My book group wanted something "light" this month so we chose Bill Bryson's book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir about his growing up in Des Moines, Iowa.
We figured what could be lighter than Bill Bryson growing up in Des Moines. He was born in 1951, so two years after I was, and much that is in this book I remember and can relate to, such as Younkers Department store, and then, there are the parts I often prefer to forget, and it is important to stay alert and aware and not forget some of the craziness of this country's past.
From Bill Bryson:
He is speaking of the McCarthy Era.
"Such was the hysteria that it wasn't actually necessary to have done anything wrong to get in trouble. In 1950, three former FBI agents published a book called Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, accusing 151 celebrities - among them Leonard Bernstein, Lee J. Cobb, Burgess Meredith, Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson and the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee - of various seditious acts. Among the shocking misdeeds of which the performers stood accused were speaking out against religious intolerance, opposing fascism, and supporting world peace and the United Nations. None had any connection with the Communist Party or had ever shown any Communist sympathies. Even so, many of them could not find work for years afterward unless (like Edward G. Robinson) they agreed to appear before HUAC as a friendly witness and name names.
Doing anything at all to help Communists became essentially illegal. In 1951, Dr. Ernest Chain, a naturalized Briton who had been awarded a Nobel Peace Price six years earlier for trying to develop penicillin, was barred from entering the United States because he had recently traveled to Czechoslovakia, under the auspices of the World Health Organization, to help start a penicillin plant there. Humanitarian aid was only permissible, it seems, so long as those being saved believed in free markets. Americans likewise found themselves barred from travel. Linus Pauling, who would eventually receive two Nobel Prizes, was stopped at Idlewild Airport in New York while boarding a plane to Britain, where he was to be honored by the Royal Society, and had his passport confiscated on the grounds that he had once or twice publicly expressed a liberal thought.
It was even harder for those who were not American by birth. After learning that a Finnish-born citizen named William Heikkiin had in his youth briefly belonged to the Communist Party, Immigration Service employees tracked him down in San Francisco, arrested him on his way home from work, and bundled him into an airplane bound for Europe, with nothing but a dollar in change and the clothes he was wearing. Not until his place touched down the following day did officials inform his frantic wife that her husband had been deported. They refused to tell her where he had been sent."