Sunday, January 24, 2021

Jeffrey C. Sanders's "Razing Kids"

Jeffrey C. Sanders is Associate Professor in the Department of History, Washington State University. He is the author of Seattle and the Roots of Urban Sustainability: Inventing Ecotopia (2010).

Sanders applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Razing Kids: Youth, Environment, and the Postwar American West, and reported the following:
Page 99 briefly recounts the history of the famous St. Louis “baby tooth” study organized by Washington University’s Dr. Louise Reese and the Greater St. Louis Citizen Committee for Nuclear Information. This example captures many of the key themes of Razing Kids. At a time when the US government was less than honest about the risks posed by continued testing of nuclear bombs in the desert Southwest and the Pacific Proving ground during the Cold War, the study invited families to donate their children’s teeth so that researchers could establish a baseline of data about the level of dangerous and cancer-causing radioactive strontium 90 in the bodies of children. The study drew attention to hinterland test sites in the West, but also helped to inspire citizen scientists and political activists in the West and throughout the United States as they built a case for the limited Test Ban Treaty. As baby boomer children came to embody environmental risks, these activists helped to build a constituency that fought to end atmospheric nuclear testing and help to build a postwar environmental movement.

While Razing Kids mostly emphasizes people, places, and events in the western united states, page 99 describes events in St. Louis. But the test works perfectly for capturing the book’s key themes explaining the way environmental history often shows the relationships between places, people, and ideas that may seem regionally distinct but are in fact connected to national and even global issues.

After World War II, people living in the United States reconceived their relationship to the environment and to youth. With this book I argue that this was no coincidence. These developments were inextricable. With the double meaning in the title – Razing Kids – I hope to capture the central and contradictory role that children played in the development of both heightened environmental concerns and increasing environmental inequality after the war. To raise healthy youth in an era that supposedly elevated children and family also seemed to require razing, or at least neglecting, the environments and health of some youth so that others could thrive. This contradiction centered on youth and deepened during the twentieth century. The postwar American West showcased this dynamic at different scales. I show how workers, policy makers, and reformers linked their anxieties about youth to environmental risks as they debated wartime housing developments; worried about the impact of radioactive particles released from distant hinterlands; or obsessed over how riot-riddled cities, rural work camps, and pesticide-laden farms would affect children.
Learn more about Razing Kids at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue