This book seeks to weave an understanding of “the causes of social and political disintegration” in the United States as the author perceived them in 1973. It explores post-WW II history with an upfront purpose and that makes it different. Critical of the academic bifurcation of domestic and foreign policies as somehow discreet entities, Jezer underscores causal links between them. For instance, the oil embargo of 1973 cannot be fathomed without reference to the 1953 CIA coup detat against President Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran for the sin of oil nationalism followed by the installation of U.S.-friendly Shah Reza Pahlavi. Similarly, one can see a source for civil war in Guatemala through the 1970s as a consequence of the CIA’s 1954 overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz for launching a land reform program. When these events occurred neither was honestly reported in the United States. Obviously both actions were covert. Rather the episodes were folded into a Cold War narrative that portrayed nearly all foreign events as advancements of U.S.-sponsored democratic progress in the world.
The middle third of Jezer’s book illuminates the fuzzy contours of American society through the foundational years of Cold War, hence the book’s title, The Dark Ages. It reads today almost as dark comedy but was the fabrication of a society driven by suburban consumerism masking social repression. Racism, sexism and anti-Commu nism bound together into a totem of national taboo. African-Americans lived under Jim Crow, women belonged in the home and politics challenging either were marked as Communist. Upon this social structure the military-industrial complex built the biggest empire in history in order to maintain the extreme imbalance of American material consumption in which 5 percent of the world’s population consumed 50 percent of the world’s good. Nevertheless, the actuality of empire contradicted the cover story of global democratic development which opened many unguarded spaces into which America’s creative contrarians walked.
The last third of The Dark Ages focuses on the ebulliently contrarian manifestation of the Beats in the 1950s. Ginsburg, Kerouac, Cassidy and the women who ran with them developed a flip-side to the decade that later flourished into the 60s counterculture. The Beats rebelled against suburbia, the nuclear family and nukes. They hammered out jazz poetry and mystical syllogisms, wore berets, and smoked marijuana with black musicians. They were easily dismissed by the establishment and deeply embraced by people on the margins. Their message foreshadowed the upheavals of Civil Rights, Vietnam, feminism and gay rights. Their alienated social style became the model of youthful rebellion ever since.