Contested innocence : images of the child in the Cold War

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Peacock, Margaret Elizabeth

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This dissertation examines the image of the child as it appeared in the propaganda and public rhetoric of the Cold War from approximately 1950 to 1968. It focuses on how American and Soviet politicians, propagandists, and critics depicted children in film, television, radio, and print. It argues that these groups constructed a new lexicon of childhood images to meet the unique challenges of the Cold War. They portrayed the young as facing new threats both inside and outside their borders, while simultaneously envisioning their children as mobilized in novel ways to defend themselves and their countries from infiltration and attack. These new images of the next generation performed a number of important functions in conceptualizing what was at stake in the Cold War and what needed to be done to win it. Politicians, propagandists, and individuals in the Soviet Union and the United States used images of endangered and mobilized children in order to construct a particular vision of the Cold War that could support their political and ideological agendas, including the enforcement of order in the private sphere, the construction of domestic and international legitimacy, and the mobilization of populations at home and abroad. At the same time, these images were open to contestation by dissenting groups on both sides of the Iron Curtain who refashioned the child's image in order to contest their governments’ policies and the Cold War consensus. What these images looked like in Soviet and American domestic and international discourse, why propagandists and dissent movements used these images to promote their policies at home and abroad, and what visions of the Cold War they created are the subjects of this dissertation. This project argues that the domestic demands of the Cold War altered American and Soviet visions of childhood. It is common wisdom that the 1950s and 60s was a period when child rearing practices and ideas about children were changing. This dissertation supports current arguments that American and Soviet parents sought more permissive approaches in raising children who they perceived as innocent and in need of protection. Yet it also finds substantial documentation showing that American and Soviet citizens embraced a new vision of idealized youth that was not innocent, but instead was mobilized for a war that had no foreseeable end. In the United States, children became participants in defending the home and the country from communist infiltration. In the Soviet Union, the state created a new vision of idealized youth that could be seen actively working towards a Soviet-led peace around the world. By using the child’s image as a category for analysis, this project also provides a window into how the Cold War was conceptualized by politicians, propagandists, and private citizens in the Soviet Union and the United States. In contrast to current scholarship, this dissertation argues that the Soviet state worked hard to create a popular vision of the Cold War that was significantly different from the “Great Fear” that dominated American culture in the 1950s and 60s. While in the United States, the conflict was portrayed as a defensive struggle against outside invasion, in official Soviet rhetoric it was presented as an active, international crusade for peace. As the 1960s progressed, and as the official rhetoric of the state came under increasing criticism, the rigid sets of categories surrounding the figuration of the Cold War child that had been established in the 1950s began to break down. While Soviet filmmakers during the Thaw created images of youth that appeared abandoned and traumatized by the world around them, anti-nuclear activists took to the streets with their children in tow in order to contest the state’s professed ability to protect their young. In the late 1960s, both the Soviet Union and the United States struggled to contain rising domestic unrest, and took the first steps in moving towards détente. As a consequence, the struggle between East and West moved to the post-colonial world, where again, the image of the child played a vital role in articulating and justifying policy. Visual and rhetorical images like that of the child served as cultural currency for creating and undermining conceptual boundaries in the Cold War. The current prevalence of childhood images in the daily construction and contestation of public opinion are the legacies of this era.