When World War II ended, Americans celebrated a military victory abroad, but the meaning of peace at home was yet to be defined. From roughly 1943 onward, building a postwar society became the new national project, and every interest group involved in the war effort—from business leaders to working-class renters—held different visions for the war's aftermath. In Postwar, Laura McEnaney plumbs the depths of this period to explore exactly what peace meant to a broad swath of civilians, including apartment dwellers, single women and housewives, newly freed Japanese American internees, African American migrants, and returning veterans. In her fine-grained social history of postwar Chicago, McEnaney puts ordinary working-class people at the center of her investigation.
What she finds is a working-class war liberalism—a conviction that the wartime state had taken things from people, and that the postwar era was about reclaiming those things with the state's help. McEnaney examines vernacular understandings of the state, exploring how people perceived and experienced government in their lives. For Chicago's working-class residents, the state was not clearly delineated. The local offices of federal agencies, along with organizations such as the Travelers Aid Society and other neighborhood welfare groups, all became what she calls the state in the neighborhood, an extension of government to serve an urban working class recovering from war. Just as they had made war, the urban working class had to make peace, and their requests for help, large and small, constituted early dialogues about the role of the state during peacetime.
Postwar examines peace as its own complex historical process, a passage from conflict to postconflict that contained human struggles and policy dilemmas that would shape later decades as fatefully as had the war.
List of Abbreviations
Introduction. The End
Chapter 1. Bathrooms, Bedrooms, and Basements: War Liberalism in the Postwar Apartment
Chapter 2. Japanese Americans on Parole: The Perils and Promises of a Postwar State
Chapter 3. Living the GI Bill: Postwar Prosperity Through Government Dependency
Chapter 4. "I Would Not Call This the More Abundant Life": Working-Class Women Get Their Peace
Chapter 5. After the Double V: African Americans Demobilize for a "Real Peace"
Conclusion. Writing the History of What Happened After
Archival Collections Consulted
"Written with incredible skill and humanity, Postwar offers a fresh look at American life after World War II. Laura McEnaney has produced a remarkably engaging history of the diverse working-class migrants to and residents of the city of Chicago, telling new stories about where and how they lived, how hard this living was, and how many fought their own wars to ameliorate their difficulties. It's a book that no scholar of World War II or postwar America can afford to miss."—Jennifer Mittelstadt, Rutgers University
"Beautifully written, deeply researched, and analytically sophisticated, Postwar chronicles Chicago's 'crooked path to peace' after World War II, in particular how the city's large and varied working class lived the epic transitions from war to peace."—Thomas Guglielmo, George Washington University