Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Comforting Presence of the U.S. Seventh Fleet

Hong Kong, 1920


On a warm October day in 1987, while standing with my family along the railing of the green-and-white Star Ferry chugging over to Kowloon, we took spotted the U.S.S. Gridley, one of several U.S. warships moored in Hong Kong harbor that day, bobbing serenely amidst the usual swarm of fishing boats, tugboats, and barges. (We were unaware that the guided missile cruiser had just returned from the Persian Gulf, where it conducted retaliatory strikes against Iranian oil platforms.) Overhearing our conversation, a nearby American naval officer invited us to visit the Gridley. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to board one of the ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Price of Fried Chicken in Old Florida

Winter Haven, 
1949-1952


When Cypress Gardens opened near Winter Haven in 1936, it was billed as Florida's first commercial theme park. Carved out of a swamp, the botanical gardens later added water-skiing shows and other attractions like their hoop-skirted “Southern belles” who strolled through the grounds, chatting with guests and posing for photographs—a little like Mickey Mouse, but prettier. The park was also the filming location for a number of travelogue romances in the 1940s, including the musical comedy “Moon over Miami,” starring Betty Grable and Don Ameche. It was also the site for a string of movies showcasing aquatic-actress Esther Williams.1 In the 1950s and 1960s, the gardens were used as an exotic backdrop for television specials and print advertisements.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Summer of Love

Glassboro, New Jersey
1967


Diplomatic contact with the Soviet Union increased sharply after the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states began on June 5, 1967. During the Cold War, the two superpowers eased strained relations at critical moments by engaging in an on-going process called détente, marked by summit meetings and treaties. On this occasion, President Lyndon Johnson proposed to meet with Chairman Aleksei Kosygin of the Soviet Union during his counterpart's upcoming trip to the United Nations in New York. In addition to the situation in the Middle East, there were other issues to discuss, such as disarmament, nuclear arms control (China announced the explosion of its first hydrogen bomb on June 17) and the Vietnam War. With the U.S. gradually losing ground, Johnson was looking for ways to end the conflict in southeast Asia, having pledged to “seek peace, any time, any place.” In fact, the first issue that had to be resolved was where to hold the summit. Kosygin wanted to meet in New York; Johnson preferred Washington where there was less chance of anti-war demonstrations. In the end, they agreed on Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in Glassboro, New Jersey, a small town roughly equidistant between the two cities.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wake-Up Special

Atlantic City, 
1964


Some believe the adversarial relationship between the press and the White House started with Watergate, the political scandal that led to the resignation of President Nixon in 1974. However, there were already signs of strain in the 1960s when the term “credibility gap” came into widespread use, describing skepticism over the veracity of the Johnson administration’s public assessments of the Vietnam War. Although it may not be possible to pinpoint an exact date, trouble began soon after the first large-scale military deployment in March 1965, when the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed at Da Nang.