CONELRAD READ ALERT: Selected Books and Miscellaneous Tracts

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GOOD CITIZEN: The Rights and Duties of an American

The Good Citizen handbook was the official companion to the historicFreedom Train tour of 1947-1949. The Freedom Train, conceived by William A. Coblenz, Assistant Director of the Justice Department’s Division of Public Information, championed by the U.S. Attorney General, Tom Clark, and sponsored by the American Heritage Foundation (AHF), was a rolling shrine to American dominance in the world. Its 130 documents on loan from the National Archives included German and Japanese surrender paperwork from World War II.

The train received a rousing send-off from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 17, 1947. The Associated Press reported on a launch that was not entirely free of the mounting Red Scare:

U.S. Senator Edward Martin (R-PA) called the red, white and blue shrine on wheels America’s best weapon against Communism and asserted ‘We can fight that system and win without stooping to its tactics.’

The Freedom Train became a phenomenon and drew enormous crowds—far more than could be accommodated. But the towns that the train visited also had carefully planned, pro-American celebrations called “Rededication Weeks” to occupy the overflow throngs. These patriotic events included the taking of the “Freedom Pledge.”

In addition to the Good Citizen booklet, the tour inspired a song “The Freedom Train” by Irving Berlin (“inside you’ll find a precious freight…”), the comics (L’il Abner and Captain Marvel), postcards and, of course, a rapturous media and public. One reporter noted that he observed a high school girl literally kiss the train while she waited in line.

The Good Citizen booklet is, as its subtitle suggests, essentially a primer on the rights and duties of citizenship with sections on voting, jury duty, freedom of speech, etc. It is also a primer on nationalism with passages on the greatness of post-war America. A headline over a photograph of a mushroom cloud on page 51, for example, proudly declares that the Bomb was “MADE IN AMERICA…” And text on page 6, under a heading entitled “Some of the Fruits of Freedom,” informs the reader that the United States has “92 per cent of the world’s bathtubs.”

The timing was perfect for the Freedom Train’s patriotic mission. Indeed, 1947-1949 were the glory years of American triumphalism (bathtubs and all). The tour ended in January of 1949, just eight months before the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb. The next motorized exhibit that would visit the towns of America was the civil defense “Alert America” convoy of 1952. This rolling museum had a more urgent message than its locomotive inspiration. Alert America shared some of the same planners from the Freedom Train including the exhibit designer Edward H. Burdick Associates of New York.

CONELRAD is still hoping for a Department of Homeland Security tour (Michael Chertoff in a FEMA trailer?) with the original terror alert chart under bullet proof glass.

SOURCES

The following reference works were used in this book review:

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming: Pageantry and Patriotism in Cold War America by Richard M. Fried, 1998 (Oxford University Press, New York)

“Freedom Train Send-Off Brings Attack on Reds,” Albuquerque (New Mexico) Journal, via the Associated Press, September 18, 1947.

GOOD CITIZEN: The Rights and Duties of an American
1948
Sponsored by the American Heritage Foundation
An Official Freedom Train Publication
72 Pages

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