Year-End Review: 1951

by Bill Monson

If you think this past year was traumatic and eventful, take a time-travel journey back with me half a century to 1951.

The Cold War was red-hot with a ''conflict'' in Korea. That's what the government insisted it be called; but for most of us, it was plain, ugly war -- and we weren't winning it. Our casualties had reached nearly 55,000; but after driving the North Korean invaders all the way to the Yalu, the Chinese Communists attacked us; and we were right back where we started --at the 38th parallel. Commanding General Douglas MacArthur was frustrated. He wanted to escalate, using Chiang Kai-shek's army on Taiwan or atomic bombs -- but Washington kept saying no. MacArthur wrote an indiscreet letter about foreign policy to House Republican minority leader Joe Martin, who read it to Congress. For President Harry Truman, the letter was the ultimate act of disobedience. He fired MacArthur; but the General came home to a triumphant ticker tape tour which ended with his famous ''Old soldiers never die; they just fade away'' speech before Congress.

Mac never really expected to fade away -- the time was ripe for a ''man on horseback'' -- but it turned out to be Dwight Eisenhower, commander of NATO, who didn't disobey orders.

There were also other demagogues competing for public attention. Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy was in his heyday as an anti-Communist crusader, even accusing Secretary of State Dean Acheson of treason. Joe claimed the Reds were moving in --and millions of Americans felt he was right. The Viet Minh were fighting the French in Indochina. British Foreign Service officials Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess defected to the Soviet Union. In the U.S. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were condemned to death for sending our atomic secrets to Russia. In October, the White House announced the Soviets had set off their second A-bomb.

The U.S. responded to this sense of threat in many ways. The military doubled in size to 2.9 million and tested atomic weapons in Nevada and at Eniwetok atoll in the Pacific. The draft age was lowered to 18-and-a-half, service was lengthened to two years, and the concept of universal military training became a reality. U.S. Communist Party leaders were indicted for conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sympathizers like writer Dashiell Hammett were jailed for refusing to name names. A contract was let for building the first atomic submarine. People around the country built private bomb-shelters, and school children practiced ''Duck and Cover.'' The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of states to require the signing of loyalty oaths by job applicants. A new Uniform Code of Military Justice went into effect. Locally, Knox College reinstated ROTC.

There were other troubles, too. Railroad and maritime strikes hampered the U.S. war effort. West Point dismissed 90 cadets for cheating on examinations. Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson called out the National Guard when Cicero residents rioted over a black family moving in.

On the brighter side, World War Two officially ended with the signing of peace treaties with Japan (Sept. 8) and Germany (Oct. 19).

Many of us turned to sports for distraction. Sugar Ray Robinson KOed Jake LaMotta for the middleweight boxing crown. Joe Louis began a comeback in June which ended in October when Rocky Marciano beat him on a TKO. Court Turf won the Kentucky Derby, and Ruth Chadwick became the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways.

Cleveland's Bob Feller pitched his third no-hitter. Willie Mays joined the New York Giants and helped them gnaw away a 13-and-a-half-game lead by the Brooklyn Dodgers to force a playoff in which Bobby Thomson hit a home run called ''the shot heard 'round the world'' to win the pennant. However, the New York Yankees won the subway World Series in six games. With Mickey Mantle aboard, Joe DiMaggio retired afterward. On December 1, Navy trounced Army's expulsion-riddled football team at Philadelphia.

Despite the war effort, America was prosperous. The Federal government ended its fiscal year with a budget surplus. The average income for each man, woman and child was $1,436 while total Federal, state and local taxes averaged $360. In Knox County, farmland sold for $575 an acre. Admiral announced it would expand, and Butler got a large defense contract. Galesburg's downtown was thriving, and the city considered eliminating Boone's Alley for a parking lot.

Change was in the air. The 22nd Amendment was added to the Constitution, prohibiting more than two terms for the U.S. President. RCA broadcast compatible color television in New York City, and President Truman spoke from San Francisco on the first transcontinental TV hookup. The Atomic Energy Commission produced electrcity from atomic energy. Buckminster Fuller invented the geodesic dome. Buicks had portholes and Cadillacs grew small fins.

Radio remained strong behind many of its long-time favorites like ''Lux Radio Theatre,'' Jack Benny, ''Amos 'n Andy,'' and Charlie McCarthy. The top five TV shows were ''Texaco Star Theater'' with Milton Berle, ''Fireside Theatre,'' ''Philco TV Playhouse,'' ''Your Show of Shows'' with Sid Caesar and ''Imogene Coca, and ''The Colgate Comedy Hour'' -- all on NBC -- but on October 15, CBS debuted a promising new sit-com ''I Love Lucy.''

Among the best books were ''The Caine Mutiny'' by Herman Wouk, ''The Catcher in the Rye'' by J.D. Salinger, and ''From Here to Eternity'' by James Jones of Robinson, Ill. Carl Sandburg won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry with his ''Complete Poems.''

Broadway featured dramas ''The Rose Tattoo,'' ''Stalag 17'' and ''Gigi'' and musicals ''The King and I'' and ''Paint Your Wagon.''

''David and Bathsheba'' was the top-grossing movie. ''Showboat,'' ''An American in Paris'' and ''The Great Caruso'' (with Mario Lanza) were leading musicals. '' A Streetcar Named Desire'' was the top drama.

On records, people were buying Johnny Ray's ''Cry'' and ''The Little White Cloud that Cried,'' Mario Lanza's ''Be My Love,'' Frankie Laine's ''Jezebel'' and Patti Page's ''Mocking Bird Hill'' and ''Tennessee Waltz.'' Les Paul and Mary Ford turned out hit after hit with their layered-tape guitar and vocal combos like ''How High the Moon.''

By the end of the year, U.N.and Communist representatives were meeting at Panmumjon to set up a truce line and possible cease-fire. Hope flared across the world.



TO YOU IN 2002!

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online December 26, 2001

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