Levittown and The Twin Towers: Suburban Save Havens vs. City Savagery

  1. “Nikita Khrushchev proposed a visit to the United States in 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower suggested a trip to the paradigmatic suburb, Levittown, whose builder, William Levitt, had remarked upon completion of his creation in 1947: ‘no man who owns his own house and lot can be a Communist . . . he has too much to do.’”

In referencing Eisenhower’s suggestion that Krushchev visit Levittown, an iconic suburban real estate development, Farish presents the central stature of suburbia in America. Rather than  mention  New York’s awe striking skyline and The Statue of Liberty, or Washington D.C.’s ever regal National Mall – both icons of American progress and empire – Eisenhower’s suggestion communicates a desire to display the American way of life. This contrast between presenting famed American vistas and a quotidian  suburban neighborhood point to suburbia’s central role in American life in the 1950’s. American pride was no longer only associated with Times Square and The White House, rather, the quintessential image of Americanism had become suburbia. In citing Eisenhower, Farish points to the fact that this  obsession with suburbia did not only exist in suburban households or even in families that aspired to move there. Rather,  in 1950’s America the American Way of Life had become synonymous with images of suburbia, and thus the government’s, and even the President’s, pride in the American Life had evolved into a pride in suburban living. This anecdote enables Farish to share the breadth – from civilians to Presidency – of America’s mania surrounding suburban living. Finally, in citing  Levitt’s remark that “no man who owns his house  and a lot can be a Communist… he has too much to do,”  Farish presents an interesting binary: A true American is not a Communist, and a true American should live a perfect life in a perfect home. By this logic any American with a house cannot become a Communist. Where perfect Americans had previously been categorized as simply anti-Communist, the identity of American life had become one and the same with suburbia. To be American was no longer to just be a capitalist, now it was to be a suburban homeowner too.

2)

Farish argues that following the Atomic destruction in urban Hiroshima – which was chosen as a target because of its concentration in population in activity – there was a fear that American metropolises would be the ‘first to go’ if the Soviets launched a nuclear attack. This fear was realized during the 9/11 attacks. While Al Qaeda did not employ nuclear weapons, the image of ashes clouding New York’s skyline, and the city’s tallest buildings crashing to the ground while people ran and screamed in confusion is stirring. On this day, New Yorkers realized that while they may have lived in the greatest city in the world, their city and their nation was not invincible. Moreover, given 21st century technology, the abundant photographic and video footage of New York’s destruction makes this memory immortal. No one can forget the nauseating alarm and horror of that day. Differently from Hiroshima, where photographs depict the mushroom cloud and the destruction it caused, photographs of 9/11 show a moment to moment development – the first plane crashing, the second plane crashing, the confusion following the second crash, the smoke, the South Tower falling, the North Tower falling, people jumping out of windows and the devastation that followed. Because of the advent of digital technology, anyone can relive and review the events of 9/11, regardless of whether they were present on the day itself. While I do not know the amount of New Yorkers who emigrated from the city to the suburbs, I do think the events of 9/11 ingrained the sentiment that city life was not conducive to family oriented, stable life. While New York was always a city of chaos, it was now a city of dangerous and perilous chaos. The events of 9/11 instilled a chilling fear in many New Yorkers, and Americans beyond, that stained city living with a fear of being constantly vulnerable to attack.

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