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Nick’s Pick’s is a small collection of books that reflects my notions of how our society got to this moment. Certainly the United States is exceptional, but not always in socially redeemable ways. My focus is post-World War II, leaving out, for instance, the history of slavery and indigenous genocide, two unfortunate stripes of the American character. The aftermath of World War II marked the start of “the American Century,” a term coined by Henry Luce in 1941 to describe his vision of a golden age of modernization, democracy and prosperity destined to expand throughout the nation, across the seas and around the world. Some would say “globalization” is the realization of that vision. But there has lurked throughout a sinister component: Cold War
The Manhattan Project, which yielded the nuclear bomb and America’s military supremacy in 1945, also established secrecy and deception as intrinsic tools of government to a degree unprecedented in the nation’s history. With the immediate shift from hot war against Germany/Japan in 1945 to Cold War against the Soviet Union in 1946 a National Security State emerged with the charge to wage covert battle behind veils of secrecy and deceit. “There are no rules in such a game,” a 1954 CIA report warned. “We must learn…to subvert, sabotage and destroy,” but in such a manner that “the U.S. Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility.” As the eminent historian Gary Wills points out repeatedly, actions taken and powers assumed by the National Security State “are all violations of the Constitution.”
The paradox of running an illegal government within a democracy in a period of economic expansion (1945 – 1970) created contradictions and vulnerabilities. Baby boomers grew up in the “Happy Days” of the1950s, but Ginsberg, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti and the Beats saw the beast within. They saw too the delights of jazz, pot, and sex. Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the Bus in 1964 opened doors of perception, while segregation crumbled in the face of fetid hypocrisy, and feminists applied the lessons of civil rights to gender relations. The killings of JFK, MLK, RFK and drafted boys in Vietnam impelled a counterculture whose psychedelic experiences dovetailed with quantum mechanics, UFOs, and alternative “reality” in general.
A struggle exists for the truth. Whatever the truth may be, it is bigger than the official story, the plausibly denied, or the psychedelicly proclaimed. It is an amalgam of all three and to the forming of that amalgam each of these books points.
Ph.D. Latin American History