I found today’s book for review, recently and though it was written in 2006, and focused on a time period more than 60 years past, it gave more meaning and context to what we’re seeing in the present day with the current political landscape. It’s actually scary in a sense that a book written to document the events of a period in the 1940s and 50s, also mirrors some current events. The old (often misquoted) saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by George Santanya and the saying it derived from by Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it” both hold true here!
If you’ve been around since I started this blog, you know that while I do urge my readers to vote, I don’t overtly espouse my political views here. This is a book and media review blog, not a political soap box. If you read between the lines as I write about certain books, you’ll get a sense of where my views stand on many issues but only that. I seek to present the material to you, the reader and to let you make your own, informed decision about the issues and about political candidates.
Our book today, as the title states, is The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government by David K. Johnson. Dr. Johnson holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. He teaches courses on the post-1945 U.S. and the history of gender and sexuality at the University of South Florida. U.S. history, and the history of gender and sexuality are, as anyone who’s been alive and awake for the last 50 years knows, closely intertwined.
The book synopsis from the publisher (I inserted the actual awards):
In Cold War America, Senator Joseph McCarthy enjoyed tremendous support in the fight against what he called atheistic communism. But that support stemmed less from his wild charges about communists than his more substantiated charges that “sex perverts” had infiltrated government agencies. Although now remembered as an attack on suspected disloyalty, McCarthyism introduced “moral values” into the American political arsenal. Warning of a spreading homosexual menace, McCarthy and his Republican allies learned how to win votes.
Winner of three book awards (The Herbert Hoover Book Award, the Randy Shilts Award, and a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award), The Lavender Scare masterfully traces the origins of contemporary sexual politics to Cold War hysteria over national security. Drawing on newly declassified documents and interviews with former government officials, historian David Johnson chronicles how the myth that homosexuals threatened national security determined government policy for decades, ruined thousands of lives, and pushed many to suicide. As Johnson shows, this myth not only outlived McCarthy but, by the 1960s, helped launch a new civil rights struggle.
Read this book and be prepared to be shocked at the modern (?) day parallels. Maybe we haven’t come quite as far as we thought!
Dr. Johnson’s book has been turned into a documentary film to be released in the Summer of 2012. The movie trailer is below:
I hope that it will be widely distributed enough that it will show somewhere that I can see it. There are a lot of voices to be heard in this book. Putting them on the screen will make them so much more powerful.
In conclusion, I’d like to note that Dr. Johnson is currently doing research for a new book titled, “Buying Gay” which will explore “the history of gay consumer culture before Stonewall and the origins of the gay rights movement.”