At the Crossroads Flea Market this weekend I found five old wrapped-in-plastic Reader’s Digests. Worth every penny. The Digests would condense articles for busy everyday people in everyday life. Can you spot the major contrast, below, to the Digests of today? From each issue’s list of titles I have included a few interesting ones, with relevant titles in bold.
In August of 1949 my brother was a bouncing baby and the world little suspected that next year the United Nations would be fighting a surprise attack in Korea. Here are some titles from Reader’s Digest for that month:
Democracy Is a Two-Way Street
Last Moments of a Free Man …“Dimitrov Wastes No Bullets”
Will the North Atlantic Pact Bring Peace?
The Sexual Relationship in Marriage
One Man’s Answer to Labor Unrest
Freedom’s Forgotten Friend
In September of 1949, with war veterans like my father still processing their war, the Digest topped its list of articles with the line ARTICLES OF LASTING INTEREST 28TH YEAR OF PUBLICATION Some titles:
General Eisenhower’s Favorite War Story …by Ernie Pyle (Pyle had been killed on Okinawa)
Why They Confess …from Life (the communists could break a man spirit in prison without laying a hand an him—as in Orwell’s book)
How to Lick the Class Struggle
“Everybody Needs Beauty”
The book selection was Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
In February of 1954 at the bottom of the list of contents was WORLD’S LARGEST CIRCULATION Over 17 1/2 million Copies Sold Each Month (All Editions) Some titles:
Ganging Up on Divorce
25 Divisions for the Cost of One …by General James A. Van Fleet
We Each Have a Fort to Hold …(about upholding civilization in everyday life)
They Hit the Communists Where It Hurts
Don’t Let Mental Illness Scare You
That Amazing Secretarial Shortage …From Independent Woman
Only a Question of Time …the Russians wouldn’t release their POW’s even years after the war was over, but a wife wouldn’t give up.
In the merry month of May of 1954, as the kids were playing Davy Crocket and wearing coonskin caps, the list of titles includes:
Comic Books—Blue prints for Delinquency …from “Seduction of the Innocent”
What’s Wrong With France?
Story of Lucille Ball …From the Book
There were two book selections:
-The Web of Subversion by James Burnham
-Saga of General Billy Mitchell by Ruth Mitchell
And in October of 1954 comes:
Divorce Granted! …From Des Moines Register and Tribune
Is “Peaceful Coexistence” the Answer?
Workers Don’t Have to Be Robots
How the Kremlin Treats Its Own
A Young Painter Becomes an Old Master
Vienna—City of Courage …The amazing Austrians defy the Reds—and get away with it.
President Eisenhower and Segregation …by a Black congressman, serving his fifth term, Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
I find the contrasting magazine contents of today quite striking. The titles I put in bold, of course, are cold war related. My father and his friends took their current war, the cold war, seriously. Their war was in the background every month—and they were determined to win.
If only we of today had the same guts as my aunts and uncles then maybe today’s Reader’s Digest would have titles concerning our own two wars: the war on drugs and the war on terror. These two wars are seemingly not in the background, at least, not in our magazines. It’s as if we feel no sense of participation, no need to become informed—we simply delegate our wars to our civil servants… and then we fail to supervise our servants.
An awful example of our failure: We were years into Iraq before national correspondent James Fallows pointed out in The Atlantic that you would never know, from the pentagon’s pronouncements or budget decisions, that the US had been attacked, or that the pentagon’s greatest concern was fighting insurgency. Fallows noted we couldn’t even supply the Iraqi police—in wartime—with enough walkie-talkies, vests and Toyotas.
A university student might argue that everyday “citizenship” means participation and being informed. He might, if studying political science, argue the changing lists of Reader’s Digest titles are measurable evidence of America’s decline. And he might even chart and graph the titles.
I wonder: What if the student was in Moscow, last year at this time, looking at his charts and tables, and what if he received a telephone call from his Uncle Vladimir asking, “Based on your magazine research, would there be much risk in annexing Crimea?”
“No Uncle, none at all.”
~A British financial expert has combined measurable evidence with interviews of business and political leaders, in my essay America in Descent archived October 2013.
~ Can you guess the conclusion? I compare the war on drugs, point by point, to the war in Vietnam in my essay A Young Girl’s Guide to Wars and Drugs archived March 3013
~I quoted James Fallows from his 14 page The Atlantic cover story Why Iraq Has No Army in my old light-but-long essay Focus and Commitment, for War and Peace re-archived to June 2011