
experienced unprecedented prosperity, but at what cost? New job opportunities opened for
women, yet victory ushered in the baby boom, not a feminist reawakening. Why? The
government interned Japanese Americans, then recruited soldiers from the camps. For African
Americans, “double-victory” meant more than defeating two enemies abroad; it required
eradicating racism at home. Meanwhile, good news from the battlefield generated
complacency, prompting the government to release increasingly gruesome battlefield images.
Finally, the G.I. Bill of Rights fueled the rise of middle-class America, even as veterans struggled
privately with the demons of war.

Jennifer Keene / Chapman University

Jennifer Keene is a professor of history and dean of the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Chapman University. She has published several books and numerous articles on the American experience in the world wars, including “Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of America”, “World War I: The American Soldier Experience”, and “World War II: Core Documents”. She has received numerous awards for her scholarship, including Fulbright Senior Scholar Awards to France and Australia and Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship in International Studies. She has served as a historical consultant for exhibits and films, and was recently featured in the PBS documentary mini-series, “The Great War”.

11:40 am - 1:00 pm
The American War in Vietnam: Unpacking Our Legacies

Stephanie Yuhl / College of the Holy Cross

US military and political involvement in Vietnam, from 1955 to 1975, was a turning point in American history, triggering changes that continue to shape in our nation today. Hollywood films and popular culture, featuring drug-addled veterans and chaos, have generally characterized these changes as entirely negative, but were they? In this class, we will explore together this challenging question by looking at several key elements of the era.

Widespread anti-war protests, inspired by the civil rights movement, divided communities but also inspired both deep polarization and broader political participation in our democracy. Feminist activism meant more women gained stronger economic and political traction, transforming American families in the process (sometimes through divorce). Events such as the My Lai Massacre and Watergate generated deep cynicism about traditional institutions and pushed the media to seek more transparency from American leadership, shifting the boundary between public and private lives. Economically, President Lyndon Johnson’s funding of the war, along with the rise of oil-producing nations in the Middle East, contributed to a steep economic downturn in the 1970s. This undermined voter support for liberal spending policies and programs, such as the Great Society, and encouraged the more conservative fiscal and social outlook of the Regan era. The military changed as well, dropping the draft and becoming what the Pentagon calls “an all-volunteer army.” The War also ushered in technological innovations, such as the internet and the diffusion of computers – precipitating the start of the information and communication revolution we are living in today.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter described America as suffering from “as crisis of confidence.” By understanding the elements of post-Vietnam War era, we will begin to assess his diagnosis, as well as the ongoing impact of this transformative time on our lives today.

Stephanie Yuhl / College of the Holy Cross

Stephanie Yuhl is a Professor of History at the College of the Holy Cross. She is a recipient of the Fletcher M. Green and Charles W. Ramsdell Award for the best article published in the Journal of Southern History, as well as the Inaugural Burns Career Teaching Medal for Outstanding Teaching. Professor Yuhl is also an Associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in the Critical Conservation Program, and an expert in twentieth-century US cultural and social history, with specialities in historical memory, social movements, gender, and Southern history. She is the author of the award-winning book, “A Golden Haze of Memory: The Making of Historic Charleston.”