A DAVID AGAINST GOLIATH: THE AMERICAN VETERANS COMMITTEE'S CHALLENGE TO THE AMERICAN LEGION IN THE 1950s
Hoefer, Peter Darr
Gilbert, James B
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ABSTRACT Title of Document: A DAVID AGAINST GOLIATH: THE AMERICAN VETERANS COMMITTEE'S CHALLENGE TO THE AMERICAN LEGION IN THE 1950s Peter D. Hoefer, Ph.D. 2010 Directed By: Professor James B. Gilbert, Department of History This study joins a nascent body of scholarship that seeks to enrich and complicate understanding of 1950s political culture. While this newer scholarship acknowledges conservative dominance, it has also uncovered considerable evidence that the period was far more politically diverse and contested. This study demonstrates that there was no single, unitary conservative Americanism or patriotism in the fifties decade. Instead, the American Veterans Committee, despite suffering heavy membership losses after purging the Communist Party from its ranks in the late 1940s, survived, regrouped and persistently challenged the hegemonic conservative American Legion, (the nation's largest veterans' organization) throughout the 1950s. Using a liberal version of what I term Cold War Americanism, the AVC attempted to defend and advance the New Deal legacy. The Legion, however, using a conservative version of anti-Communist discourse, joined with its counterparts in the postwar Right to oppose the interventionist liberal state. I explore the role of these contending languages in shaping 1950s political culture by analyzing how these two groups used Cold War Americanism to advance their respective interest concerning two of the period's most important domestic issues: the restriction on civil liberties, and the developing struggle for African-American civil rights. This study demonstrates that within the community of organized veterans, the American Legion was not the only voice heard in the 1950s. Any account of this period that fails to acknowledge the presence of the AVC would be incomplete and inaccurate.