Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thomas Jundt's "Greening the Red, White, and Blue"

Thomas Jundt is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Brown University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Greening the Red, White, and Blue: The Bomb, Big Business, and Consumer Resistance in Postwar America, and reported the following:
Greening the Red, White, and Blue tells the story of the rise of environmentalism following World War II, decades earlier than the sixties era that it is most often associated with. After the brutal light of atomic bomb flashes revealed a vulnerable planet, growing numbers of Americans recognized other ways that humans might destroy the earth. Corporate capitalism and atomic testing were leading sources of anxiety for their ability to alter the environment and threaten the planet’s inhabitants.

Page 99 reveals how two chemical components in fallout from nuclear bomb tests—strontium-90 and iodine 131—were widely feared as carcinogenic pollutants poisoning the planet. Toxins from contaminated plants and grains eaten by cows were concentrated in the animals’ milk and, subsequently, in the tiny bodies of milk’s biggest consumers: infants and children. Because strontium-90 lodges in bones, citizens groups began to collect children’s baby teeth for testing to determine how much radiation was being stored in their young bodies.

The final paragraph of page 99 touches on another of the book’s central themes. In this atmosphere of fear, a monthly journal published by the group Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Information contained an article titled “Mothers Ask—What Should We Feed Our Kids?”

Environmental issues often became consumer issues. Food, the most intimate connection to the environment that most of us experience on a daily basis, was a particular focus of concern. A nationwide milk boycott helped push the government to finally ban aboveground nuclear testing in 1963.

Throughout the book citizens turn to their actions as consumers in an effort to combat a wide variety of other environmental ills or, at the very least, protect their loved ones from harm. Organics and other products believed to be environmentally friendly grew in popularity following World War II.

For critics, this is a troubling example of businesses’ ability to co-opt the ideals of reformers and sell them back to them as organic soy lattes. They charge those who practice personal politics through consumption with avoiding the more difficult work required to organize for participatory politics.

The history revealed in Greening the Red, White, and Blue demonstrates that the situation is considerably more complicated. Lacking adequate political solutions, with a two-party system beholden to the very corporations pillaging the planet, Americans turned to alternative green consumption because, however limited, it often seemed like the only game in town.
Learn more about Greening the Red, White, and Blue at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue