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Little Cold Warriors

American Childhood in the 1950s

Victoria M. Grieve

Publication Date - 19 June 2020

ISBN: 9780197532904

218 pages
6.14 x 9.21 inches

In Stock


Both conservative and liberal Baby Boomers have romanticized the 1950s as an age of innocence--of pickup ball games and Howdy Doody, when mom stayed home and the economy boomed. These nostalgic narratives obscure many other histories of postwar childhood, one of which has more in common with the war years and the sixties, when children were mobilized and politicized by the U.S. government, private corporations, and individual adults to fight the Cold War both at home and abroad. Children battled communism in its various guises on television, the movies, and comic books; they practiced safety drills, joined civil preparedness groups, and helped to build and stock bomb shelters in the backyard. Children collected coins for UNICEF, exchanged art with other children around the world, prepared for nuclear war through the Boy and Girl Scouts, raised funds for Radio Free Europe, sent clothing to refugee children, and donated books to restock the diminished library shelves of war-torn Europe.

Rather than rationing and saving, American children were encouraged to spend and consume in order to maintain the engine of American prosperity. In these capacities, American children functioned as ambassadors, cultural diplomats, and representatives of the United States. Victoria M. Grieve examines this politicized childhood at the peak of the Cold War, and the many ways children and ideas about childhood were pressed into political service. Little Cold Warriors combines approaches from childhood studies and diplomatic history to understand the cultural Cold War through the activities and experiences of young Americans.


  • Examines the role of children in twentieth century war and politics
  • Bridges the gap between childhood studies, Cold War history, and cultural studies
  • Highlights the importance of children as historical actors

About the Author(s)

Victoria Grieve is Associate Professor at Utah State University and the author of The Federal Art Project and The Creation of Middlebrow Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Her research spans childhood studies, visual culture, and cultural politics from the New Deal to the Cold War.


"Grieve provides a wealth of examples and details the agencies and individuals involved. The arguments are convincing, and the evidence is substantial. Grieve's writing is well-organized and easy to follow, and her analysis is discerning ... Highly recommended." --CHOICE

"Grieve...reminds readers of the importance of soft power in a modem age that has increasingly disregarded it. We see in this book how the imagery and products of childhood promoted an American Cold War agenda in countless tiny ways.... This book is...well written and will be of interest to scholars seeking to learn about the intersection of American children's culture and the Cold War.... Grieve has clearly mastered the art of storytelling, and particular chapters could be of real use in the undergraduate classroom." -- Margaret Peacock, American Historical Review

"Not only does Grieve add to the scholarship around the growth of the postwar state, but she also offers strong evidence about the pernicious nature of the state apparatus." -- Abby Whitaker, Temple University, Strategic Visions

"Grieve's work demonstrates an effort to uncover children as historical actors on the world stage and also urges caution about presuming to understand children's motivations or the meanings they drew from various texts. Her book brings important new insights to both diplomatic history and the history of children and youth." -- Julia L. Mickenberg, Passport Roundtable

"This is a slender volume that makes a significant, thought-provoking contribution to the fields of propaganda, public diplomacy, culture, childhood, and Cold War history. Grieve's depictions of the agency and activism among children and young adults during the Cold War are sure to provoke additional penetrating histories, along with many fascinating classroom discussions." -- Lori Clune, Passport Roundtable

"Victoria M. Grieve's well-researched...Little Cold Warriors is a masterly exploration of U.S. propaganda and cultural diplomacy. It is also a testament to how support for Cold War imperatives benefitted not only the U.S. government but also businesses, not-for-profits, and cultural producersâ.It is a book about the ways that adults from numerous arenas deployed ideas about childhood, both domestically and globally, to serve political (and, indeed, commercial) ends." -- Sara Fieldston, Journal of American History

"In Little Cold Warriors: American Childhood in the 1950s, Victoria Grieve dismantles a series of misconceptions about the role of children and the image of childhood during the early Cold War era... The fields of diplomatic and political history cannot underestimate the experience of childhood and the ways people first come to understand themselves both in relation to the nation and in relation to politics. It is common for children to be written off as non-historical actors or lacking historical agency, but as Grieve contends, to do so is to risk fundamentally misunderstanding their significance in the growth of the state, in American diplomacy tactics, and in the origins of our politics." -- Abby Whitaker, Strategic Visions

"A set of findings that should, indeed, be incorporated into our understanding of childhood in the 1950s and of Baby-Boomer adulthood." -- Peter N. Stearns, American Journal of Play

"Victoria Grieve is among a growing number of scholars who recognize that youthful political activism did not disappear between 1945 and 1960. Little Cold Warriors provides new insights into the continued politicization of childhood during the Cold War and is a must read for those interested in understanding twentieth-century childhoods and the broader contours of Cold War cultural politics."--Jennifer Helgren, author of American Girls and Global Responsibility: A New Relation to the World during the Early Cold War

"This important text moves American children of the 1950s out from under their school desks and places them where they belong: at the fore of the United States' ideological war against communism. From the very first page, Grieve challenges readers to look beyond a nostalgic, idealized vision of Baby Boomer childhood and instead and to recognize the ubiquitous politicization of children's culture. Drawing on sources from international children's art exchanges to the Lone Ranger, Grieve shows that American youth were taught the twin precepts of international friendship, and the patriotic necessity of American economic and political dominance."--Susan A. Miller, author of Growing Girls: The Natural Origins of Girls' Organizations in America

"Taking us beyond the iconic 'duck and cover' drills of the era, Grieve explores a range of youth- focused government and private initiatives that enrich our understanding of Cold War politics and the development of Post-World War II youth activism. Placing children and youth at the center of her story, she reveals the important roles they played as both powerful symbols and as important actors in American diplomacy and defense."--Rebecca de Schweinitz, author of If We Could Change the World: Young People and America's Long Struggle for Racial Equality

Table of Contents


    Chapter 1: Cold War Comics: Educating American Children for a New Global Role

    Chapter 2: A Small Paintbrush in the Hands of a Small Child: Children's Art and Cultural Diplomacy During the Cold War

    Chapter 3: The Accidental Political Advantages of a Non-Political Book Program: Franklin Publications and Juvenile Books Abroad

    Chapter 4: "Your Grandchildren Will Grow Up Under Communism!": Cold War Advertising and American Youth

    Chapter 5: The Cold War in the Schools: Educating a Generation for World Understanding

    Chapter 6: Conclusion