American preferences for returning to a past decade shaped by when they grew up, their politics

The Economist reports on a recent poll that asked Americans which decade to which they would wish to return:

In our latest weekly Economist/YouGov poll, we asked Americans which decade of the 20th century they would most like to go back to. Most popular was the 1950s. The decade of economic boom following the second world war is regarded as a time of consumerism, conservatism and cold-war caution. It was an age of stay-at-home wives, novel household appliances and new suburbs—yet was also most popular among women. The haze of Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s rolled up in second place. Republicans in particular preferred the morally uncomplicated 1950s under President Eisenhower and the 1980s of Reagan; Democrats tended to opt for Bill Clinton’s 1990s. In general, people yearned for their youth. Over 50% of those over 65 wanted to revisit the 1950s and 1960s, while 45- to 64-year-olds pined for the 1980s. The youngest were torn between the jazz age of the 1920s and the 1990s, their own salad days.

On one hand, this might be somewhat meaningless: stereotypes of entire decades are much too simplistic and even The Economist falls into that trap in their descriptions. On the other hand, perhaps knowing what decade people would prefer to return to helps give us some indication of what people are trying to accomplish now. If your preferred era is the 1950s, you might pursue different social norms and policies compared to something who most fondly recalls the 1960s. Indeed, conservatives and liberals might both want to push such a narrative: Republicans to return to the prosperous and calm 1950s (maybe also their vision of the 1980s) while Democrats would prefer the more liberating and exciting 1960s (and perhaps also the 1990s).

Argos hints at the negative foreign actions of the United States from the 1950s through the 1970s

I recently saw the movie Argo (95% fresh reviews at which was quite well done for a movie for which you know the outcome. One part of the movie that intrigued me was an early timeline scene where the relations between the United States and Iran were described. The events of 1979 shouldn’t have been a complete surprise; the CIA had helped install the Shah through a coup in 1953 and the US supported the regime even through its abuses. This is the back story through which the events of the movie take place. (See the story of Iran-United States relations.)

However, the actions of the United States in Iran were not an isolated incident. Indeed, following its rise to superpower status after World War II, the United States was involved in a number of countries. Some of these actions are more well-known. A war in Korea which ended in a stalemate and reaching the brink of war with China. A war in Vietnam which became unpopular and the US didn’t reach the result for which it entered the war. The Bay of Pigs where the US hoped to depose Fidel Castro. But, there were plenty of actions that were not as well-known. Here are a few places to find out more about these actions:

1. The Church Committee was a Congressional committee that operated in 1975 and uncovered and reported on US foreign actions. The committee produced a number of reports that included information like this:

Among the matters investigated were attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile and President John F. Kennedy’s plan to use the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba.

2. Former CIA operative Philip Agee wrote a 1975 book titled Inside the Company: CIA Diary where he detailed what he knew about CIA actions to influence politics in Latin America. For his actions, Agee’s passport was revoked and he became a persona non grata in some countries friendly with the US. In 2007, Agee described why he came forward with what he knew:

“It was a time in the 70s when the worst imaginable horrors were going on in Latin America,” he says. “Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador – they were military dictatorships with death squads, all with the backing of the CIA and the US government. That was what motivated me to name all the names and work with journalists who were interested in knowing just who the CIA were in their countries.”

Watching Argo in light of this information may just change the interpretation of the final scenes. At first glance, these scenes can be viewed as yet another American success story: American ingenuity and hard work again fights off the forces of darkness. But, with the more complete back story, the final scene might appear more bittersweet.