Rebels without a Cause? Teenagers in the 50s

'What's the matter with kids today?' Beth Bailey looks at the teen dreams of America's golden post-war years and finds ambivalence about their attitudes to affluence, competition and 'going steady'.

The United States emerged from the Second World War the most powerful and affluent nation in the world. This statement, bald but essentially accurate, is the given foundation for understanding matters foreign and domestic, the Cold War and the Age of Abundance in America. Yet the sense of confidence and triumph suggested by that firm phrasing and by our images of soldiers embracing women as confetti swirled through downtown streets obscures another post-war reality. Underlying and sometimes overwhelming both bravado and complacency were voices of uncertainty. America at war's end was not naively optimistic.

The Great War had planted the seeds of the Great Depression. Americans wondered if hard times would return as the war boom ended. (They wouldn't.) The First World War had not ended all wars. Would war come again? (It would, both cold and hot.) And the fundamental question that plagued post-war America was would American citizens have the strength and the character to meet the demands of this new world?

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